“Hello Joe – I hope this email finds you well and that you’re having a great summer. How did that trip to the beach with your kids go? I’m going to delay getting to my business reason for writing for a few more sentences so that you don’t think I’m impolite. Please bear with me!”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m the first to advocate for civility and politeness in business communication. Yes, we go to work to take care of business, but we’re also human beings. And if you don’t take time to get to know the people you do business with as human beings, you’re probably not taking care of business as well as you think. After all, we do business with people we like—and with people who know and like us!
So why am I poking fun at the email opener above that tries to strengthen the relationship between two people who are doing business together? We process email differently than other forms of communication. If I were to visit a client’s place of work and we exchanged no pleasantries before getting down to business, that would feel extremely weird and even off-putting. If you were to start a presentation without talking a little bit about yourself and acknowledging what you know about your audience, that would also feel weird and maybe even robotic. So why is email different?
Email is more of an “on-demand” type of communication than others. It shows up in people’s inboxes without them having to do anything (i.e., the opposite of on-demand), but the recipient gets to decide when or whether to open an email based on its subject line and the first couple of sentences. So while you might feel that you’re displaying common civility by kicking off an email with personal pleasantries that would work well in other forms of communication, you might actually be requiring your recipient to work harder than necessary to do business with you. Why make them skim over your pleasantries and scroll down to get to the gist of things? Instead, articulate your purpose for writing in that first sentence to help your recipient quickly determine how to process your email.
So am I saying that email should be “all business” and that you shouldn’t include any pleasantries at all? No. I’m saying that you need to be mindful of the visual real estate in email and structure your message accordingly.
Should you include a greeting? Yes, absolutely include a greeting; just make it short. “Hi Joe” or “Welcome back, Joe” will work nicely. Then make sure your subject line and your first sentence or two get right to the heart of what you want your reader to know and/or do.
And what about pleasantries? Yes, absolutely write about the kids, vacations, and the weather; just do it at the end, after you’ve taken care of business. If you’re providing your email recipients with good, useful content that makes their work lives better, they’ll be delighted to read the personal stuff you decide to include. Just don’t force them to read through it to get to the business part of your email. On the other hand, if you’re not making their work lives better with the content of your communication, no amount of pleasantries will win them over.
Do you like this approach of including pleasantries but doing it at the end of an email? If so, make sure you’re modeling it for others in the emails you send. And now that we’ve taken care of business…
How’s your summer been going, Joe? I hope you’d have time to take a breather and charge up the batteries for what you have coming up the rest of the year. Can’t wait to catch up at our next meeting. All the best! –Guillermo
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.