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Der E-Mail-Guide

Schlagwörter: Smalltalk, English, Englisch, Geschäft, Email, OWAD, Obet


Long business letters are so last century. Although e-mail and text messages are the new norm, this doesn’t mean that old-fashioned attention to spelling, etiquette and small talk is also out-of-date.

“Dear Ladies and Gentlemen” is a popular salutation for written correspondence in Germany. Its popularity has always made me smile. Admittedly, it’s often used for very formal letters in the US. In the UK however, it’s rarely seen in the written form. Instead, we might use it at the start of an important – or pompous – speech. Just without the “Dear.”

This salutation is not warm, friendly or personal. It’s cold and impersonal. It creates a distance between the originator and the recipient. And it’s totally out of place in e-mail communication. It has just the opposite effect that most people want.

But that doesn’t mean we can just drop all salutations in our e-mails. Or sign-offs. Or small talk. There’s a time and place for all three.

Learn from the past

Today, we are so used to firing off fast e-mails, that we risk forgetting the good manners of the past. Not all e-mails need a salutation or signoff, or even small talk. Each time you write an e-mail, you need to make a judgement call on all three. Below are some basic guidelines to help you make that call.

General rules

Subject Line: Even before a recipient opens your message – or deletes it unread – they're already judging your professionalism. The biggest crime is to leave the subject line empty, or even worse, to write something that is so generic – such as Meeting – that it doesn’t prompt the reader to open it at all. Think of the subject line as the opening to small talk. It has to grab the reader’s attention to draw them into the conversation. The subject line can have the same effect.

Bad spelling, poor grammar and general sloppiness: Spelling mistakes in e-mails are more common than they were in letters. Poor grammar is everywhere. For instance: your instead of you're, talk to Deborah and I instead of Deborah and me. Why is that? Because the originator mistakenly believes that e-mails are more ephemeral? That speed is more important than accuracy? Seriously, how long does it take to check an e-mail for mistakes or set up auto-correct or the spell-checker? There’s really no excuse.

Using mobile devices to send an e-mail message can be trickier. Although most smartphones have auto-correct enabled by default, the corrections are not always correct. In my opinion, adding something like “Sent from my mobile/smartphone, please excuse any typos” is a valid excuse for any mistakes.

Think of your e-mail as your dress code in a face-to-face small talk conversation, only in electronic form. Put on your best suit/dress by making sure your e-mails are well structured, grammatically correct and filled with appropriate vocabulary – spelt correctly.

Structure, fonts, colours and emoticons: Think of the look of your e-mail as the body language in small talk. Correct posture is just as important as the words you use. In the absence of facial expressions and hand gestures, the structure, fonts, colours and emoticons you use will have to make up for them.

Choose a professional style and keep the structure simple with short paragraphs and bullet points for important details. By the way, you should really leave out the emoticons unless you’re someone who usually winks at people in small talk.

Sign-offs: There are so many to choose from today, but by far the most popular is a simple “Thanks." Just make sure there is a reason to say thanks, otherwise you come across as condescending.I’ve noticed a natural progression towardbeing more and more familiar with each e-mail, starting with “Kind regards” and “Best regards” to “All the best” or “Best”, or just your name – or even initials. Kisses (xx or xoxo) have increased over recent years, but I personally keep them only for good friends. What could possibly be next once you’ve signed off with a kiss in a business context?

Small talk by e-mail types

New business

More important than small-talk phrases is probably a professional tone, by following the guidelines above. Small talk is typically limited to people who have regular e-mail exchanges.

Regular e-mail exchanges

Start and/or end with small talk. Wrap your message within small talk. You could think of your e-mail message as a very British sandwich, with the soft bread on the outside, essential for a sandwich. But the real meat of the snack/message is in the filling. Without the bread, it feels incomplete.

There are open sandwiches, with bread on the bottom. You could see this as a way to end your e-mail. Adding a small talk message is a positive and friendly way to end your e-mail. It leaves the reader with a good feeling. And what could possibly be wrong with that?

Sign-offs

• Have a lovely holiday!

• I look forward to hearing about your trip to Thailand when you return!

• I hope you enjoy your break.

• Have a nice/fun/relaxing/lovely weekend!

• Greetings from sunny Athens/ wet and windy Munich!

Equally common is the small talk comment as an opening.

Opening

• How are you? I hope things are going well at your end. (General)

• How was your weekend? Did you go rowing as planned? You could have rowed here as the weather was fantastic. (Show that you remember their interests)

• I hope you had a good week/weekend. (General)

• I hope you’re feeling better. (Show that you know they weren’t well)

• How was your holiday in Thailand?

I hope you had the chance to forget about work! (Show that you remember personal information they have shared with you.) Whether you choose to top and/or tail your message, you should really include something personal that shows you know your partner and are interested in building a better working relationship. That's the goal of all small-talk exchanges.

Daily, hourly exchanges

Many e-mail exchanges occur in a short period of time, in quick succession. They are often the result of quick decisions or urgent action. Small talk can be out of place here. However, in British e-mails in particular, and noticeably when things are going well, small talk comments will find their way into the final exchanges, and usually include some positive remarks about the work, but also about private matters.

•It’s been great working on this with you, John. I look forward to the next project.

• Have a good weekend – we deserve it after our work today!

• Great work! Have a lovely evening.

Instant messages

There was a time when text messages were not considered professional enough for business situations. Today, when many business executives give out mobile numbers as well as e-mails, text messages can be useful. Should they include small talk? Again, this always requires a judgement call. A short opening with “How are you”s never wrong, and can always be ignored. Long in-depth updates on holidays and sickness are probably not best in text messages, unless they have become the normal form of communication in your particular line of business. If that’s the case, add small talk to your messages to show that you’re interested in your business partner on more than a cool, business level. Just keep it professional.

Minimal, but professional

It’s best to keep the level of small talk in business e-mails low, and in text messages to an absolute minimum. After all, you are exchanging work messages. Keep it short, simple and sincere. A few pleasantries in e-mails can make a difference in how people view you in a professional capacity. It doesn’t take much time to add a comment about the weather or sign off with a “Have a lovely weekend.” These niceties can make all the difference to how your e-mail is received.

Schlagwörter: Smalltalk, English, Englisch, Geschäft, Email, OWAD, Obet

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