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