Is it presumptuous or polite to close an email with "Thank you in advance"?

In a recent training, there was a spirited discussion about writing "Thank you in advance" as an email signoff. Half the group considered the phrase friendly, while half felt it was manipulative or rude. However, in a LinkedIn poll, more than half gave "Thank you in advance" the nod. In fact, emails that end with "Thank you in advance" have an impressive 65.7 percent open rate.

Emails that close with some expression of gratitude are 36 percent more likely to get a response. The question is whether "Thank you in advance" is the best way of expressing thanks.

To me, writing "Thank you in advance" is like writing, "I'm so sure you're going to do what I want that I'll thank you right now. And then I don't have to bother to thank you after you do it." I'm not a fan.

How then to account for the many people who find the phrase fine? I think it depends on whether the reader owes you a response. If a person is obligated to give you payment or favor and you want to throw a lasso of duty over their head, then "Thank you in advance" may rope the reader in. You've already obligated them by thanking them in advance, so they feel less comfortable about ignoring their duty to you.

For example, a mediator told me that when the date for mediation is approaching, and the client has not paid her fee, she might write, "The fee must be paid before the mediation. Please send in your payment by July 1. Thank you in advance." She intends to exert subtle pressure on the client by thanking him ahead of time. She tells me that clients usually pay after receiving this email.

Pre-emptive thanks can also put a halt to bad behavior. In one instance, the leader of a professional networking group needed to tell a group member to stop dunning the other members for business. He wrote to the offender, "Soliciting other members for business is contrary to our group's principles. Please refrain from doing so in the future. Thank you in advance." Again, the writer intended to create an obligation. He told me that the misbehavior stopped after the individual received this email.

But what about cases when the reader owes you nothing? You are prevailing on their goodwill to spend time and energy solving your problem. Perhaps you write to a colleague, "We worked on the XYZ report together a few years ago; I need to refer to it now but can't locate it. Can you see if you can find it? Thanks in advance" or "Could you send me the Q3 invoices for the Persham account? Thank you in advance."

In cases like these, you have no basis for creating a sense of obligation. If you try to do so, your reader may rebel. They don't want to feel duty-bound to respond when they have not yet agreed to help you. That's why many people loathe "Thank you in advance." They figure, "If you want to ask me to do something for you, ask me politely. Then, if I choose to help you, make an effort to thank me afterward. Don't take my cooperation for granted." When the person owes you nothing, "Thank you in advance" seems presumptuous, even rude.

If you ask your reader to do you a favor, show your appreciation without attempting to corral them into compliance. You could write,

·         Thank you for your attention.

·         Thank you for any assistance you can offer

·         Thank you for your consideration

·         Thanks again

or simply the time-honored "Thank you."

Fundamentally, "Thank you in advance" works by creating a sense of obligation in the reader. When the person legitimately owes you, as when someone is bound to pay you or comply with a request, then "Thank you in advance" is likely to generate a response. However, if you are making a request, try writing something that seems less like a demand. Don't assume that they will do your will. Then, after they help you, send them the words everyone wants to hear: Thank you