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Some Like It Nice

Let’s say your name is Chris, and you just received an email that begins with this sentence:

Chris, please inform everyone in your group of this policy on parking validation.

Do you think that is rude as an opening sentence?

Today several people in a business writing seminar in Vancouver, British Columbia, thought it was rude. They believed the email should begin with a greeting such as “Hi, Chris.” They also suggested that the sentence be written “Would you please . . . ” rather than just “Please.”

I defended the sentence. After all, I reasoned, it used the person’s name, and it did say “Please.” Yes, I thought the sentence was fine–probably because I had written it.

A few months ago a similar discussion took place in a law firm in Seattle, Washington. But in that seminar, the view was the opposite: Attendees said that using a greeting or someone’s name was unnecessary. To them, it made more sense to just start with “Please inform . . .” They asked, “Why use someone’s name?”

Because some like it nice.

Some people thrive on a warm greeting and generous servings of “Would you please,” “I would appreciate,” and “Thanks!” Others are fine as long as you say “please” and spell their name correctly if you use it. Still others say “You don’t need to butter me up. Just get to the point.”

It’s about style differences. I explained to my Canadian friends that I do not mean to be rude and neither do other people who use the “Chris, please . . .” approach. They explained that my way sounds rude without a warmer greeting. We both heard each other. They agreed to consider my approach as a style difference rather than rudeness. I agreed to say “Would you please” and consider a “Hi” at the beginning of the message.

If you receive email or memos from someone who seems rude or too nice, remember: Some like it nice. So be nice about accepting differences, and consider adapting your own style. Maybe you can add a little sweetness. Or maybe you can eliminate some smiley faces or the multiple exclamations points on “Thanks!!!”

If we are all flexible about style differences, the world will be a nicer place.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Some Like It Nice”

  • thanks a lot for this. i always worry about how other will read/understand little things like the ones you mention. it is nice to know that others besides me preach the gospel of hermeneutic charity!

  • MC, thanks for your comment. Would you please define “hermeneutic charity”? From the context, I am guessing it means tolerance regarding language differences. Am I right?

  • Yes, but I use it mostly as a general, almost ethical, injunction to think/write/interpret in good faith.
    It is a phrase I heard from a mentor in graduate school that has stuck with me. The immediate context concerned how to do good rhetorical criticism but I have expanded it to become a kind of generalized life modus operandi. I hope this isn’t too muddled I am running off to class. Thanks for your blog!

  • Hi Lynn:
    I think the intro was just fine for someone that you know well, write to often or work with on a daily basis… but if this was addressed to me and I hadn’t talked/emailed with the person in the last 2 weeks or so, I’d say it was too abrupt.
    Just a feeling I guess…
    Chris Brown
    Branding & Marketing blog

  • I think adding a “Hi” in front of the name is about as warm as one would want to get. As is in fine, but starting to say “Would you” makes it sound more optional to me. The nice but firm command that it be done is clearer.

    Thanks for the Blog, some great tips and ideas!


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