how not to start an email
I once worked with someone in a finance department who was good with the company’s money but less so with email communication. When you got an email from her, it meant one thing: disappointment. She might be writing to tell you that your paycheck would be lower than expected or that you couldn’t expense for a something you had hoped to. ( Mai Tais for the entire accounting group - and all their cousins? Sorry, no!)
Her emails had a 100% chance of disappointing you. That was bad enough. But the worst part of the her “smackdown” was that she always started her emails with, “I hope this email finds you well.”
Sure the email may find us well but it certainly wouldn’t leave us well. Since those days I’m superstitious. When someone uses “I hope this finds you well,” I wonder what the bad news is.
That finance employee wasn’t the only email writer who depended on that officious opening - many people do. Usually they are people who think they have to have something to start off with and have no idea what to say.
If you want to say something friendly, you have lots of choices, all of which are better than “I hope this finds you well.” See Karen Hertzberg’s piece about alternatives here.
But really, you don’t need a “fuzzy opening.” Most of the time it is fine to say “Hi Dave, I’m writing to let you know that…” Don’t do that if the reader’s name is not Dave, but you get the idea. If your content-related words are clear and positive, you don’t need a “fuzzy.”
Sure there are times you want an opener. Maybe you haven’t spoken to the recipient in a while and you need a “fuzzy” to warm things up. But you know what DOESN’T warm things up? “I hope this email finds you well.” There is nothing warm about it. Because it sounds like you reached way way back to the 19th century to find something to say. Maybe if you added “My good man,” and refilled your quill pen it would be right, but in 2019 it is not.
In most emails it’s kind of a code for “I HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT TO SAY TO YOU PEOPLE SO I GUESS THIS IS GOOD, RIGHT?” It’s a favorite of young professionals who don't have the confidence to skip it so they default to the most polite, official phrase they can find.
So here’s a tip. Imagine something you might actually say if you were to meet or talk to the person. I’m going to guess that there is a 100% chance that you would never utter the words “I hope this finds you well.” Imagine saying to a friend, “Hey Bill, I hope this beer finds you well.” No, not happening.
You might say something about the weather; you might refer to the last time you interacted; you might thank the person for something they did. You might refer to something they are currently dealing with. Any of those - even the weather cliche - is better than, well, you know.
But really, you don’t HAVE to have a fuzzy. Try it. Just jump right in in a friendly positive way.
Tell me how it works.
Do you have a favorite way to start emails? Share it in the comments. Or send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credit: Thank you to comic writer Karen Chee for permission to use her tweet. Find her funny tweets at @karencheee
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