On an infamous episode of Sex and the City, Samantha receives a present from her boyfriend, accompanied by a card signed, “Best, Richard.” Despite the kind gesture of the gift, she’s incensed at what she perceives to be a flippant and impersonal salutation. “‘Best’ is the worst,” she says. Gulp. That’s how I’ve signed my emails for years. I thought it was friendly and upbeat, but still professional and warm. Was Samantha right … is “Best” really more of a brush-off than a sign-off?
With business communication—especially over email—salutations are important. When we speak face-to-face, body language and vocal intonations give our words context, but when we’re communicating electronically, we don’t have those luxuries, and it’s extremely easy for a harmless phrase to be interpreted as a rude gesture. An inappropriate salutation can discredit even an otherwise acceptable email. The wrong salutation on a cover letter can be enough to disqualify you from a job, and in 2008, an accountant in Auckland, New Zealand was fired merely for having poor email etiquette. Most people know that some things, like emoticons or slang, are not acceptable in business emails, but few people give thought to their salutations. However, the way you open and close a message can say just as much to the reader as the email itself.
You’d never close an email to a client or your boss by saying “TGIF,” or “Hugs,” but there are some closing salutations that, even though they sound professional at first, can actually be perceived as too distant or unfriendly. Experts advise against using phrases like “Cordially,” which is a bit formal and better reserved for written communication. Likewise, “Regards” feels brusque and perfunctory. Although it’s currently fashionable to end emails with the phrase “Cheers,” it’s very informal and best used for friends and very friendly business relationships. “Yours truly” may sound sincere and heartfelt, but it conjures up the image of love letters, and is considered too emotional for professional correspondence.
It’s hard to go wrong by closing an email with the phrases “Kind regards,” or “Sincerely,” both of which are professional and warm without being overly personal. Samantha Jones should relax, because “Best” is also an expert-approved closing salutation, although turning it into “Best wishes” makes it even more foolproof. Another surefire solution is to simply close with the word “Thanks.”
It’s just as important to start your emails professionally as it is to finish them professionally. Etiquette experts agree that informal greetings such as “Hey there,” “What’s up,” or “Hi” have no place in business communications. They are simply too chatty and colloquial, and give the impression that the writer doesn’t understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. It’s also rude to omit the greeting entirely, because that’s like jumping into a conversation without saying hello, and makes the writer seem rude and impatient. Messages without a personal greeting are also more likely to be marked as spam. In some casual workplaces, formal greetings are not expected, but they are always appreciated, and they are a must for cover letters and emails to people you don’t know well.
Open business emails with phrases like “Dear Ms. Finch,” or “Greetings,” which are polite without being too familiar. If the addressee is someone you know well, it’s also acceptable to open by saying “Dear Bob.” For cover letters or notes to people you don’t know personally, phrases like “To whom it may concern” and “Dear Hiring Manager” are not only considered too stuffy and formal, they also show that the writer hasn’t taken the time to investigate the company they’re writing to. Always try to find out the proper name of the person who will be reading the message, and use it. If all else fails, a simple salutation such as, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” is appropriate.
Email is ultimately an informal way to communicate, and it’s all too easy for the writer and the reader to become detached and alienated from each other. Opening and closing emails with the proper salutation is the best way to make sure that your communications stay effective and professional, as well as personal. Emails do the talking for us … be sure you know what yours are saying.