ICING ON THE E-MAIL CAKE

by John Suler, Ph.D.

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.
Hello Pat -- A more causal, friendly greeting, with a hint of politeness and respect. A very handy, all-purpose opener.
Hi Pat -- 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 among peers."
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.
Pat!!! - 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.
Pat, -- 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 unpleasant discussion.
Hey there! -- A very informal greeting, usually reserved for friends. Although the recipients name is omitted, it's assumed that the sender knows it's you.
Hey Dude! / Yo! -- Another very informal hello reserved for friends, usually (but not always) between males. It conveys a feeling of camaraderie.
Greetings! - 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 ongoing conversation.

To Part IV

1/8/99

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.

 

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