What Your Email Sign-Off Says About You

Updated 09/11/19
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Bloomberg Businessweek writes off “cheers” as “elitist,” but we beg to differ. If you hail from the UK, “cheers” is entirely appropriate and friendly. It shows that you are proud of your background, perhaps even sentimental, but you are willing to embrace your life stateside. On the other hand, if you aren’t from the UK, bidding farewell in an email with “cheers” might come across as inauthentic, like you’re trying too hard, or even borderline pompous.

There is much debate about the use of “xoxo” or “xx” in the workplace. In The Atlantic, Jessica Bennett and Rachel Simmons discuss how the once-intimate sign-off is feminizing the workplace, and question whether or not this is a good thing. “XO, is not a habit unique to 20-somethings reared on Gossip Girl. It has surfaced in the digital correspondence of everyone from Arianna Huffington to Nora Ephron,” they write. In fact, the use of “xoxo” and all of its derivatives has become so commonplace that its omission can mean more than its inclusion. “In Diane Sawyer’s newsroom,” staffers tell The Atlantic, “the anchor uses ‘xo’ so frequently that its omission can spark panic.” Leaving out a friendly “xo” (among female co-workers) can be akin to using punctuation in text messages. It conveys a possible curtness that begs the question “Did I do something wrong?”

Like the singular formal “vous” in French, signing off with “respectfully” conveys a tone of appreciation and acknowledgement of your recipient. Perhaps you are addressing someone much older or someone with greater authority. Ending your email with “respectfully” really means just that: respect.

“Sincerely” also conveys a similar tone of respect or esteem for your colleague, but with an Old World flair. Use of “sincerely” harks back to the days of handwritten snail mail. In her book Etiquette, Emily Post refers to “sincerely” as “the best formal ending to a social note.” However, be careful with how you use this sign-off in the workplace. If your email is slightly lighthearted or thoughtful, “sincerely” provides a formal adieu with a sentiment of honesty and respect. On the other hand, if the tone of your email is curt, signing off with “sincerely” adds further detachment to your correspondence.

While “cordial” technically means affectionate or cheerful, in a business setting, “cordially” can be perceived as the slightly stiffer cousin of “sincerely.” It’s used far less frequently and, in our experience, often comes from those who don’t know the recipient of their emails well, or at all. For instance, recruiters on LinkedIn often conclude their messages with “cordially” when reaching out to someone they’ve never met.

A friendlier, less formal version of “sincerely” is “regards” or the always mood-boosting “warm regards.” Traditionally, “regards” is short for “kindest regards,” but when you omit the “kindest” or the “warm” part of this sign-off, you weaken its potentially uplifting impact. Richard Kirshenbaum, chief creative officer of the advertising firm Kirshenbaum Bond and Partners, understands the impact an email sign-off can have on its recipient. He nixes the “regards” altogether in favor of “warmly.” “I want to convey a sense of warmth and passion, but also be appropriate,” he tells The New York Times. We agree with Kirshenbaum. “Warmly” falls in between “love” and “sincerely.” It’s supremely kind and warm but entirely professional.

And then there is the lack of a sign-off altogether. Perhaps it’s a hyphen (-) or dash (—) and a name, or maybe it’s truly nothing at all. Your silence at the end of an email can speak volumes. You may be too busy to come up with an appropriate ending, or you may be answering a direct question with a single-word answer that you deem too concise to warrant a farewell. You could, however, load you silence with meaning. It may suggest to the recipient that he or she is on thin ice at the moment. Our advice? Limit the no-nonsense reply to colleagues you know well and with whom you are frequently engaging in conversation. Otherwise, this lack of a closing acknowledgement can come off as far too negative or just flat-out rude.

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