In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise barges into his home after an argument and long separation from his wife, starts an explanation meant as an apology, and makes a romantic plea: “You complete me… You…”
She interrupts, “You had me at hello.”
In case you don’t recall the entire plot, let me just say the similarity to email greetings stops there: Your email readers are not in love with you. (Okay, maybe your family members love you.) And even if emailing best friends, chances are they already have an overflowing inbox and may not want another email from you.
So your email greetings better warm them up—not put them off.
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First, assume you need a greeting. Even if you email the same person every day, you never know when a specific email may eventually turn into a long email thread—one that someone else may need to search through later. With no greetings, after an email string gets cold, it’s often difficult to determine who said what to whom. A greeting on each exchange makes that very clear.
My colleague Bill has mastered this principle well. Every email from him sounds as though he has just walked into my office with a fresh comment of the morning. Here are some recent greetings from his emails:
Very good, Dianna. The next thing….
How about Tuesday, Dianna?
Good morning, Dianna!
For sure, Dianna… Mid- to late May fits my schedule…
I totally agree, Dianna…
See how these greetings pull you right into the email? Yet to any skimming reader of a long thread, it’s still quickly clear who’s writing to whom.
Occasionally you may be writing an email to a large group. Depending on which email system you use and how clean your group email list is, you may be able to personalize and call everyone by name even in that group mailing.
But when you can’t for whatever the reason, at least use a personalized group greeting. Examples:
Hi, Region 4 Sales Team––
To My Fellow Hurricane Volunteers:
Greetings to Our Committed Club Members!
You’d never walk into a coworker’s office laughing, passing along a funny story, and then suddenly say, “And oh, by the way, I just came from a meeting with the boss. They’re going to fire you tomorrow.”
That would be a jarring switch in content and tone—no matter how close the relationship.
The same is true in communicating by email. Your greeting should match the rest of your email in content, relationship, and tone. That is, if the content is serious, the greeting should be more formal. If the topic is light and the relationship is close, your greeting can be as informal as you’d be in person or on the phone.
If you’re emailing your project team about cancelling a meeting, your greeting will be informal and conversational:
My apologies, everyone…
If you’re threatening a lawsuit against a vendor for nonperformance, your greeting will be formal: Dear Ms. Molinas:
An egregious punctuation error at the beginning of an email signals readers to stop altogether. It flashes this message: Careless writer. Unimportant message.
Punctuated like this, these greetings are never correct:
Good morning Marita,
Here are correct versions:
Dear Depak, or Dear Depak––
Tom, or Tom––
Good morning, Marita–– or Good Morning, Marita,
Hi, Gregg–– or Hi, Gregg,
Don’t let your punctuation be a put-off from the get-go.
For more tips on writing effective emails, grab a copy of E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication (Simon and Schuster) and Booher’s Rules for Business Grammar: the 101 Most Common Errors and How to Correct Them (McGraw-Hill).
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