how can I write warmer emails?

A reader writes:

What tips can you offer to “soften” the tone of business emails?

I tend to be direct in real life interactions, possibly erring on the side of blunt. Putting niceties in emails to others feels like a waste of their time, but some feedback I’m getting is that I can come off as terse or scolding. Yes, I am female, and this may be a factor in the critique.

In person, I’m able to offset the directness with humor and smiling pretty successfully. I may be overreacting to people who don’t share my affinity for efficient point-making, and I can write a long and explanatory email as well as the next person (so it’s not length that’s the issue), but this is still a skill I’d like to develop.

Is my only recourse smiley faces? That feels so unprofessional in non-personal communication.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Empress Matilda*

    I actually have the opposite question – I’ve been wondering how to write emails *without* using exclamation points and smiley faces! I agree with the OP that they feel unprofessional, but also I don’t know how to avoid them without seeming rude.

    1. Ranon*

      I feel like exclamation marks are pretty standard for business emails, at least for folks you have a semi informal working relationship with- if you’d ask them how their weekend was I’d assume there are exclamation points involved in regular correspondence because of the warmth factor.

      I mostly don’t use smiley faces, though- couldn’t tell you why, even. They just don’t seem to say what I want to say most of the time.

    2. Samwise*

      Leave out the emojis

      Exclamation points— just use those for the sociability phrases:
      Thank you!
      I appreciate it!
      Thanks, this helps me a lot!

      Personally, I’d like to purge exclamation points almost entirely, but they are a marker for warmth and friendliness in email, not solely grammatical. So I have made my peace with them.

      1. Flash Packet*

        My favorite work thing is to use emojis and GIFs in as many interactions as I can, and then, when a recipient of those communications who thinks messages should only contain letters, numbers, and punctuation marks needs expert knowledge about something I am an expert in and my manager tells them, “Go ask Flash, she’s our resident guru on intercompany leasing of llamas across global borders,” and the recipient is like, “I thought Flash was an immature idiot,” and — tada! — I’m not. :-)

        1. Not James Joyce*

          This system is not playing to your advantage the way you perceive it to be.

          You will still come across as an immature lightweight in your writing. That is what people remember when they interact with you on a day-to-day basis. They will think of you as a poor writer and poor communicator.

          1. Flash Packet*

            Interesting. That’s not what my performance reviews say, nor the glowing remarks from the people I work with across our global organization.

            The only people who have an issue with it are the ones who insist that communications are only good when they contain nothing but letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. I’m OK with them not liking my style.

            1. Bee*

              Here in solidarity. I use smiley emojis and they absolutely improve the message I am sending. I use maybe one per email and not in most emails at that, but honestly it doesn’t matter as much as anti-emoji people think. If you know your work culture and no one has an issue with it, then emoji and gif away.

              Slack, on the other hand…you can tear :meow_party: out of my cold dead hands. I’ll respond to virtually anything with that kitty.

          2. IT Manager in Toronto*

            I work in risk, governance, diligence and compliance. Pretty serious business. Some of the most competent advisors I know working with the big investment banks, governments, and largest corps in the world use many emojis. Industry is changing. Two emails into an exchange with a senior executive at one of the world’s largest multinational investment management firms and we are sending GIFs.

    3. oranges*

      I’m a “literally count the exclamation points in my emails so there aren’t too many” kind of gal. If you don’t use any, adding them to the “Hey!” and “Thanks!” at the beginning/end can be a way to soften, as Alison suggests.
      If you already use too many in the body, taking them out of the beginning/end can be easy ways to cut down. (I just use “Hello.” and “Thank you,” now.) I’ve limited myself to only one exclamation point, in one sentence in an email.

      Regarding smiley faces, I only use them if it’s a VERY close coworker. Otherwise it’s a “(lol)” or “-ha!” or a manual :), depending on generation. Outlook smiley faces are just SO yellow and cartoonish, that I feel like it jumps out as first thing a recipient sees onscreen. It sets the tone for the whole email as more cutesy than I usually want to be.

      As a fellow-overthinker about this stuff, I wish you the best of luck!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I have also had success with the “draft the email with all of the exclamation points, and then edit it down to one or two exclamation points before sending” method.

        1. Empress Matilda*

          One exclamation point in one sentence, drafting and editing, and not overthinking. I use 2/3 of those strategies already, so it’s good to know I’m on the right track. Thank you both!

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep that’s what I do. I err towards an exclamation for a sentence I’m trying to warm up and then edit most of them out.

        3. Smithy*

          This is 100% what I do.

          I almost find it to be the email writing version of “smile when talking on the phone” – if I write the initial email with a lot of exclamation points, I find that on the quick reread/edit – the overall tone does have most of the warmth I’m looking for and can just leave the final version with one.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I find I smile while I write emails because I came up with the phone advice. It helps? It probably looks weird.

        4. Heffalump*

          Mark Twain once wrote that you should write “damn” whenever you mean “very.” Your editor will take out the “damns,” and the text will be as it should be.

        5. Le Sigh*

          I do this as well, but also do a Ctrl-F for “please,” “just” and “thanks.” I want to be polite, but I find my habits can make my emails sound almost too passive or deferential. This is particularly important that when I’m assigning tasks and whatnot, because I don’t want to be terse, but I don’t want to sound like I’m hoping/pleading someone will do something for me when I’m their manager!

          1. oranges*

            Using “please” too many times is something I check for too, for exactly that reason.

            It’s either “Please do ___”
            “Please let me know if you have questions.”

            Not both.

