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Dissertation to Follow

One afternoon last month (when I was still at my old company), a co-worker was having trouble finishing an e-mail to the client.  "You see, I need his report updates, so I'm telling him to send them to me, but I have to phrase it like I'm asking because he's the client," she explained.  "Should I say, 'this is just a gentle reminder?'  Or is it 'friendly reminder?'  Or neither?" 

Naturally, a vigorous debate about the complexities of subtle passive-aggressive nudging ensued.  What amazed me was the diversity of opinion on the subject; of the nine people in the room, three were passionate "gentle reminder" proponents, two others were vehemently pro-"friendly reminder," one was leaning toward "gentle" but not sure, one said they were the same, and two had no idea.  Eventually we came to the consensus that she might as well flip a coin, because clearly there was no consistent rule to be applied, so we had no idea of predicting how it would be perceived by the client either way.

I always run into this same issue as it relates to signing e-mails at work, particularly when I am dealing with a new client or someone who is important.  I mean, I know I shouldn't sign something at work with "Love, Lauren," and I'm pretty sure my mom would think it was weird if I started writing "Sincerely yours" at the end of all my notes to her--but everything in between is a crapshoot.  I decide to try and make a little diagram to help me sort through my problem.

Gbye

After careful consideration, I decided the best approach was to plot some typical goodbye-type expressions against axes of affectation (X) and closeness (Y).  I felt these axes gave me the best basis for evaluating the connotation of various phrases, and now that the graph is complete I think it presents a good visual idea of how I characterize certain things.

Looking at the graph, I can say for sure that I avoid all phrases in the "smug/detached" quadrant like the plague.  I never use them, and I kind of roll my eyes when someone uses them with me.  "Detached" isn't necessarily bad by itself, though, because the phrases in the detached/unaffected quadrant are good for more formal situations. However, I can't really explain why I have such different perceptions of some similar-sounding things--"Best" and "Best Wishes," for example--so I have to concede that I may be way off here in my groupings.  Maybe I have no sense for this kind of thing.

Regardless, I'd clearly like to hear what ones you agree/disagree with, and what words I forgot to throw on there.

Best,

Lauren

P.S. I made this chart in PowerPoint, so it's not very cute.

Comments

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amanda

I believe "Later a-hole" is missing from the list. That is a favorite of mine.

ch

i always try to go with some variant of "thanks." ending with a comma or an exclamation point can vary the friendliness or familiarity or seriousness quotient fairly easily, plus i'm an underling so i try to say thank you as much as humanly possible to people.

also, no "cheers"??? obviously in the friendly half of the chart, but is it smug or detached? leaning towards smug, because its usually from that person who ALWAYS finds a way to be at a happy hour while you're slaving away late on a project that involves them, or something...

rl

Aaack, the dreaded "complimentary closing." What a dilemma. I have no good suggestions, but I can always come up with a pet-peeve, of course. It drives me nuts when people end with "Thanks" when I haven't DONE anything. Why are you thanking me? (Probably because you don't know what to use as a closing either...)

Great post. I hope more people comment.

the mayor

Back when I had a more email-heavy job I would just sign my name with no closing. I have read the following email closings in the past year and would like to submit them:
educationally yours
be well

Lisa M.

How about the elementary school valentine favorite... From! Remember when you could be all: To: Emily L. From: Lisa M. on your cheapass classmate valentines? Actually, I'm pretty sure that "FROM" should be a stronghold in the bottom of the IVth quadrant (whattup, precalc!) of your diagram...

Amy

I hate, hate, HATE "best" (Why is that so popular all of a sudden among business-school types, anyway?) so I am inordinately pleased that you relegated it to its proper place in your excellent diagram.

James Buchanan

Take Care,


is one I use with e-mails at work. I hate it, but I just go with it.

EDUCATIONALLY YOURS? AWFUL!

James Buchanan

What about "HOLLA"

that's what I usually use to sign personal e-mails

EmGusk

Read this article from the New York Times about this quandry: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/fashion/26email.html?oref=login

I can't believe I was actually able to find it...

I think it's OK to just type your name at the bottom of the e-mail. Do I really have to give you wishes or the best of something? Isn't it alright for you just to know who is writing the e-mail?

