An email comes into your inbox.
Without even opening it, you know instantly whether it’s a “good” one or a “bleh” one.
“Bleh” is a message that’s cold, formal, distant, and overly professional. And that’s the kind of email you skip over — or open, skim, then “mark as unread” so you can deal with it later.
The “good” kind is one that’s personal. It’s from a friend, or at least someone who comes across like one. Something about it says: Juicy! You open that one right away. And, very likely, you make a point of responding quickly, too.
Does that sound right?
It should. It’s how other people evaluate your emails, too. Even before they open them.
Whether it’s an invitation to after-work drinks, a pitch to an editor, or any kind of business inquiry, if your emails aren’t getting opened and answered, there’s one thing you need to change: Stop writing the typical “polite” and buttoned-up email, and start writing an EFAB.
An EFAB: Email From A Bestie.
In other words, an email that feels personable and warm — like it’s from a friend, to a friend.
It’s the style I encourage my copywriting clients to use in their business newsletters (because an EFAB creates a personal connection — and studies show that we buy from people and businesses we know, like and trust). But you don’t have to have a business to benefit from friendlier emails. They can make any part of your work life more tolerable.
Of course, you don’t have to go full-on “Bestie” in your tone. A tone of “new friends,” or “work friends who don’t really socialize on weekends” is fine. It'll still get your email opened faster and more joyfully.
One note of caution: If you’re applying for a job in a corporate environment, or work in an industry (like law) that adheres to traditions of keeping it buttoned up, use your best(ie) judgment. I don’t want to get you rejected or fired.
Because our inner "stiff professor" comes out all too naturally when most of us write a work-related message, here are simple, tactical ways to switch into EFAB mode.
Give it an informal subject line — preferably, one you’d want to open.
For starters, use the more casual sentence case rather than the overly formal title case (in which every first letter is capitalized)
Of course, neither of these is an enticing subject line. It’s a request that sounds utterly un-fun.
Instead, how about:
Now I’ll open it.
Are you reaching out to someone who doesn’t know you — especially someone who might get hundreds of emails a day from strangers — and who won’t necessarily read yours merely because it’s from you? If so, you can borrow a technique from the best email marketing and lure them with something intriguing. Make them so curious, they can’t ignore it or resist opening it.
And, finally, the most open-worthy subject line will be something personal and specific about your recipient: an accomplishment you admire, something you bought from them, even somewhere you spotted them (but were, perhaps, too shy to say hi).
They won’t be able to resist opening it. Everyone’s favorite topic? Themselves.
Use a casual greeting.
Depending on the relationship and situation, “Hey” might be too casual.
“Hi” is almost always a safe bet.
Think about how you’d leave a voice message for the same person. You’d probably start with “Hi [first name]” or “Hey [first name].” Whatever you’d say to their voicemail, try to echo that tone in your email.
Don’t use a formal greeting.
If an email starts with “Dear Laura” or “Hello Laura,” I know it’s not from a friend.
The only time I write “Dear” to a friend is in a condolence note or birthday card. In an email, definitely not.
“Hello, [name]” is just plain cold. My husband says “Hello, Laura” when he wants to freak me out. It works. On the other hand, “Laura! Hello!” is enthusiastic and happy. It’s perfect if we haven’t talked or seen each other in ages.
If you can’t tell the difference, try saying each version out loud. You’ll hear which sounds friendly and which sounds like an estranged ex or a serial killer who’d like to come into the house.
As for “Greetings,” that should only be followed by “Earthlings.” Leave it for the space aliens.
Start with a personal opening.
First, here’s what not to say:
Any version of "I hope you are well" is an attempt not to be cold or abrupt, but it's about as warm and fuzzy as a toilet tank. As soon as I see those words, I know it's from someone who wants me to do something I don't want to do. Or sign something. (Usually a tax form.)
The best way to start is with something specific about them.
If you’re not acquainted, you can go with something timely, or — boring as it is — weather-related.
If you’ve been in touch recently with this person, it’s fine to skip right to the point.
Or, if you’re following up, work that into the intro.
For a long time, being formal was equated with being professional. Today, it only makes you look stodgy and out of it. At best, you sound like a legal document or a robot built to mimic human speech patterns.
You want your email to sound human. Like a person talking.
The easiest trick for shaking off the stiffness and writing like a person lies in a single symbol on your keyboard: the good ol’ apostrophe.
It’s what makes contractions. They’re those combo words we use constantly in speech but often got scolded for using in our high school English essays.
You are = you’re
You will = you’ll
I will = I’ll
It is = it’s
Let’s see these in action. Which of the following sounds more natural and human?
Did you pick 2?
You are You’re not a robot.
Whatever your English teacher said, you have permission to use contractions in your work emails.
Finish with a warm signoff.
Well, this one’s tricky. And it’s probably where you don’t want to go “full Bestie” in your emails.
“Xoxo” or “MWAH!” isn’t exactly workplace-appropriate.
On the other hand, someone has yet to come up with a neutral signoff that doesn’t sound formal.
Some people have a beef with “Best.”
(On an episode of Sex and the City, Samantha receives a gift from her boyfriend with a card signed “Best, Richard.” That might be what put its emotionless quality in the pop cultural spotlight.)
Personally speaking, it feels the least personal of all signoffs — possibly because you’d never say it out loud to a friend or anyone else.
“Yours truly,” meanwhile, sounds old-fashioned.
Here are some suggestions that will have to do until a world hero comes up with something better:
Or, if appropriate:
After all, remember: even when you’re writing “business to business,” you’re always a person, writing to a person.