        6. Miss Muffet*

          My most common check is to avoid exclamation points for two sentences in a row. But I’m usually sending emails internally so I’m pretty friendly with the recipient. If I’m sending to a client, I’m obviously much more aggressive with the editing!

    4. ferrina*

      I use exclamation points a lot, because I deliberately cultivate a reputation for being upbeat. It’s not buttoned-up serious, but it’s also not unprofessional. It’s a useful demarcation in conveying tone through written communications (particularly if it’s to someone that you don’t have a lot of phone/video/in-person conversations with).

      1. Oranges*

        I’m a very upbeat and positive person too, so I definitely type that way naturally. (My personal texts and writing are bursting with exclamation points and emojis!)

        I made a conscious effort to cut back when I took a role as the senior woman on a team that included several junior women. The extras felt a little too juvenile to me, so I edit myself a bit now.

    1. oranges*

      Alison’s response gives the LW the benefit of the doubt that they’re already using please/thank you, but if I had to bet, my money is on… not. I’ve worked with a lot of terse people, both in person and written, and the only person I thought was unpleasant was the one I didn’t working with directly who wrote things like:
      Jane picked blue. Fix immediately.

      Instead of:
      Jane picked blue. Please fix immediately.

      Two more words and a world of difference in tone.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      I think this can be complicated, and depends on the context (is it internal or external, is the other person someone you work with a lot or someone you barely know, etc.). Formality can come off as *more* chilly, in my experience.

      I actually find that I don’t use the actual word “please” that often — most of my communication is on the less formal side, so I use other strategies for politeness that fit that context better. “Thank you”, I do use more often (well, usually it’s “thanks”).

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Sometimes I’ll end an email with “please and thank you” because it’s slightly less formal than using please in a commanding sentence elsewhere and just the tiniest bit more cutesy so it feels less tense.

      2. Bee*

        Yeah, I feel weird using please a lot – except in brief phrases like “yes please!” – but I feel like a soft request (“can you send me the thing?”) and a “thanks!” works just as well.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          This is how I feel as well — adding “please” to something that’s already in the form of a question can come off as passive-aggressive.

        2. Miss Muffet*

          It’s been fun watching my teens start to figure out that the “can you do this…” framing is like, not really a question/not really optional. I don’t think I ever connected it to how I do that kind of thing at work but it probably does come from the same place!
          “No” is … not actually an appropriate answer here kiddo…..

        3. sundae fun day*

          True, I think “can you send me this?” actually sounds softer/nicer than “Please send me this.”

    3. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      They can, but they’re not a universal fix. I once worked with someone in a public- facing role who had a, uh, very succinct way of emailing. Think:
      That isn’t an allowable expense. Your claim has been denied.

      His team lead and boss gave him some tips to write more gently, including add warmer greetings and closings. He wanted to be efficient, so he edited his email signature. This resulted in:

      “Dear Person,
      That isn’t an allowable expense. Your claim has been denied.
      Have a nice day!

      Not… really the intended result.

      1. Robin*

        While absolutely the wrong result, this is *also* absolutely hysterical! My brain immediately imagined clerk behind a desk talking to a client in person with an absolutely expressionless face saying “this isn’t an allowable expense, your claim has been denied.” And then, with the brightest, widest, fakest smile, “have a nice day!”

        I am going to giggle about this all afternoon.

  2. 3lla*

    I have solved this for myself!

    I start every email with:
    “Hi, [name], happy [current day of the week]!”

    And end every email that isn’t bad news with “Cheers, 3lla”

    These steps eliminated over 90% of complaints about my email tone.

    1. KatEnigma*

      Do you do that in every email, or just the first of the day/chain?

      Because after the 2nd or 3rd email about a subject that day, I would rather get to the substance.

      But I do always please and thank you and a little softening along the way. Thanks for your time, thanks again, etc

      1. 3lla*

        The second in the chain I drop the “happy [day of the week]” but I include the recipient’s name /every/ time and always end with Cheers. And yes, plenty of thanking.

        1. ferrina*

          Seconding this practice- it’s really effective for communicating cheerful/up-beat attitude via email.

          1. Robin*

            Same; picked it up from UK colleagues years ago. I cycle through “cheers”, “thanks”, “thank you”, “kind regards”, and “regards” depending on the level of formality the email requires and how annoyed I am with the person.

    2. Jack+Russell+Terrier*

      YES – I do this Happy (day of the week). I might also say – have a good weekend / Thanksgiving etc.

      The weather is great (must be the Brit part of me).

      Hope you’ve got a nice sunny day like we have!

      To someone you know (best not to be ‘negative’ if you don’t know the person well’):
      It’s been pouring here for what seems like days – looking forward to it clearing up. Hope you’re getting better weather at your end.

      That’s really all you need – just some inconsequential something, along with thanks, appreciate you got that done quickly etc.

      1. bamcheeks*

        The weather is great (must be the Brit part of me).

        No you see if you were British, you’d be complaining about the weather. “The weather is great” would mark you out as a foreigner like *snaps fingers*

        1. Jack+Russell+Terrier*

          I meant that using the weather is great! Yes, bemoaning the weather – best pastime!

      2. Sharon*

        I had trouble with this myself, but once it was explained to me that the words that were unnecessary “filler” to me were really important to some people, I started including phrases like “Hope you had a nice weekend” or “Thanks for checking” or “Here’s the information you asked for – good luck with the meeting” and it’s made a world of difference.

    3. Pounce de Lion*

      That’s a nice solution. I was instructed to add more politeness padding around my emails, too, and it’s been a chore. I’ve been commenting on the weather but that takes up valuable thinking time that I’d rather spend on something else (like reading AAM).

