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Perfecting Your Office E-mail Sign-Off

By Christopher Schonberger

Because I have the anthropological pleasure of living with three girls in their mid-twenties, I often witness extended debates about the true meaning of a guy’s e-mail sign-off. For example: does “best” mean he just wants to be friends? Why would he say “chat soon”—does that mean he will call or I should call? If he says “lots of love” before we’ve said “I love you” in person, does that mean that he does love me, or is it just a thing people say?!

You get the general idea. The e-mail sign-off is a favorite source of fodder for post-date analysis, but if you thought it was an etiquette trap confined to romantic correspondence, you haven’t been in the workplace yet. You see, e-mails are to letters what "business casual" is to formal dress—it’s a relatively new phenomena with a rulebook that’s still evolving, and the air of "casualness" actually makes it more difficult to know what’s appropriate in a work environment.

To help you navigate this viper’s nest, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular “professional” sign-offs, as well as the real message they may be sending.

  • Best. The first time I encountered the “best” sign-off, it was actually handwritten by a professor on one of my paper’s in college. I took it to mean “[This is literally the] best [paper ever].” In the workplace, it is more of an innocuously friendly closing that causes some people to wonder, “Best what?” Does it mean “all the best”? “Best regards”? Either way, are you really wishing someone “all the best” when you send him an expense report? Make sure it matches the tone of the rest of the e-mail.
  • Sincerely. If this sentiment seems sort of inappropriate for workplace correspondence, that’s because it is. It’s at once impersonal and incredibly earnest—a terrible combination. Again, depending on the nature of your e-mail, the problem is that it can end up sounding incredibly insincere.
  • Regards. Often preceded by “kind” or “warm.” Sometimes indecisive types even pull a combo of “Best Regards.” But is it really a nice thing to say? Saying “send my regards” is something that an man says about his ex-wife to her new boyfriend, or a cop says sarcastically to a someone who is going to talk to a murder who he put on Death Row. Ultimately, it's a bit stiff.
  • Yours. You might as well say “up yours!” This signature is either disingenuous (e.g., “yours truly…psych!”) or slavish (e.g., “forever yours”). Neither is good looks in the office.
  • Warmly. A little too cutesy for most offices, but it might work for you if you are a single but motherly middle-aged secretary. Chances are you aren’t, though, so you’ll probably just end up looking unprofessional.
  • Thanks. This has been my go-to for awhile, but I recognize the obvious shortcoming—what if there is no reason to be thanking the recipient of the e-mail? For example, if I send someone work that I did, they should be thanking me. But my feeling is that it’s almost like thanking someone for taking the time to read the message, or thanking them in advance for a response. It’s basically just a catch-all “polite” word that makes people feel good, like they’ve done something nice even when they haven’t.

Clearly, there’s no perfect sign-off. If there were, everyone and their MOMS would be using it. But the most important thing is to make sure the sign-off fits the tone of the e-mail as a whole. The end of the message should flow uninhibited toward the signature rather than catching the reader off-guard and making him think, “Why is this person saying ‘cordially’ when he just sent me my two-week notice?”

The best way to avoid inconsistency in tone is to switch up your sign-offs so they fit the message. If some one sends you something you requested, say “thanks.” If you are opening up a dialogue, try “I look forward to hearing from you” or “I look forward to hearing your thoughts.” Then, if you’re just asking someone an offhand question or catching up, you can maintain an err of friendliness with something like “best” or “hope all’s well.” The drawback is that the more you stray from a single sign-off, the more people in the office will notice the changes, thus causing them put even more thought into analyzing why you decided on a certain one…it’s a real vicious cycle!

Finally, it’s worth noting that you could buck convention completely and come up with your own personalized sign-off, but the question is simple: can you pull it off? If you’re going to end e-mails with something like “Toodles” or “At ease,” you’d better be able to back it up with your personality around the office. Also, use something more formal when e-mailing people who don’t know you yet.

Hallelujah holler back,


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