False starts

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Have you noticed a new trend in the way people are beginning their work emails? “I hope you are well”, they write. Or, ominously, “I hope all is well”. Or anxiously, “I do hope this finds you well”.

Well, it doesn’t. It finds me quite unwell. Why is the writer worrying about me? Do they know something I don’t? Is this a coded reminder to go for that check-up? A roundabout way of telling me I look terrible?

Then, in the next line, they’re on to something else, never to mention my health again. Aha. The penny drops. They don’t really care at all. It’s just a bit of waffle, a form of scene-setter to replace “Thank you for your email” or “Ben suggested I contact you.”

So why do I find it annoying? Because it’s cheesy, fake and irrelevant, and sets the wrong tone for a professional exchange.

I’m thinking of taking it literally next time: “Kind of you to ask, and no, I’m not. The doctors are pessimistic, and I’ve added you to the group email for my daily medical bulletin.”

Will that discourage the offenders? Or should I pick my battles?

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3 Responses to False starts

  1. Clare Lynch January 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    Instead of picking your battles, why not extend it to a war on all meaningless pleasantries.

    How about dropping “Dear” when writing to someone you have no feelings for? Or replacing “Best wishes” and the like with “Indifferently yours”? Or accompanying a first handshake with the words “I’m Clare, who are you?” (so much more dynamic than the weedy and insincere “How do you do?”).

    Perhaps the government could commission a study on how much time, money and manpower businesses waste on such unprofessional trivialities. I vote for calling it “Cut the crap, cut the deficit”.

  2. Anna January 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    To someone I’ve been told to email who apparently is called Chris,

    I really don’t care about you at all (in fact I barely even know you), but apparently I’m supposed to ask if you’re well. If you’re not, please don’t tell me why or how, and above all don’t expect me to come to your rescue. The sordid minutiae of your tedious existence are highly irrelevant, and frankly will most likely bore/depress me. My reason for emailing you is purely professional, and will be made clear in my next paragraph.

    I want something from you.

    With little affection and even less care, but just enough emotional blackmail to ensure you write back and give me the thing I want,

    Anna (whom, frankly, you barely know either).

  3. Will January 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Does it count if the asker remembers you’ve been sick or your goldfish has died or something? Or, perhaps, is that sort of thing not really appropriate for a work email and should be left for a separate message to a personal account where you can actually ask and get a reply not just because you want something?

    @Clare: I don’t normally use “How do you do?”, but do say what is basically the modern yoof equivalent, “How’s it going?”. This is just as weedy and ambiguous. But the sad thing is that I’m still very British about things. I can’t go up to people and say “I’m Will, who are you?” because it’s not the done thing. It’s too direct for me, as I’m a quiet and unassuming chap.

    @Chris: I know your emails are usually really short and to-the-point. Have you ever found that people find that a bit too direct and get offended?

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