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes , I find a brief comment like these is a sort of written equivalent of a smile. For folks I communicate with less often, I might toss in “hope you’re having a good fall!”. I don’t end with “Cheers” but I may use “Take care” or “Warmly” depending on the content of the rest of the email.

    5. Flash Packet*

      I used to end my emails with “Cheers” and then we had a British person join our team and she is. . . a handful. She tries to act like she is everyone’s manager (including me), even though she’s staff, and she interprets every interaction as a slight (unless you’re an actual manager, and then she is overly effusive and deferential).

      She ends her emails with “Cheers”.

      It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me now.

      So I’m back to “Thanks in advance,” and “Thank you so much!” since most of my emails are requests for information / documentation.

    6. Rainy*

      Yup, when I respond to someone here’s my process:

      They write: “Hi Rainy,
      Hope you had a great weekend! I’ve put together the next report on orange chairs in this document. There are some chairs that I thought were orange but Wakeen insists are red–can you clarify whether you are classifying that set as orange or red or something else? I’ve highlighted them in the document. If you could review and make changes by Friday that would be great.”

      I open my draft: “Hi Jane,
      That chair set is coded as red, so don’t include them.”
      (signature says “Cheers, Rainy”)

      Before I send it, I go back and emend it to: “Hi Jane,
      My weekend was great! I hope you were able to get out and enjoy the sunny weather. That chair set is coded as red because of the manufacturer color names, so they don’t need to be included. Let me know if you need the documentation on that for Wakeen.”
      (signature still says “Cheers, Rainy”)

  3. Sarah*

    Grammarly has a tone detector too – it’s in the free version, so no need to subscribe.

    I find it useful – sometimes I want my emails to sound firm, and sometimes I want them to sound warm and friendly. Either way, I can make sure I’m hitting my mark.

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      This is an awesome suggestion! I wish I’d know about this earlier – I spent almost an hour trying to hit the correct tone (frustrated but professional) on an email just the other day.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Wordtune is another tool (has a free version) and I use it a lot in my writing. It gives you a bunch of different ways to say a sentence.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      No me spending the last 15 minutes copying and pasting old emails of mine and my coworkers’ into new emails to compare the tone and check that mine is similar to others’.

  4. Purple Jello*

    I even set up my standard email signature to:

    Purple (in a script font, dark blue)
    [insert company required signature with full name here]”

    If “Thanks” isn’t appropriate, or I need to modify it, it’s not an issue.

    1. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

      In some workplaces, a script/colored font signature might read as slightly less professional than an exclamation mark or the other warm-inducing options Alison mentions. (I’m a woman working in law, for example, and those kinds of sign-offs immediately read, rightly or wrongly, as frivolous and focused on the wrong things at work in a way the other options don’t.

      1. bratschegirl*

        Just saw that WW episode over the weekend! I wonder if “Helena Hodsworth-Hootertooter” is available as a username…

    2. Emma*

      Ugh, I hate unnecessary colors and fonts. It often strains my eyes. Also, on a more practical note, my company has style guidelines and fonts and colors for emails are specified.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        I can deal with the color and font thing, but I hate, hate, HATE the backgrounds that people put in their Outlook emails. How is this still a thing in professional emails in in 2022?! And I can never get rid of it when I reply and just … *shudder.*

        The worst was someone who worked for another state agency who was allowed to have a dang Daisy patterned background in their email. Why? WHY?

      2. Purple Jello*

        Wow I had no idea people disliked the signature font, or the slightly different color of my name in the “signature” (dark blue instead of black). Guess if I were to go back to work I’d just have “Thanks, Purple” in the line before my company signature block.

    3. Geriatric Millennial*

      Gmail tends to hide people’s signatures (you can click on it to expand it though). So I always sign my email, and include any friendly tone indicators, in the main body, assuming that my signature may not be seen on a quick read.

    4. Fanny Price*

      I hate it when people have the “thanks” visibly in their signature. It’s like the wedding showers where they make everyone address their own envelope for the thank you note, and then it gets filled with a preprinted card that doesn’t indicate that they even remember what you gave them. Is it really that hard to type “thanks” if I gave you information or help?

  5. KHB*

    Great advice here, especially the part about adding a sentence or two to explain why you’re asking for what you’re asking for. It’s amazing (to me, anyway) how much of a difference that can make – from “you’re a peon who has to follow my orders just because I said so” to “we’re all on the same team here, and we’re all doing our parts to work together for a common goal.”

    1. Observer*

      It also often saves time.

      Like the example of the wrong report. Putting in what you got and what you need is a touch longer to type than “This isn’t the document I asked for. Can you please send me the correct file?” Bit it will almost always save time. Because the first response you are likely to get to this is NOT the file you asked for but either:

      I sent you the correct file
      I sent you the burrito file. What do you need?
      Which file did you get from me? (and yes, I know that people can always look at their send emails, but they often don’t)

      Any one of these is going to take up way more time than the just putting in the extra sentence in the first place.

      1. Smithy*

        Completely agree that a little extra context often goes a long way – particularly when the request is more urgent, stern, or can be read as micromanage-y.

        “Sorry for the late notice, but can you please give me updated talking points in two hours? Thanks!” vs “I know this is late notice, but can you give me updated talking points in two hours? CEO has a meeting early tomorrow morning and we need to submit all final talking points COB. Thanks for understanding!”

        I’ve gotten a lot of emails like the first one that include the Sorry/Please/Thanks niceties – but without that extra sentence and knowing why the request is urgent and so little context, the niceties can feel incredibly hollow. As a result, I think that the emphasis on softening can miss the point of treating people like humans to be included a bit more.

