“I hope you are well,” I wrote.
It’s a phrase I write a lot to start an email to a colleague, a client, an acquaintance. Email communication seems impersonal most of the time. Although I appreciate a matter-of-fact approach to most business matters, I don’t want other people to think me rude or abrupt. So I often begin an email with something friendly.
But “I hope you are well” or “I hope this email finds you well” is generic. I receive the same sentiment from my colleagues, clients and acquaintances, and I tend to gloss over the sentence. It has lost all meaning, if indeed it had any at the start.
My husband put something to this effect on Facebook: “Has email gotten out of control so much that we can’t think of original things to write anymore so we hope that this email, in all its blandness, finds me in a state that could be described as ‘well’ just enough to read it?”
The response was electric and immediate. People called him a curmudgeon, asked if he was cranky. Many claimed to “genuinely” hope the person is doing well. Some acknowledged they do it mainly to avoid appearing too brusque.
Whether you truly hope I am doing well doesn’t matter. I’m ignoring that sentence because everyone uses it. Grab my attention with something that stands out.
Try one of these friendly, but less vanilla, email openers:
1. A [marketer] walks into a bar …
Jokes are nice openers, even if you don’t finish them. By putting your colleague’s type of business in the blank, you will get his or her attention. Look up a joke about that business and start with it. Put the punchline at the end of the email, just before your closing. Your email will be much more memorable for it. Caution: Reserve more colorful or slightly insulting jokes for those you know can handle the ribbing.
2. “I just got the biggest tip of my life. Remind me to tell you about it when I see you next week.” or “Joe walked into my office the other day, plopped into my chair and told me to ‘get my rear in gear,’ and did his pointing thing (you know). I nearly laughed out loud.”
Writing a colleague with whom you have a friendly relationship? A few sentences in story form about something funny or interesting can continue solidifying your connection.
3. “I hope this email finds you terrible. Just kidding. But I am sick of that phrase, so I thought I’d mix it up.”
Maybe the person will actually read your email after getting his/her attention this way. Plus, this one is still short.
4. I see you are [ ].
Comment on something going on in the person’s life. Maybe you saw him/her out and about, or maybe you gleaned an interesting fact from social media that provides an option for comment or question. At least it’s a bit more personal without prying.
5. & 6. How’s the weather in [city]? / Did you catch the game last night?
The weather is nearly as inane as “I hope you are well.” But we always turn back to it for generic conversation don’t we? That and sports. When all else fails, they are there, providing a reliable, safe opening or sustaining comment to keep things flowing. Of course, with the sports opener, you assume the person follows whatever team to which you refer. If you can’t come up with anything else, try these.
Your turn: How do you start emails?