When I was studying for a master's degree in Germany, I asked myself the same question - how to finish a letter in German correctly, when I write an application to the rector, send a resume to an employer, or ask unfamiliar classmates what they asked about film theory. I knew all this in English (so it seemed to me), and German was a new language, in which I spoke much better than I wrote. Every time I was "saved" by Google, and then it turned out that it only spoiled my relationships with people. I didn't understand how the signature hierarchy works. When I write too imposingly, and when is my last phrase in a letter excessively and inappropriately official? I know that many people who communicate with clients, partners and investors in English, this hierarchy is also incomprehensible. What I mean? Let's take an example of how to start a letter.
It is a standard mistake to translate a phrase in Russian down to the comma. For example: “Hello, Mr. Peter! " or "Hello, Peter!" English does not put a comma in front of calls, and you rarely see an exclamation mark at the end of a greeting, unless a bosom friend writes to you in the style of "Hey you!" Or "Hey Mike!"
Standard business correspondence starts with "Dear" and ends with a comma. The options are “Dear Mr. Jones, Dear James, or Dear friends, if you are reaching out to subscribers, coworkers, or another group of people. Dear Sir / Madam is recommended if there is no way to find out the name of someone who can help you. If there is such an opportunity, but you did not use it, your letter will most likely go to the trash. If you're writing a cover letter for your resume and don't know the name of the HR specialist who will be reading it, take the trouble to find out (Google is usually in the know and ready to help). If you are sending out VIP-invitations to a conference, do not leave the word after "Dear" impersonal. People like it when they are called by their first name, and this is a generally accepted norm reflecting a polite, attentive attitude towards a person.
From "friendly hugs" to the cold pool of "contacts"
At this point I am usually asked the question: What name should I call them? "Mister" or just "John"? "Miss" or "Mrs"? In short, there are two rules:
- When addressing women, always write Ms (miss) to avoid even a hint of conflict or misunderstanding. This appeal is acceptable for women of any age and any marital status.
Always address the person the way they presented themselves. If he introduces himself as John, you can write him "Dear John". If he passed away as John Smith, there is no need to close the distance ahead of time and omit the word "Mister". Start your letter to him with the words “Dear Mr. Smith ". The same rule works the other way around. If in the first letter you greeted in the style of "Dear John", and then suddenly decided that you shouldn't have addressed simply by name (you should be polite to the head of the representative office in all Eastern Europe), and next time write to him "Dear Mr. Smith”, you suddenly indicate distance. Sometimes it looks comical, and sometimes it can cause confusion. We usually distance ourselves from people we don't really want to deal with or who have exceeded our credit.
In Russian it would look something like this. First you write: “Hello, Vasya!”, He answers you in a friendly tone and signs: “I invite you to lunch! Vasya". And the next letter to Vasya you begin with the words: "Dear Vasily Olegovich!" What would you think if you were Vasya? Most likely, Vasya will decide that he did or wrote something wrong, since he was suddenly asked to leave the zone of “friendly hugs” and was sent back to the cold pool of “contacts”. John would think the same. Therefore, if you work with foreigners, pay attention to how people introduce themselves, when you meet, and what signatures they put in their letters.
Simply the best
Now about the signatures. There are many options, and they all mean something. For example, what does the word "best" mean? In the same Master's program, we had a professor from the United States, who always ended her emails like this: “best, Susan”. At that time, for me it was a completely new rule of etiquette in English, which, as it seemed to me, I knew very well.
It turns out that this is the safest option for ending business letters. The shade hierarchy looks like this: "I wish you all the best, Susan", "All the best, Susan" and "Best, Susan".
The first option is the most official. Gradually you move towards the third option. If, discussing who and how will present the project tomorrow, you have already exchanged letters with each other 25 times, it’s silly to write “I wish you all the best” every time. Even "best" will be superfluous. In recent issues, Bloomberg wrote that today people treat emails more like text messages, especially if the correspondence is in real time. That is, you immediately respond to resolve some issue. It is perfectly acceptable to leave such letters without greetings and without a polite farewell.
Especially with the rise in popularity of services like Slack, emails are becoming more and more like text messages: people don't say hello or say goodbye, they just get down to business. However, when we write a letter to a potential client, partner or employer, the rules of etiquette still apply. Not to say hello and not to say goodbye to the person to whom you write the first (and even the second), since it is still impolite.
Best or warmest regards
The most beloved version of farewell in a letter in the Russian-speaking space is “best regards”. It all starts with him, especially if this is a cold letter, and you have never met the addressee in your life. This option means you are polite, but keep your distance. He is impersonal, and does not express any relation to the interlocutor. Later, people switch to "kind regards", thereby indicating that there is more trust in the relationship. "Warm regards" or "warmest regards" can be an overly warm goodbye when you are discussing equipment options. More often than not, people quickly switch to simply “regards” and leave it for all occasions. The same Bloomberg writes that "regards" and "best" are two of the most neutral and therefore the most popular ways to end letters.
What about the rest? Is "Sincerely" really "sincere" or a deliberately formal way of saying goodbye? “Cheers” is appropriate when we share photos from a corporate event or can I write to a client like that? In any case, your writing style reflects your attitude towards the interlocutor. Moreover, with the help of different linguistic units, it is possible to establish or consolidate a variety of relationships between people. I will share with you my conclusions from the real practice of communicating with foreign customers, investors and managers. You can also check with such publications as Inc., Business Insider, Bloomberg, or contact Will Schwalbe, co-author of the bestselling book SEND: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better. They make very similar recommendations.
So, let's analyze each option separately
Yours Faithfully is probably the most outdated and most official version. Expresses deep respect for the interlocutor. The phrase is quite acceptable in the countries of the Near and Middle East, but in Western culture it is rarely found and is used only if you started the letter with the words "Dear Sir".