    2. hbc*

      That context can be more than pleasant, too. It’s amazing the number of times someone will ask for what they think they want and the other person has info that can be helpful.

      “I need the service history for XYZ company.”
      “Here you go, service report attached.”


      “I need the service history for XYZ company, they’re claiming that we haven’t been properly servicing all the machines we sold them.”

      “I’ve attached the service history, but if they’re talking about ABC machines, a few years ago they insisted on a discount on those since they wanted to waive the service and perform it themselves. You can see the discount on their last invoice, and I can dig up the email chain if you’d like.”

    3. Flash Packet*

      I have been trying for a year to train one of our team members (one rung below me and part of my role is mentoring / coaching) to explain why she needs the info she is requesting. So far, it’s not sticking. Her email threads look like this:

      Her: “Dear Person – I need the XYZ report for 2Q22. The deadline to provide it is this Friday.”
      Person: “I have no idea what an XYZ report is.”
      Her: “Your predecessor provided it last year. You have it.”
      Person: “Again, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

      What it should look like:
      Her: “Dear Person – I am auditing the ABC process and need the XYZ report that shows the inventory balance as of Date. Is that something you would be able to provide?”
      Person: “I don’t know what the XYZ report is, but I run the LMNOP report after close each month and it has the inventory balance as of Date. Would that work?”
      Her: “Yes, thank you! I’m learning that each department has a different name for that report, but that’s the information I need. Do you think I could get a copy by this Friday?”
      Person: “How about right now? I’ve attached it.”

  6. hellohello*

    The nice thing about the longer examples Alison included here is that they’re not just niceties, they genuinely include useful information missing from the original version. Saying you need something because a client is coming or giving details on why the document you received is the wrong one are extra information that can help head off questions before they’re asked, saving a potential back and forth. That kind of additional detail is helpful both for logistical reasons and for reassuring the person you’re talking to you don’t think they’re a robot or an annoyance.

    1. Bee*

      Right, “a client wants to see it when they’re in at this time” pre-emptively answers any questions about, say, can I get it to you at 12:15 instead of noon on the dot, which might also bump it up my to-do list.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I really like that.

      I don’t actually struggle with this because I am the *classic* Xennial and my emails are full of, “would you be able to..?” “Could you just…” “please me know if that’s not possible!”

      Generally that works pretty well for me and I laugh in the face of all that sexist, “ladies! you should write more like men!” nonsense. But sometimes I need to write more formal emails where I can actually exercise authority, and I think that’s such great advice for how to do that without relying on all the emojis and exclamations marks and qualifiers.

      (A few years ago on twitter someone did a series of random notes in different styles, and one was “millennial office worker”: “If you could just leave the ransom money at the drop location, I’d really appreciate it! We were thinking $32k but let us know if that won’t be doable for any reason? Thanks so much! :-)” I cringed.)

      1. Flash Packet*

        I’m an early Gen-Xer, just a smidge past the end of Boomer, and I do that with all my emails. I had no idea that people think it’s cringe-worthy.

        I’ve noticed that using that tone with my emails tends to get me what I want, faster, than my “just the facts” team members. And the recipients tend to be extra helpful with any requests or issues I have going forward. Like, division controllers dropping what they’re doing to track down an answer for me instead of directing me to someone below them who will direct me to someone else, and days later I still don’t have the answer.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I don’t think that email style itself is cringe– like I said, I use it and it works very well for me! — but it’s always cringe to see something you do and which feels so natural parodied so well.

  7. Sunny*

    Sarah Cooper’s satirical “Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women” addresses this. Unfortunately, the advice on that list is largely indistinguishable from actual advice on tone I’ve received from past managers. :(

  8. I should really pick a name*

    It would have been useful to have examples of what the LW considers to be niceties. I feel like there’s quite a range between brusque and flowery.

  9. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I have the same problem of sounding terse, and my solution is to always start the body of the email with some sort of friendly banality, “I hope this email finds you well” “I hope you are enjoying the great weather” “I hope you had a pleasant weekend/holiday/vacation.” I also sign off with a pretty standard, “If you have any questions or need anything from me, please let me know.”

    1. Observer*

      This makes a lot of sense. A lot of these things, like the standard “Good morning, how are you?” are not meant to be taken deeply. They are simply an acknowledgement of the humanity of the person you are dealing with. I don’t think that that is ever a waste of time.

      I mean think about how often people respond to “How are you doing?” with “Yourself?” and no one blinks an eye. That’s because what this exchange does is to acknowledge that each person is a human with a day that extends past this particular interaction.

      1. Mostly Managing*

        Sir Terry Pratchett, in one of his books, refers to “The noises humans make when they great each other. It means, ‘I am alive and so are you.'”

        It’s something I have had to work hard to teach my neuro-divergent kid! Make the noises. It’s not a real conversation, nobody actually wants to hear how anybody’s doing, it’s the way we great each other.

    2. londonedit*

      Yes, I do the same. I always start my emails with ‘Hope you’re keeping well’ or ‘Hope you had a good weekend’ or ‘Hope this week has been treating you well so far’. I have to say I do also use ‘just’, as in ‘I’m just emailing to ask whether you’ve had a chance to review the proofs I sent you last week? Press date is fast approaching and, as I mentioned in my previous email, we need to send any remaining corrections to Production by the end of the day on Friday. Could you let me know by Wednesday evening whether there is anything else that you need to flag?’ Of course I could just write ‘Have you reviewed the proofs I sent last week? Corrections must be with Production on Friday. I need any further edits from you by Wednesday’ but part of my job is cultivating warm and collaborative working relationships with authors, whose egos can often be quite fragile, and that means that putting in a bit of softening/warmth/’thank you so much!’ language is necessary to oil the wheels a bit.

