ICING ON THE E-MAIL CAKE
To Part II
III. The Greeting
Similar to writing letters or meeting someone on the street, the
conversation usually begins with a greeting of some sort.
Different greetings convey slightly different emotional tones and
levels of intimacy. It sets the mood for the rest of the message
(and sometimes may contradict the tone of the message). Over the
course of a batch of messages, the back-and-forth changes in the
greeting can become a revealing little dance -- sometimes playful,
sometimes competitive. Who is being more polite, friendly,
intimate, enthusiastic, emotional? Adding the person's name to the
greeting -- "Hi Pat," rather than simply "Hi" -- always indicates a
deeper level of intimacy -- or, at the very least, the fact that
you made the small extra effort to personalize the message.
Here's a sample of some greetings:
||Dear Pat --
A somewhat formal opening, highly reminiscent of letter writing.
In fact, newbie e-mail users often fall back on this familiar way
to start off a correspondence. I've rarely seen experienced users
begin with "Dear" -- except, perhaps, when approaching
a stranger with whom respectful formality might be appropriate.
In most cases, it's a bit too polite for the casual atmosphere that
many associate with the internet. Because "Dear" is associated
with snail mail -- an inferior mode of communicating, in the eyes
of avid users -- some people may frown upon it's use. They might
view the sender as being naive about the social dynamics of e-mail.
-- A more causal, friendly greeting, with a hint of politeness and
respect. A very handy, all-purpose opener.
-- A slightly more casual, friendlier greeting than "Hello."
It's probably not appropriate for the first e-mail exchange with
a stranger, unless you immediately want to set the tone of "friendliness
||Hi Pat!! /
Hello Pat!! - A more enthusiastic salutation, almost like
hugging or slapping the person on the back. There also can be an
element of surprise or delight in the exclamation point -- as if
you just called the person on the phone and you can hear in their
"Hi!" how they happily recognize that it's you! The more
exclamation points, the more enthusiasm -- although a long row of
exclamation points might be perceived as phony or contrived overkill.
- This one conveys an even higher level of enthusiasm, surprise,
or delight -- so much so that only and simply your name gushes forth
in their consciousness.
-- A very matter-of-fact, "let's get to the point" opening.
Sometimes there's an almost ominous tone to this greeting, as if
the sender is trying to get your attention in preparation for some
-- A very informal greeting, usually reserved for friends. Although
the recipients name is omitted, it's assumed that the sender knows
||Hey Dude! /
Yo! -- Another very informal hello reserved for friends,
usually (but not always) between males. It conveys a feeling of
- A sure sign that spam is coming at you, or perhaps a message from
a colleague or friend who is trying to be a bit humorous by offering
a deceptively "formal" hello.
||Hi, / Hello,
-- Whereas the Hi is a bit more casual than the Hello, both of these
greetings lack the intimate touch of including the recipient's name.
They come across as a bit flat or impersonal. Spammers and other
people who are basically indifferent to who you are will top off
the message with this lackluster intro.
No greeting at all is an interesting phenomenon
that cuts both ways. In some cases, it may reveal that the sender
is lazy, passive, or how he/she lacks any personal connection to you
(as well as any desire for a personal connection). In some messages
I've received of this type, I felt almost as if the sender perceived
me as a computer program ready to respond their needs -- with no identity
or needs of my own. On the other hand, no greeting may indicate the
exact opposite scenario. The sender indeed feels connected to you --
so much so that a greeting isn't required. She assumes you know that
it's you who's on her mind. Or he never felt like he left the conversation
and the psychological "space" he inhabits with you: so why
inject a greeting into the message? In an ongoing, back-and-forth dialogue,
there may be no greetings at all throughout a string of exchanged e-mails.
In the face-to-face world, you don't say "hello" in the midst
of a energetic discussion. In cyberspace, the same principle holds.
Although each e-mail message LOOKS like a letter that traditionally
starts off with a greeting, it actually isn't. It's a segment of an
To Part IV
John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology
at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published
on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains
several web sites.