How do you know whether to include a friendly comment at the beginning of a business email? You know, that one that hopes the reader is having a nice day or congratulates them on their home team's football win. Your email opening sets the tone for your message, so you want to get it right.
Writing at work requires us to suss out the situations when a greeting is necessary. Now that so much work is done remotely, creating relationships in writing is more important than ever. Your greeting is your digital smile, and your opening comment is your virtual handshake. These polite gestures are essential to certain people -- omit them at your peril. "Hope you're having a nice day" will never win you a Pulitzer, but it humanizes your interaction with many readers. Customizing our communications creates powerful connections.
When it's appropriate to include an opening comment
If your email is the initial one in an exchange, then adding a note may be the right move. For example, in an initial email to a client or someone you do not know well, you would likely include a pleasant greeting about the season or some similarly vanilla topic.
However, it would be weird if you wrote, "Hi Harold, Hope you're having a good day. Will that report be ready by 5:00?" and received the response, "Hi Fred, Hope you're having a great day. I'll have it ready by 1:00." It would be sufficient to write back, "Hi, The report will be ready at 1:00."
When writing to clients or people of higher rank, the additional formality of a greeting may be a suitable mark of deference.
If you have communicated with this person before and they always include a happy-face comment, match their style by making an amiable statement.
When to omit the greeting
If the message is very urgent, get straight to the point. If the assembly line needs to stop, say so in the first line without commenting on the weather.
If you are amid an email exchange, treat it like a conversation.
If you are writing to someone who never offers a friendly comment, match their style.
When considering adding the greeting, bear your reader's personality in mind. We all want to be treated courteously, but some of us care about social remarks more than others. Many people enjoy a social nicety to break the ice in a business email. I call this group the have-a-nice-day people. Such folks will balk at the lack of a friendly comment and may be less open to your message if you fail to include one.
However, another group of readers has zero interest in whether you wish them a nice day. They don't even care if they are having a nice day. They just want you to state your point and make your request or promise at the top of your email so they can jump back into the hundred other tasks that demand their attention. For these people, the digital greeting is an obstacle that they blip over in their urge to find the point of the email. I call this group, which often includes CEOs and entrepreneurs, get-to-the-point people.
Roland Crane, a former CEO and current leader of CEO Peer-Advisory Groups, notes, "A lot of CEOs just want you to get to the point. Start with the action that you need from them." Some CEOs might be have-a-nice-day people by nature, but their job forces them into the mold of the get-to-the-point individual.
If you are writing to the top executive in your company, you probably know what type of person they are. If they always greet you, respond in kind. If they always jump straight to the point, cut the chummy remarks.
You will not always know whether your reader is a have-a-nice-day person or a get-to-the-point person. Also, people change. Someone who cherishes a greeting one day might be under pressure another day and wish you would cut to the chase.
Let your previous communications with the individual be your guide, and remember that when in doubt, courtesy is king. The worst that can happen is that the busy reader will fly past your greeting in their search for your key point.