E-mail sign offs and exchanges


What’s in an e-mail sign-off? Those Final words few words above your name are where relationships and hierarchies are established, and where what is written in the body of the message can be clarified or undermined. In the days before electronic communication, the formalities of a letter, either business or personal, were taught to every third-grader; sign-offs from ‘Sincerely’ to ‘Yours truly’ to ‘Love’ came to mind without much effort.

Chad, an entrepreneur in Malibu was negotiating a commercial lease earlier this year for building he owns in the Midwest. Though talks began well, they soon grew rocky. The telltale sign that things had truly devolved were the sign-offs on the e-mail exchanges with his prospective tenant.

As negotiations started to break down, the sign-offs started to get decidedly shorter and cooler, Chad recalled. In the beginning it was like, “I look forward to speaking with you soon and Warmest regards,� and by the end it was just “Best�. The deal was eventually completed, but Chad still felt as if he had been snubbed.

But e-mail is a casual medium, and its conventions are scarcely a decade old. They are still evolving, often awkwardly. It is common for business messages to appear entirely in lower case, and many rapid fire correspondence evolve from formal to intimate in a few back-and-forth.

Although salutations that begin messages can be tricky, there is a world of difference, it seems, between a Hi, a Hello, and a Dear the sign-offs is the place where many writers attempt to express themselves, even when expressing personality, as in business correspondence, is not always welcome. In other words, it is a land mine. Etiquette and communications experts agree that it is becoming increasingly difficult to say goodbye.

Chad is not alone in thinking that an e-mail sender who writes ‘Best’, then a name is offering something close to a brush-off. He said he choose his own business sign-offs in a descending order of cordiality, from ‘Warmest regards’ to ‘All the best’ to a curt ‘sincerely’.

‘Best’ does have its fans, especially in the workplace, where it can be an all purpose step up in warmth from messages that end with no sign-off at all, just the sender coolly appending his or her name.

Surprisingly, the sign-off ‘xoxo’ offering hugs and kisses, has become common even for those in decidedly non-amorous relationships. Bondy, who received from 300 to 500 e-mail messages a day while at CNN, was no fan of the ‘xoxo’ farewell, especially when it came from stranger pitching a story idea. “They’re trying to be warm and familiar when they shouldn’t be,� she said. “It’s inappropriate, and that’s probably the e-mail I’m not going to return�.

Many e-mail users don’t bother with a sign-off, and a manners expert, finds that annoying. It’s so abrupt and it’s very unfriendly. There is a need of grace in our lives.

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