August 01, 2018
Hello readers, I hope this story finds you well. Actually, I do and I don’t.
You see, this article is about emails that start with the line “I hope this finds you well." Specifically, it’s about how that greeting is so played out that it’s not only lost all meaning, but has become a nuisance.
While I say I hope this story does find you well, I cringed writing that lead, even if it was just for scene-setting effect.
Granted, I’m just as guiltily lazy as those who send it by default, reverting to its use in lieu of any other way to introduce email correspondence.
The time has come for that to change, both for myself and society as a whole.
There are many posts online regarding email etiquette, mostly focused on a professional context, but whose lessons can extend to personal emails. It’s basically a cottage industry. (You can see a few of them here, here and here.)
I reached out to a few email etiquette experts in a quest to understand why, exactly, IHTFYW has become a thing, and figure out some other greetings one can use instead.
Judith Kallos, author of “Email Etiquette Made Easy," understood my viewpoint as well as the “hope you’re well” emailers.
“I get what you are saying: that it is too common and then, in my opinion, not always sincere,” she shared. “Your opening greeting would be contingent on how well you know the person, right?
“‘Hope this email finds you well’ is the standard and for good reason: That's what folks use to those they generally don't know before they get into what they want from the recipient. Otherwise, they would be able to say something else.”
One thousand times, this.
“Modern email manners are more important now than ever." – Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette expert
Kallos went on to suggest refashioning your intro with details you already know about the recipient. How was your weekend? Play any golf lately? What’s new with the family? On Mondays: Hope you had a great weekend. On Fridays: Hope you have a great weekend ahead.
“The key is to match the tone of overall in your email. Your greeting has to match that,” she said. “You don't want to be overly personal with those business associates you do not yet know very well, and being too formal can also not lend to relationship building. That brings us right back to the easy way out – the generic ‘Hope this email finds you well.’”
All of that makes perfect sense, and it led me to think I was being overly critical about an unimportant grievance (as I am wont to do from time to time).
Kallos’ take was seconded by Sharon Schweitzer, a “cross-cultural, modern-manners and international etiquette expert" from Austin, Texas.
She looks at email as “one of the primary modes of business communication today, resulting in the closing of deals, key transactions and relationship building.” By next year, some 2.9 billion people will be using it as a form of communication, she said.
“Modern email manners are more important now than ever. Moreover, email etiquette varies cross-culturally,” she said. “Knowing these differences can help make or break a deal. With an average of 122 business emails sent and received per day per user, set yourself apart by ensuring each email is targeted for your reader.”
As for her tip: “Use polite conversation to establish rapport.”
So, you want to do away with your use of IHTFYW? Well, we've come up with a few alternatives for you.
“Yo”: This is probably Philly-area specific, but it’s a common greeting that cuts to the chase. Also acceptable in this sort of situation: "Sup?" I mean, we’re a little more rough around the edges in and near Philly; as such, the rules of decorum are a bit more flexible.
“Hope you had/have a great weekend”: Kallos suggested these as ways to chronologically personalize an email on Monday or Friday. “You could also comment on something in the news where they are,” she added.
"I hope you're well." Yeah, yeah, that's somewhat like the greeting I'm ranting about. But, as Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, points out, it's somewhat less formal of a "buffer" into the email-based conversation being sought. "It depends how much time has lapsed. If you're communicating back and forth, back and forth, you really don't need a buffer," she said. "But let's say you and I do this interview today and in six months, I want to pitch you on a story. I'd write 'I hope you've been well.'"
Cultural-specific greetings: Schweitzer simplified matters, thus rendering the “hope this finds you well” as excessive. “Select the best greeting for the destination culture: Dear, Greetings, Good day, Hello Ms. or Mr., Good morning, or Good afternoon, are appropriate,” she said. “Country-specific greetings are available if needed. Remember ‘Hi’ is for high school and ‘Hey’ is for horses.”
How about that weather? It’s something everybody talks about and, while annoying, it hasn’t reached IHTFYW nuisance levels. Is it a summer scorcher? “Hope that you are surviving the summer heat,” suggested Schweitzer. “Hope you're all shoveled out” is a winter option.
"We met at..." If you're unsure whether the person will recognize your name in their inbox, a reminder of your connection off the bat can help you from falling into the trash bin instantly. Whitmore also noted that any personal information you have about the recipient, i.e. spouse or children's names, offer a good introductory segue into an email.
Taking a more business-y buttoned-up tact: If there’s a professional relationship, chances are you know – or can learn – a little bit about the recipient. Schweitzer offered some fill-in-the blank options for that: “Many thanks for your kindness and sharing of your expertise this week during ___. These written materials will be useful in ____. It was a pleasure to visit with you on Tuesday evening for ‘_______. ‘”
“As-salamu alaykum”: This one works in a two-fold sense. You can use it to wish peace upon any Muslim you know or, more importantly, to troll ignorant friends or relatives. (I've used this for the latter effect; it's fun.)
“Go Birds”: Hearkening back to “yo,” this cuts to the chase and acknowledges that the Eagles won Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots, in case there’s a chance you think the person you’re emailing needs a reminder.
Nothing at all: Just get to the point. With people receiving dozens – if not hundreds of emails daily – the more concise these communications are, the better. And, the less-than-seconds it takes to read such a corny intro is nothing but a waste.
Why are these options so important? Because, at the end of the day, the tweet embedded below sums up its use in the first place:
Plus you don't really care whether or not your email finds me well, you just want me to do something. So spit it out so I can get to it.— Tamaryn Shepherd (@ExMi) June 30, 2016