I have a bigger problem writing e-mails to professors who insist we call them by their first name. I am SO uncomfortable with that. I mean, you're a DOCTOR and I'm just a kid! We're not on a first name basis. I've resorted to "Hi," at the begining of e-mails. It's awkward. But calling your teacher "Henry" is much worse.

Jerome

First of all, this has potential to be your most controversial/discussion-inspiring post since America's Most Fonted.

Second all, I have to defend "Best." That is what I use all the time, so I'm defensive here. Here's my position.

Of your entire list, only three of those strike me as something that you'd actually use routinely in an office environment: "Thanks", "Sincerely", and "Best." (Those in the "yours", "yours truly", "kind regards" vein don't viscerally strike me as appropriate.)

So w/ three to choose from, the issue for me is this: let's say you have to tell a client, for example, "My boss suggested I send you our most recent study, it is attached." I feel most work emails I send to clients are to serve the purpose of just passing along some bullshit.

So, "Thanks" doesn't work because you are the one doing a favor, and what are you, some nerd who thanks your client for being a pain in the ass and giving you more work to do? "Sincerely" seems laying it on a little thick, because why would they doubt my sincerity that I attached a recent study? I have no need to be sincere--or insincere--about communicating such mundane details, nor would my client expect any degree of sincerity. But "Best" always is acceptable. It basically is a way to end the later saying, "I don't hate you and still wish generally that good things happen." Which is precisely what I wish to express when passing along mundane information.

Long live Best!!

President Rutherford B. Hayes

I seriously want to vomit and then bust knee caps whenever any one tries to "gently remind" me of anything. Yuck. It's like the most nauseating thing you can do.

President Rutherford B. Hayes

Oh, I forgot to mention..."Regards." Who says that? People with clammy palms. That's who.

Mars

Hugs,
Mars

PALGOLAK

Excellent 2D chart.

I like the cut of your jib.

Mom

Sounds like something Andy Rooney would be debating. Anyway, your father uses Regards on his emails. I prefer thanks for general emails and take care for personal ones. My Bunko group discussed this once and thanks was the most used.

James Buchanan

RUTHERFORD MY DEAR CHUM,

It has been such a long time since I have seen your mutton-chopped visage! How are you, dahling? I'm pleased to see you have learned to use the "Inter-net." How marvelous an invention it is!

Where are you buying your jodhpurs lately? My cobbler's shop has gone awry and no longer makes my favorite style. When can we meet to sup and have tea sandwiches as we used to do in times long past? I so wish to hear of your life and travels and muttoned chops.

Cheerio!
- JB

Tatiana

I know it must be the old lady in me, but I love both "Regards" and "Best". And sometimes, "Best Regards".

Please don't hate me.

Danielle

Great Post.

Later Dayz (with a Zed),

Danielle

Jerome

Tatiana thanks for backing me up on Best! Just for that, I'll back you up and say Best Regards is just fine with me.

Most awesome regards,
Jerome

DC

"Educationally yours," is fine when you're in the education biz, just like "Socially," is fine when you run the school's social committee.

ness

hehe, i use "best" and "regards" precisely to get across my smug and detached feeling towards my work related e-mails...lol

Consulting Exec

"Thanks" is a pet peeve of mine. So many people automatically sign their emails with this, even if they are in no way thanking anyone (or perhaps just thanking them for reading?). My advice... use "thanks" when you actually mean it, otherwise, "Regards", "Warm Regards" or Sincerely work just fine. To use thanks all the time seems wishy-washy, like you don't want to piss someone off.

killing time while it's too stormy to leave the office

i HATE the "friendly" or "gentle" reminder. i usually just say that I am writing to "follow up" on whichever email it was that originally requested the action, and then to "see when you might be able" to complete such action. yes, equally passive-aggressive but at least not claiming friendliness when nagging, and since when does one have to be gentle at work?

Allz

my job is to talk and email to clients all day...and while talking to someone from a brial website she actually wrote "xoxo, Olivia". no joke.

I never know what to use instead of "Thanks!" when i don't need their help...so I always end my emails with "please let me know if you need anything else. Thanks!"

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Jerome

That last comment was pretty off-topic.

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