Goodbyes are hard. Sometimes the toughest goodbye of all is the one at the end of an email. Before email communications took over the stage, there was really only one standard way to close a business letter: with a “Sincerely” and off you go without a second thought. On the receiving end of the letter, you knew clearly that your job as a letter reader was over, and you were free to go about your business.
As email communication has evolved over the years, we’ve seen our friends, business associates, and total strangers try on a number of different closings. Some are totally benign and others have made me take note, and not in a good way. As an executive search consultant, I hear from folks all over the country, and beyond, via email—often individuals I’ve never met or have only spoken to on the phone—and I have to conclude: some sign-offs work better than others, and maybe none is best of all.
“Sincerely” was appropriate for a while after we all got used to email as the go-to in the 90s, but now when I see it, I wonder if the person is still dialing up with AOL. “Cheers” seemed to be really popular for a few years, perhaps as the world truly became flat and we adopted it from our friends in the UK and Commonwealth countries. I don’t see that one much anymore, and I’m relieved. It’s tough to pull it off without the real accent, and sadly I don’t see a glass of red wine anywhere near me, and I am now wondering if you do.
“Warmly” or “Warm Regards” or even “Warmest Regards” seems to be popular these days, though perhaps waning. I generally find it a little cloying, or that I’m supposed to be sitting in the bath, but I’m cynical that way. “Regards” feels ever so formal and borderline brusque, but it seems to be one of the sign-offs most in vogue.
I will never begrudge an email sender who closes with a sincere “Thank you” or “Thanks” but those gratitude-filled sign-offs can too easily be used as a small but passive aggressive jab when the sender is not, in fact, thankful, such as “I know it was you who stole my yogurt from the office fridge. If you could replace it, that would be great. Thanks, …”
Some particularly special sign-offs received by my colleagues from executives have included: “Still smilin’” (if you have to mention it, I’m pretty sure you aren’t, in fact, smilin’) and “who dares, wins” (if you say so).
The now ubiquitous “Best” is fine, though whenever I use it to close my emails I feel like a phony. I’m only using it because everyone else does, and it will garner little to no attention. This rather pat adjective with no subject leaves too much to interpretation.
Bloomberg.com correspondent Rebecca Greenberg recently called for a moratorium on “Best” in a recent article, stating that we’ve been trimming the English language of all ornamental expression to the point that as we are “fearful of coming off as too smug or affectionate, we’ve been bullied into using empty words.” She suggests we do away with email sign-offs altogether.
Others agree, including Slate writer Matthew J.X. Malady who writes “email sign-offs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it.” He goes on to argue that we need a hard and fast rule of no sign-offs, even for more formal emails, saving us all time.
If the emails in my inbox suddenly arrived with no sign-offs, I don’t think I would miss them, and I’d save myself the not insignificant amount of time I have spent on my sign-offs to those I don’t know well, wondering if he or she will not really believe that I am leaving them with “All the best.” I expect that it will take a few more years for sign-offs to go fully extinct.