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Do You See XOXO in Business Email?

This month's Atlantic magazine features a snappy article "Kisses and Hugs in the Office," by Jessica Bennett and Rachel Simmons on the use of XOXO in business email.

I wrote last year about a woman who was signing her email XXXOOO to my husband. I was relieved to realize the Xs and Os were part of her automatic signature, nothing special for my Michael. (Read the details in my post "Use Caution With Automatic Signatures.")

But according to the reporting of Bennett and Simmons, the use of Xs and Os (for kisses and hugs) has moved beyond signatures into subject lines and the bodies of emails. Most of this affection is shared by females. The authors reported that "among Twitter users, 11 percent of women xo in tweets, compared with only 2.5 percent of men."

Are you getting kissed and hugged in your business emails and IMs? Please share what you are seeing.

For the Atlantic article, Jessica Bennett asked me why the use of Xs and Os might have crept into business writing. My published response might sound as though I approve their use:

"It’s much faster to type the four-stroke xxoo than With warm wishes followed by a comma. If someone can type a smiley face in one second, why write a sentence like I appreciate your thoughtfulness?”

Don't think for a second that I recommend warming up your business emails with kisses and hugs. Not a chance! I was simply suggesting why their use might be increasing.

I look forward to your report.

Syntax Training

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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.

12 comments on “Do You See XOXO in Business Email?”

  • I haven’t seen it yet, but I am often struck by how affectionate young women are, especially with each other. I have several Facebook friends who are young women, and they use XXXs and OOOs, and call each other by pet names (hon, sweetie). And then there are all the LOLs and smiley faces! Evidently that is spilling over into business communcations. It seems extremely inappropriate in a business email.

  • I agree that ease and speed may be factors in the uptick of virtual affection in business email. But I have an additional theory. Lots of coworkers, many of them women, have told me that email is a cold medium. The brevity of messages and perfunctory nature of email makes some people uncomfortable, particularly when the slightest bit of conflict pops up. We all have to be the bad guy from time to time. Maybe some people think a few hugs and kisses now, will help soften a cold blow later. I don’t agree with the tactic and think it has no place in the office. It feels like lacy curtains at your cubicle. Yuck.

  • I haven’t seen this yet in my business communications, though I’m sure it would strike me as odd. Another take is that the practice you’re describing also cheapens the expression of genuine affection.

  • Wow! I am shocked! I could understand it in a more creative or retail businesses but not in most corporate settings.

    I imagine that using this in a business communication at my work would lead to some swift coaching. It would seem to me that Legal would quickly get involved because there could be hostile work environment implications.

    The it is easier hypothesis doesn’t stand up when it is in an automatic signature simply because it is automatic. You only have to type it once.

    In my personal communications, yes, I think it can be great. In my business communications – NO! It would not be acceptable.

  • I had no idea this was becoming a trend. I’m afraid I’d be a little creeped out to receive an email from a business associate signed XOXO. And I doubt I’d let it pass without a pithy retort.

  • Hello, Val, E. Seiler, J. Venis, Jennifer, and Kelly. Thank you for commenting!

    Val, I am with you that these things don’t belong in business email. I have to admit, though, that I sometimes slip them into personal email with women friends I would hug in person.

    E. Seiler, thanks for your explanation and the terrific “lacy curtains” comparison.

    J. Venis, interesting point. I don’t know whether the users of Xs and Os consider them “genuine affection.” Perhaps they mean to communicate enthusiasm, appreciation, or excitement.

    Jennifer, I can imagine Legal and HR getting involved at many of my client companies.

    Kelly, “creeped out” is an understandable reaction.

    Everyone, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.


  • I know some business relationships turn into friendships outside the workplace, but for the life of me, I cannot imagine why anyone would have an automatic signature on a business email account with Xs and Os – unless they sell an online version of Tic-Tac-Toe. 🙂

  • My husband and I recently opened a plumbing business I work more behind the scenes , but basically run the office. We are a small business ,no employees . so small that i havent opened an email for myself so I work out of my husband’s email account. The problem we are having is unprofessional email communications. Mainly from one female employee that works with our biggest account. ..winks, smiley faces, xoxo good mornings at 6:00am Even unnecessary communication on Sunday afternoon. I personally have never met this person I appreciate her position and I’m sure she is great at what she does or she wouldn’t be employed. However ,her emails are now very uncomfortable She has even left messages to my husband saying things like we need you to come and sign papers because Tom is hot for it. On another occasion I guess she over heard a conversation through male employees that my husband was going to play tennis and she took it upon herself to ask him if he has kicked any tennis but lately while communicating other business details.
    Do you think it’s time to speak with her boss.?
    Please reply your suggestions!

  • Hi, Evelyn. I suggest that you remove your husband’s signature block from the emails and instead insert your own. Sign the messages Mrs. ______ _______ (so it is clear you are his wife) and use the title Office Manager. I believe taking that step will stop the flirtatious behavior.


  • My husband had been cornered by a female member of staff who has a reputation as a back stabber and bully.
    She talked about several members of staff, one of whom she is supposedly friends with, in a derogatory way.
    My husband told me about it as he was uncomfortable with it. He said he’d not said anything while she spoke.
    I said that she might take his silence to be agreement but he thought not.
    A few days later, they were in the office, sitting in the same room at different desks when she emailed him with a thanks for listening adding a wink emoticon then she tried to organise a meeting for just the two of them in an out of the way room in the building although there was no reason to have a meeting.
    He realised that the 😉 meant she thought he was colluding with her and was worried as to what her motive for wanting the meeting was.
    He had a quiet word with the boss saying he just wanted him to be aware should staff get to know about the nasty comments the woman made, he had nothing to do with it and my husband avoids this woman now as much as he can.

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