  10. Lizabeth*

    Alison’s suggestions are good but please keep in mind that you have no control over “how” the tone of the email is read by the reader. They don’t have facial cues to go by as you do with in-person conversation so it’s all in their mind. I’ve gotten business emails that “sounded” pissed off to me and they weren’t at all.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I also find that if I know the other person well, I tend to read the email in the context of their usual communication. If I were to get very similar emails, written in a neutral style, from a “very stiff and formal” person and an “upbeat and bubbly” person, I might read them in those tones, respectively, just based on what each of them is like in person.

  11. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Alison’s suggestions are good and correct as usual, and I think if you’re still getting feedback about being too harsh after implementing those (as I sometimes do) you have to put that down to sexism. When my supervisor brought me feedback that people had said my emails were rude, I asked my supervisor if male colleagues were getting the same criticism for similar tone. I have not been given that feedback since.

  12. Everything+Bagel*

    I used to write emails in a way similar to the LW I think, but I have tried to relax my writing over the years. For instance, the dreaded please advise being replaced with please let me know, stuff like that. Sometimes writing in a way that is similar to speech in a conversation doesn’t look right on the page, but if you can try to bend that way you might come off as more personable. I’m sorry I can’t think of any other good examples of this.

      1. allathian*

        TIA/Thanks in advance is almost as bad, at least when it follows an unreasonable request that you have no intention of doing.

  13. Emma*

    I could have written this question about 20 years ago lol. My boss actually tried to ding me on my performance review one year for being “hard to work with” – but the thing was, I had never gotten a single complaint before then, nor had he ever spoken to me directly that my “terse” emails were a problem. On that basis, I got him to take the negative feedback off my review, but I still had to make an effort to do better. Luckily for me, at the time I was dating someone who was REALLY good at soft communication, so they helped me a ton! I only recently learned that I’m autistic, which made all that make much more sense in hindsight.

  14. Pomegranate*

    Great examples here. I also try to sign off with something relevant to the person’s location/day of the week. Like “Have a great weekend” on a Friday or “Stay warm” during a cold spell.

    It helps to acknowledge other person’s workload. “I know December is a really busy month for you, really appreciate you getting this done quickly”.

    Occasionally, you can send the message of appreciation/thanks with a cc to their line manager.

    Also, sometimes I find having a minor spelling or grammar error makes your message more approachable. I don’t go putting them on purpose, but I fret less when proofreading less formal communications. It’s like a small error reminds others that we are all human.

  15. Eldritch Office Worker*

    “This might not be immediately intuitive to you if you don’t value work relationships in that way, but you may just need to take it on faith that other people do, and that showing them warmth and respect in ways they recognize actually gets better work results in the long-run”

    This has been the biggest thing for me. It’s not that I don’t value work relationships it’s that there’s a difference between coffee talk and trying to get a project done, and I naturally err towards more direct if giving instructions or making a request so that people know what I’m asking of them. At first I really resented the idea of counting my exclamation points or having to dissect my tone in client emails vs vendor emails vs colleague emails – it’s a lot.

    But doing it well really makes a huge difference, especially in a world where we see each other less. Smaller interactions hold more weight. It’s absolutely worth mastering.

  16. Baron*

    This is all very gendered in some ways in terms of how much warmth we’re supposed to perform. As a man in a pink-collar profession, I worry that I’m going to be taken as unusually brusque even if I write the exact same way as my colleagues, so I tend toward effusiveness. (Which does look, for me, like 80% too many exclamation points and 20% too many smiley faces, but also like lots of softening phrases, very gentle wording, “have a great weekend”, etc. etc.)

    1. Robin*

      That is really interesting! Have you been given feedback about being too cold/brusque?

      (for funsies, I edited this message 3 times, including adding in the !; communication is fascinating)

  17. Pudding*

    Other stuff that I do:

    Inject a little humor into emails whenever appropriate. Mild self-deprecating humor is best, because it doesn’t target anyone else and emphasizes that you’re human.

    Use generalities or rough figures where detailed, exact information is not needed.(Around 10k instead of 10,023) Being overly precise in situations that don’t call for it can contribute to the perception that you’re overly rigid or cold.

    Use more direct communication sometimes when it’s appropriate, and take time to talk to people about non-work stuff sometimes. I use IM to talk to one group I work with, and it’s easier to inject warmth into those conversations because they’re more interactive. I can ask people how their Monday is, or observe that it sure got cold since last night, or that kind of thing. Sometimes I share personal information about myself (it’s my dog’s birthday today), which leads to other personal sharing from them (hey I have a dog too), which gives me things to ask about later. I know you’re thinking I’m wasting my time with that stuff, but those relationships are important to my work. The group I mentioned consistently gives me priority help when I really need it, without much pushback, because I’ve developed such a good rapport with them.

    Also — times to amp up the warmth. I try to be at my warmest when people come to me for help or questions about things they genuinely do not know and need help with. Also anytime someone seems to be having a really hard time. And I always, always try to help when I see someone struggling and I’m easily able to, even if it’s not my job. (For example, I updated a project status sheet recently for an overwhelmed colleague, just with information I could easily look up. It took me half an hour, helped him get caught up, and made him feel seen and cared about at a time when he was struggling.) People remember how you treat them when they are vulnerable, so those are especially good times to focus on being warm and kind.