"Yours sincerely" or "Sincerely" is a good choice if you need to be particularly polite, but nothing more. There is no "warmth" or "sincerity" here. This is how a lawyer ends the letter, who will still issue you an unimaginable bill, or a person with whom you have disagreements in business, but it makes sense to continue to cooperate and keep a professional distance. This is how you can and should complete your cover letter to a potential employer. This is how the letter is uploaded, which began with the address by name ("Dear John" / "Dear Mr. Jones").
One caveat: "Yours sincerely" can really reflect your reverent and sincere attitude towards a person if you are writing a letter to a relative, family member, or very close friend. But since this column is about business communication, I will focus on exactly what may be useful to you in the office tomorrow.
"Best" is the safest and most popular option for business correspondence between native English speakers. When in doubt, type these four letters, a comma, and your name.
Thanks is also a safe but boring option. People write “thank you” everywhere, even when they’re not particularly grateful for anything, so use it when you really want to say “thank you”. Add an exclamation mark - "Thanks!" To indicate that you are not spelling the word automatically.
“Many thanks” is a good option if the person has helped or promised to help you and you sincerely want to express your gratitude. In other cases, he seems formulaic and insincere.
TTYL, TAFN, etc. Don't write like that, no matter how much you want to show that you know these abbreviations. TTYL ("talk to you later") or TAFN ("that's all for now"). Such options are unprofessional and may confuse your interlocutor, who does not know them or is not used to this style of communication (Outlook is not a messenger after all).
Looking forward. It makes sense to use this phrase if you are really going to see the person soon, meet on Skype or discuss a project after making changes over the phone. In other cases, it is better not to use it.
“Speak with you soon” / “Talk soon” - the first option is more formal, the second is simpler. They should be used when you actually intend to talk to that person soon. Otherwise, it’s insincere and will not improve your relationship with the other person.
"More soon" - this is how they write when they did not provide all the information in the letter and promise to write a second one - with additions and answers to other questions. If you are not going to do this, it is better to try to write everything at once than to be branded as a person who says and does not. Promise little, do a lot.
"XX" - this option should be used with caution and it is better not to initiate yourself. I don't use it at all in business correspondence. There are a number of experts who agree with me. However, it is also believed that in some situations this signature is appropriate. For example, "AlisX" is an option for friendly, but still professional notes or letters, if these "friendships" have already been formed. If not, don't tempt fate and don't draw two crosses first. This means "Kisses".
"XOXO" - this option is completely unacceptable and means "kiss and hug". Leave it for close friends and those you want to flirt with.
"Cheers" is an option that signals to the American that you are most likely from England or Australia, or pretend to be related to these countries. In the United States, such a signature is rarely used. Experts recommend asking yourself, “Would you say this word out loud to another person?” And if not, don't use it as a signature.
[“Your Name”] - if you end the letter with just your name, this is a rather “cold” and “harsh” way to say goodbye. However, it is worth adding something before you remind the person of your name, and thus demonstrate your attitude towards your cooperation - present or potential.
First Initial (eg "A")- some in the signature do not write the full name, but only one letter. If you remember, at the beginning of the article, I clarified that how you sign letters determines how you will be addressed. If a person puts one letter "W" at the end, then it is difficult to say what it means. How to contact him? Will or William? Or Wolfgang? I had a funny experience with Airbnb. I booked an apartment, and the owner signed his letters with one letter - "E". It was very embarrassing for me to start every next letter with the words "Hello E", but I had no other options. When we met, it turned out that this is a girl, Japanese, and her name really is - "I". In Japanese, this name is depicted in hieroglyphs, but the girl prefers not to complicate life for people - in English she writes her name in one letter and asks to refer to her that way.
"Yours" - translated "your". The question immediately arises: "Who is yours?" This is a rather vague, but, nevertheless, rather official version of the signature. It is indeed often used, but today people are so satiated with automatic replies, mailings and robots that they expect real human attention to their person from letters written by real people. If you want to build a relationship with a person, invest twenty extra seconds to finish writing this phrase or choose another option that will bring you closer to cooperation and increase your level of trust.
"Respectfully" is a pretty tough option, and not from this century. If you are not writing a letter to the president, you can forget it. If you really cooperate with representatives of state bodies and clergy, you should sign your appeals in this way - "respectfully yours".
“Looking forward to hearing from you ” can be written by someone who fulfills the request. If you ask, in no case should you end the letter like this, because you are rushing and embarrassing the person who has not yet agreed to do anything for you.
“Take care” is okay if you are concerned about the health and well-being of your friends and family, but in business this phrase is often redundant. “You take care of yourself there” - it looks as if you know about the danger that awaits him, but he does not yet.
“Regards” - it's even curious how polar opinions about this word are. 50% of experts write: “I hate this word! I just hate it! I hate it even more when they write the abbreviated 'Rgds', as if they want to show me how busy they are - they don't even have time to write an extra letter! " But there are those who are used to such a signature, and have nothing against it. She expresses nothing but politeness, and does not suggest any sympathy or warmth.
Hopefully, after reading this list, you can determine exactly which signature to choose when addressing colleagues, management, or potential employer. Remember, these are not just words. Anything you say - out loud or on paper - ultimately shapes your relationship and the subtext of your relationship with people. Develop your English communication skills.
Yours sincerely (this is not a formality, I sincerely want to be useful to you) Natalya Tokar.
About the author:
Photo: Getty Images
- Role-playing office games: who you are to your colleagues (and what you really look like)
- Business style today, or 5 new rules of power dressing
- How to finally speak English
- How to become a magnet for success: tips from a neuropsychologist