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Leadership

How To Know When It's Okay To Write Less Formal Work Emails

You don't want to get too casual too soon, but constantly writing emails full of formal pleasantries can be a mistake, too.

How To Know When It's Okay To Write Less Formal Work Emails
[Photo: PIX1861 via Pixabay]

You know how it goes. You begin the email to your boss, colleague, client, or HR director with a proper greeting. You cross your Ts and dot your Is, and you conclude the message with a formal signature such as "Best" or "Sincerely."

The email recipient responds with the same formality, addressing you in a standard greeting, and then writing out a couple of grammatically sound paragraphs before wrapping up the note with a similar signature; maybe it’s "Regards," or the more casual, "Cheers."

Since that message requires a response from you, you continue to play along with what you think is the professional way—typing out the full greeting (again), composing the body of the message, and then concluding with "All the best, [Your Name]." You continue to do this even after multiple back and forths, even though it eventually seems totally pointless and even a little bit awkward.

Unless you work in a super stiff corporate office where even exclamation points are frowned upon, you’ve got to get good with ditching the formal speak, particularly if communicating with your boss or colleagues throughout the workday is a frequent occurrence.

As soon as it feels natural to scrap the "Hello, [Name of Person]" pleasantries and the redundant "Thanks, [Your Name]" goodbyes, do it. And to help you actually feel okay doing this (and not like an etiquette monster), I’ve come up with a few guidelines.

1. Feel Free To Follow Suit

While it can be tempting to formalize all exchanges if it’s what you’re accustomed to or because it’s how you were taught, a lot of the time, it’s just not necessary. Pay attention to your workplace cues, or you’ll just end up sticking out.

If your boss forwards you an email with nothing more than a note about taking a look to see if it’s of interest and you reply with a formal message, I promise you, you’re not winning any brownie points—you’re only clogging up his or her inbox and ignoring how your team handles casual correspondence.

Or, if your colleague’s started communicating with you in a casual way (without addressing you by name or including an official sign-off), accept that as your sign to respond in kind.

2. Switch It Up (Depending On Whom You're Talking To)

It doesn’t matter if your last boss made it clear that adopting an informal tone was intolerable; you’re not working for her anymore. Though a word of caution: Just because you reach a point where you drop the "Best," with your manager doesn’t mean you should abolish the word from your vocabulary altogether.

If you’re regularly corresponding with someone you’ve never met and your relationship is more formal than not, don’t be so quick to sign off without including a proper closing, especially if you're on the fence about how to proceed. Erring on the side of caution will always be sound advice.

Know this: Switching it up doesn’t just apply to different people. Even if a correspondence with one person starts out formally, you’re allowed to jump into the meat of the topic when you’re discussing an item across a long email thread, rather than bother with any greetings or sign-offs.

3. Consider Timing

If you go on vacation for a week and return to the office with a list of questions for your boss, whom you haven’t spoken to or seen since you went away, it’s probably best to begin that first email back with a pleasantry such as "Good morning," "Hope you’ve been well," or, if your manager was the one on holiday, "Welcome back"—even if you and your supervisor usually skip the greeting or small talk.

Minding time lapses is also important for exchanges with outside clients or vendors. If you’re in touch once a week or just a couple times a month, it may be appropriate to start off the initial message after some time has passed with the go-to intro and the appropriate closing signature.

A monthly touch-base with a senior member of your department may also require you to lean toward writing more conservatively. If that initial message results in a significant back and forth across a couple of days, then it’s probably fine to reduce the formal factor, especially if the other party has done so.

Ultimately, you’ve got to determine the tone and structure of your outgoing messages. But I’ve personally never found it problematic when someone I regularly speak with decides to drop the standard opening and closing. In fact, I find it a bit of a relief that we can just get on with saying what we’ve come online to say. Accessorizing an email is often only appropriate to a point—and my hunch is that you’ll know when to do away with the formality.

This article originally appeared on the Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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