    1. Pomegranate*

      Thanks for that last point Pudding! Goes to show that it’s not any single communication on its own that is important, but the overall pattern and how people feel about you in general. If they know you are helpful and pleasant to deal with, they won’t begrudge a short and to-the-point email once in a while when you are in a hurry.

      1. inko*

        Agreed, that’s a good observation! I think it sets a more relaxed tone for the conversation – not in the sense of dumbing down, but just because people naturally try to mirror your tone when they respond to you, and if you set the conversational bar at Extreme Precision every time, people feel like they have to meet the same standard. If rough figures are fine in the context, you can signal that by using them yourself, and then everyone else doesn’t have to set part of their brain whirring about the precise significant of 10,023 teapots.

  18. Susan*

    I’ve had to culture change after moving from a very masculine environment to a softer one. I have a go-to formula. It has been transformative, pleasantries aren’t wasting time, they build rapport that makes the person more willing to help you. That saves time.

    Hi [name] – it does sound harsh to use just the person’s first name as a salutation. Say hi or hello or morning.

    [single sentence of pleasantries] – something like ‘I hope you’re well!’ Or ‘thanks for sharing your first draft’.

    [literally your exact email as you’d normally write it]

    [friendly closing] – ‘thanks so much for your help’ or just ‘thanks’. If you’re a ‘regards’ person, or a ‘no closing at all’ person, that does read harshly

    [your name]

    1. TechWorker*

      Lol, 95% my emails start ‘Hi ’. The other 5 start ‘Hi all’ or ‘Hi x team’… I’ve never heard that seen of as cold at all – it’s critical if there’s lots of people on an email thread and you’re really directing questions/response at one of them…

      1. inko*

        I read this as advising LW to always use ‘Hi Bob’ rather than just ‘Bob’ to start an email – so I think you’re good!

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      The “thanks for sharing your first draft” is a great example of how to add warmth without adding small talk (for those who are wired to hate small talk). It’s still super functional. For example, if you sent me a draft and I want to send back critical feedback or a question, doing that with zero pleasantries or context will sound harsh. But by starting with “thanks for sending this, I have a question on page 8…” you’ve already softened it considerably.

  19. inko*

    I’m curious about the idea that niceties are time wasting for the recipient. Honestly, unless you’re writing hundreds of extra words, we’re talking about a few extra seconds to read it – and trying to save seconds is heavy over-optimisation, to my mind. I think it’s also part of the problem in how the emails come across. If I receive a completely pared-down message, I’m subconsciously reading the situation as urgent and stressful – no time to spare! Do it do it do it! I’d much rather save that impression for when I actually need someone to respond urgently. If it’s an ordinary request, there’s plenty of time for a quick ‘hope you had a nice weekend’, or a sentence giving the request some context.

    Unless what LW means is more like ‘writing niceties feels like a waste of my time’, because yes, writing takes longer than reading. But it’s an investment in working relationships that will absolutely pay off, in my experience.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with this – niceties don’t have to be lengthy or require the reader to respond. If someone is interpreting niceties as trying to have a friendly water cooler conversation via email – yes, waste of everyone’s times. But it’s really just about using basic professional courtesy/human manners, and it takes me under a second to type “thanks!”. I get a weekly report from a lovely person who always includes something basic like “hope you had a nice weekend!” or something simple that requires no response but warms up a here’s-your-report email without wasting time.

      I am 100% NOT an exclamation-pointy kind of person, but I do put them in my emails to make sure I’m not coming across like a military drill sergeant as I am aware that I’m a functional communicator, which can read as harsh to the relationship people. The minute time that takes me versus the amount of time bridge burning/repair that not doing it involves is a no-brainer.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I’d guess the “time wasting” for recipients is projection — if I’m a terse / task oriented communicator, it’s annoying to receive extra fluff and pleasantries. It wastes my time. So they assume their recipient will feel the same way.

      1. inko*

        True, I imagine you’re right about projection. I guess I just don’t quite get the framing around time specifically, because either way as a recipient we’re talking seconds at most (unless you end up five emails deep in a water-cooler-esque conversation about someone’s puppy, which, yes, shouldn’t happen regularly).

        I could understand it being annoying if you want to focus purely on work and not have to think about the people you’re working with, but that’s more about ‘wasting’ focus or attention rather than time. And I wonder if ‘wasting time’ feels like a more acceptable thing to say. That’s not meant as a criticism, really, I’m just poking at the thinking behind it to see what’s there.

    3. Zorak*

      Yes if someone gives off the sense that they think speaking with a baseline pleasantness is a waste of time, that tends to signal that they’re viewing the people they’re emailing as an obstacle to getting what they want, or as an impediment to minimize interaction with.

      Even if that’s not the case, it takes so little time to add a mildly warm greeting and “Thank you!”, mere seconds, that if the sender still doesn’t bother, it doesn’t come across so well. It implies devaluing the reader’s experience, if it’s not even worth an extra word.

      1. inko*

        Yes! It signals that this is a collegial exchange, we’re on the same team and things are generally OK. Of course I’ll respond professionally no matter how an email is written, but if everything comes across as very terse, I’ll always have to fight the sense that I’m pissing this person off just by being there. Over time, that just sort of… gums up the works of the relationship. If the person holds back all context, for example, I won’t have as much sense of what their job entails and what they’re likely to need. If they’re trying to shave literal seconds off the task of communicating, then I’ll get the impression that they’re super busy/stressed and I’ll avoid approaching them unless I have to.

