At my last job, one of the senior team members was notorious for sending emails at all hours of the day or night. It was not unusual for me to go to bed at 11 PM and wake up with an empty inbox, save for her one, extremely short, and to-the-point email. Despite never addressing me by name, and, in fact, rarely including any kind of greeting before her direct question, she somehow never managed to sound rude or demanding.
Along with a “thanks!” following whatever it was that she needed answering, she always signed her name with an x. Now, an x, as you no doubt know from the love-letter closing “xoxo” typically represents a kiss; in the workplace scenario, however, it’s simply a friendly gesture, far less formal than closing with a “Best,” or “Regards.”
Rest assured that this currently popular signature is not the only way to save your short messages from sounding rude; in fact, there are at least five easy ways for keeping your emails polite no matter how many—or few—words you write. You won’t want to apply all five of these ideas every time, and which you use will depend a lot on your audience and your relationship and comfort level with that audience, but they’re good guidelines. And they’ll hopefully save you oodles of time and energy so that you can focus on more important things.
1. Use Exclamation Points
But not too many. I’m pretty turned off when every single line ends with the exclamation mark. You don’t have equally strong feelings on everything you say. Don’t even get me started on including two or three to close one sentence or idea (I save those for texting with my friends, and you should too). Choose your high volume interjections wisely, and please, please exercise restraint.
Hi [Name of Person],
Thanks for sending along your ideas for [name of project]. My only feedback is on the first point, which could stand to be stronger. Let me brainstorm a bit and get back to you by [date you’ll get back to person]!
2. Have a Sweet Send-off
It doesn’t have to be x. It doesn’t have to be “Best Wishes.” At my former company, literally every single person used a variation of the x, so anything beyond that often felt out of place. I sometimes just used my first-name initial without anything else, and that passed muster among my peers, many of whom also used their initials. No matter what the person is saying, the lightness of this move can work against any perceived rudeness.
Here’s an example:
Hi [Name of Person],
Let me know if you had a chance to look over the spreadsheet I sent earlier this week. I’m hoping to get it finalized before [date you’re trying to have it completed] so would appreciate any feedback before then.
3. Say Something Nice
I’m prepared to argue this point as I know a lot of people believe omitting the opening nicety is totally fine and a way to dig right into the meat of what you want to say. But, depending on who you’re writing or responding to and why, I think a few kind words to kick it off can go a long way in keeping those brief messages from sounding brusque. Further support for this lies in the fact that it takes mere seconds to include a pleasantry. I’m sure you can manage the succinct addition.
Check this out:
Hi [Name of Person],
Hope your week’s off to a good start.
Thanks for sending over those designs on Friday. I’ve tweaked a couple of key areas (revisions attached). Let me know if the modifications work on your end, and I’ll go ahead and submit them for final approval.
4. Keep it Informal or Casual
The more informal it sounds, the less abrasive it will read, generally, (though obviously if you work in a corporate environment, take cues from your peers). You can avoid coming across as aloof by making sure your straightforward message doesn’t sound uptight in its terseness. One easy trick: Try using contractions and removing the pronoun on occasion. If you have a standard signature at the end of your email and you correspond with the person often, you might even try dropping the sign-off altogether.
I’m still waiting on the updated numbers from the marketing team. As soon as I have them, I’ll send them your way. Looking forward to putting this together.
5. Consider a Quirky Personal Touch
This isn’t advisable for just anyone. But I do know a few people who can pull off “Yours in Spirit” or “Hugs.” If you can manage a heartwarming and original closing that doesn’t raise eyebrows, you’ll be well on your way to cutting your email time in half. I’ve recently been corresponding with someone who always ends with: “Have a beautiful day.” While I think it feels a little hokey, I also kind of like that that’s what she’s all about, and she’s not afraid to show off her signature style.
Emails sent from your phone might look like this:
Hi [Name of Person],
Confirming our meeting on Tuesday evening at 6 PM. Let me know where you want to meet, and I’ll be there!
Sent from my external memory.
Before you send anything, consider who you’re communicating with, and think about ways of keeping it short based on where you are in the discussion. Keep in mind: Once you’re going back and forth, you can usually drop the greeting and signature altogether.
One thing worth mentioning as well is the importance of paying attention to what you’re replying to. Short responses can be rude if you simply respond with a “Sounds good!” If it merited an answer to a question or some kind of feedback, those two words will be hard for the receiver to digest, with or without the exclamation point.
Bottom line: Know your audience, and, by all means, send detailed paragraphs if the situation calls for it, but focus on the many instances where short can also be sweet.
TopicsTools & Skills , Etiquette , Email , Syndication , Tech Skills , Productivity , Communication
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author