        My last boss was a genuinely lovely person, extremely supportive of her team and would always listen to what we had to say – but outside our department everyone thought she was a complete tyrant, because her communication style was totally bare-bones functional, no niceties whatsoever. You had to work directly under her for a while to understand what was great about her. She could have got better collaboration out of other teams if she’d managed to convey some of that in writing – not because they were deliberately obstructive at all, but because they were all kind of scared of her, and didn’t want to bother her with things that would ultimately have helped everybody.

  20. TechWorker*

    Extra warmth needed when you’re disagreeing ;)

    ‘Your proposal doesn’t work’ -> ‘this approach won’t work’
    Praise what you agree with first vs only focusing on disagreement:
    Huge difference between

    ‘X and Y is the wrong way to go – it will introduce technical problems A and B and isn’t worth the ROI. We should do option W’

    And ‘Thanks for the detail! Definitely agree we need a solution here and Z sounds good. I have some concerns with X and Y though:
    – problem A
    – problem B
    Overall it doesnt sound worth the ROI. Did you consider option W?

  21. Ellis Bell*

    I don’t have a lot of time when sending emails but it’s amazing how far please, thank you and happy Friday will get you. I’m also a big fan of the words grateful, possible, helpful and the phrase “let me know” as in: “If you can do x, I’d be really grateful” and “knowing the details of y would be really helpful, if it’s possible” and “any issues with achieving this or anything I’m forgetting here, please let me know”.

  22. Elm*

    I was straight up TOLD I have to use more smiley faces in my communication. TOLD. In a business setting! I was like…I don’t think this is the right environment for me. It’s not why I left, but it certainly didn’t hurt my decision to go. I use smiley faces pretty liberally, actually, but they essentially wanted me to have one after every sentence or two to ensure intent was understood, and that felt excessive. And it’s not because I was blunt, either! It was just what they wanted.

    I did sit down with an early-on boss to go over my email writing abilities (my idea, as I knew it was an area of weakness for me) and had them walk me through their methods and check my next few wide-scale messages before they were sent. I found that super helpful. If not a boss, then someone else known for good communications could be helpful.

  23. OkayThen*

    Whether I like it or not, I am extremely sensitive to tone in e-mails. So, avoiding typing three extra words might save *someone* time, but I am almost certainly going to expend a lot of emotional energy on trying to figure out if the writer is pissed at me.

    I know someone who usually answers my occasional e-mail with “Thanks for reaching out,” or “it’s nice to hear from you.” Those carry a lot of weight.

    1. inko*

      This is a good point. I’m the same – I’d spend more time wondering about LW’s state of mind with the terse email than I would reading the friendly one. The pleasantries aren’t just fluff, they’re information – they say hey, I’m not pissed off or anything, just need this thing from you. It’s information you’d provide through facial expression and body language in person, but you can’t do that through text, so you tack on a friendly phrase instead. Otherwise it can come across as the text equivalent of barking orders, and that’s not a neutral approach.

  24. Fez Knots*

    I find a greeting at the onset of an email and interchangeable sign-offs that aren’t “Best” can go a really, really long way.

    And always start an email with a greeting! Nothing is more impersonal than an email that launches into a message without a greeting (even in a long chain, I think this does a lot of the “friendly” leg work to just say “Hi Tim” or “Greetings, Tim”, etc.)

    I feel like skipping a greeting or a closing (no matter how manufactured) is like responding, “Awful!” when someone asks “How are you?” It’s an expression that no one (in the US anyway, lol) expects you to really answer. When you go against those cultural norms so to speak, people notice. People make fun of “I hope this finds you well” but without that recycled greeting you’re skipping the digital “How are you?” Putting in the effort to say hello and goodbye isn’t effusive but it’s professional and courteous and I think it helps.

    Some of the openers I use:
    “I hope this finds you after a restful weekend.”
    “Looking forward to the XX project this week. Regarding the XX…”
    “Hope you’re having a solid start to the week/week so far…”

    Some closers in my rotation:
    All Best
    All very best
    Be well
    Looking forward
    Good speaking with you

  25. Veryanon*

    I usually do this if it’s someone I don’t interact with that frequently:

    Hi ,
    I hope you’re doing well/had a good weekend/nice holiday/etc. I wanted to ask you about/follow up on [whatever the issue is]. Would it be better for us to meet to discuss [issue]?
    Thanks in advance for your assistance and I look forward to connecting with you on this.
    Best regards,
    [my name]

  26. Rae*

    My husband and I have both received this feedback, so I’m not sure it’s gendered. I literally just add one warm opening sentence to all emails now and its never been an issue again. Examples:

    “I hope you had a wonderful holiday.” “It’s nice to e-meet you!” “Happy Friday!” “I hope your week is off to a good start.”

    Having people think of you as friendly and nice to work with is so worth one sentence on both ends!

  27. S*

    Check out Vanessa Van Edwards. She wrote a whole book about how to balance warmth and competence cues. I recently saw a talk she gave and it was amazing!

  28. Kate Kate*

    I actually need this advice. My boss recently told me my emails were bad and I think it stems from me not being a “perky upbeat” woman.

  29. Your Computer Guy*

    I have managed to cultivate a very positive workplace persona while being a real judgy person on the inside. Often, I’ll write the opposite of what I am thinking.

    So if I’m feeling down or overwhelmed about a project, I might be thinking “This is a disaster and I need you all to start picking up your slack or I’m going to commit arson,” what I’ll type is “This is a complex project, but I know we can deliver through our combined efforts. I appreciate everyone working hard to get this done.”
    Or maybe someone has been slow to get me something. I’ll swap my mental vulgarities for “thank you for getting this done for me.”
    Or maybe someone is being nitpicky towards me. I’m picturing physically impossible acts of a recursive and intimate nature, but I’m typing “Good catch! Thank you for pointing that out.”

    I actually managed to get a workplace award for my positive attitude, and when I brought it home my wife just stared at it in genuine astonishment (not that I’m unpleasant at home, I just share my judgy thoughts with her).

  30. Michelle Smith*

    I hate the nicety stuff too, but it helps get things done with some people. Another trick I use is just a reference to what’s going on in the world.
    – Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving, if you celebrate!
    – Happy New Year!
    – Hope you had a restful weekend!
    – Have a great rest of your week!

    Do I care about this person’s holidays or weekend? No. But it’s still a nice thing to say.

    I’d also try and notice the general culture where you work and how people are communicating with you in emails. You don’t have to copy that back exactly, but if people are spending time, for example, ending their emails with “all my best” or “warmly” or whatever, take the extra time to sign your email with something similar like “sincerely” or “best.”

  31. Raida*

    I prefer to literally write emails in bullet point form.

    So my advice is: write the email as you normally would. Then when you are confident it was accurate, add an intro and outro “Just following on from our meeting this morning, here’s my summary of the current needs” [email] “Thanks for you help on this, just let me know if you need anything else”

    That alone will make it a bit warmer.

    But if that’s not the issue, change your original email to be bullet points, stripping out all the words around the important specific points until it’s only necessary communication.
    Then add in enough conversational language to change it from bullet points back into sentences. Doing this would hopefully make you focus on what’s important and how you want it to be received.

  32. Emailer*

    I’ve taken to putting the niceties at the end of the email. I will begin the email with a direct statement or request (“can you send me our total spend on marshmallows this quarter?”), with some context if needed (“we’re developing s’mores projections for next year.”). Then I sign off with a friendly statement. (“Hope you had a great Halloween!”)

    It’s direct, clear, and still friendly. I’ve found it works.

  33. GlitterIsEverything*

    I often send company wide emails, which means it’s going to doctors, techs, front desk staff, administrators, surgery schedulers, the works.

    For those emails (or any other group email), I find using “Greetings and salutations!” as my greeting softens things quite a bit.

    I personally don’t care for the “how was your weekend / random weather talk / miscellaneous small talk in the opening of an email, as I tend to read it as disingenuous. This is entirely my personal quirk, not a generally accepted reading of such small talk, and I’m trying really hard to work through it. I can’t bring myself to include small talk in my emails, though, and replying to someone else’s email talk feels like I’m being just as disingenuous.

  34. Lifeandlimb*

    I don’t think you over-think it! Punctuation is really important. I find that if I want to be friendly, two exclamation marks—one at the beginning of the email, and one near the end—are perfect.

    I used to make sure I included an exclamation point in every other sentence, but I’ve slowly let them ago as I’ve become more experienced. I care more now about being respected than seeming perky (knowing that I’m very friendly in person). For a while as I transitioned into my new email style, it was almost painful to finish almost all my sentences with periods.

    For what it’s worth, OP, I actually respect people who are very direct and not overly warm in their email correspondence.

  35. Too Aggressive*

    I’ve had this accusation leveled at me. I was leading a project and a male coworker, who would constantly try to take over the work or talk over me in meetings, wrote an email to my boss about how my replies to his many, paragraph-ling suggestions (he would send long, unsolicited emails commenting on things he had not been asked to consult on) were “too aggressive.” I was a bit shocked since I’d been overly cautious around this person given his propensity to complain about anything and everything, and my responses where polite. My boss forwarded it to me, said not to worry and he’d deal with it, and I never had a complaint from said coworker again. Sad to say, there are types like this everywhere.

  36. WantonSeedStitch*

    I think that a lot of the really terse email writers aren’t actually as terse in person as they are in emails. If they are coming up to talk to me, they will usually greet me with “Hi Wanton,” which goes a long way towards making an interaction more pleasant–though they don’t always do that in email. Other than that, some things I tend to do to make emails more pleasant are:

    * phrasing things as requests when I need someone to do something, even if the request is technically an assignment: “Hi Wakeen, can you please process this llama report and send it to Jane?” I haven’t yet worked with anyone who was unable to figure out that this meant that yes, they do have to do it unless there’s a good reason for them to be pushing back: no Bartleby saying “no, I’d prefer not to.”
    * explaining WHY something important is important, especially if it means someone has to do more work. “Jane, when you send the final llama reports out, I really need you to clear the numbers in the grooming column with Ruby first. If they’re not up to date, it throws off projections for next month and makes it harder to allocate our resources correctly.” Context for a requirement always makes the requirement seem more sensible–and informs employees and coworkers about workflows and processes!

  37. anxiousGrad*

    When I was in high school I was the captain of the robotics team and had to send out weekly emails. I was told that my emails were too terse/impersonal (of course my male predecessor who wrote in the same style did not get this feedback). Several people suggested I use emojis, which was very much not my style, so I conceded by adding to the end of each email, “P.S. Here’s an emoji” with a relevant emoji. People thought it was funny and it got them to read the emails. Obviously that’s not a good strategy for work, but I think that mirroring other people’s communication to some extent is a good idea. Maybe take note of what phrases other people use to soften their emails and adopt some of those.

  38. Crankysaurus*

    I wish my boss had written this. She writes overly formal business emails for “reasons”, and they’re so painful to read. She’s lovely and warm in person, but I think she’s so afraid of someone taking what she writes the wrong way that they almost sound like someone in a hostage situation wrote them.

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