Dear Best Regards: How to Start and End Your Emails

Last year I wrote that to make your email more effective you should put meaningful content into the subject line, keep your messages short and consider other channels (see Three Timesaving Tips for Email). I also wrote some guidelines about common culture problems when email crosses borders (see Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email).

But there is one other question about international email that comes up regularly in workshops: how should you start and finish? Do I use "Dear", "Hi",or "Hello" to start with? What do I do if I don't know if the person I am writing to is a man or a woman? "What is the difference between "Best regards  and "Warm regards"? This is a question that puzzles many people and a while ago it stressed me, too. But the answers to these questions are perhaps easier than you imagine.

DEAR MR/MRS WHATEVER. First of all, at the start of a mail you probably have some sort of salutation. How do you know which one to use in each case? The answer depends partly on the culture of the country, the culture of the company, your business and your relationship with the person. There is no way to list all of the possible cases and luckily you don't need it anyway. The simplest way to find the right greeting is to look at what the person you are writing to uses when they send an email to you. With the appropriate gender correction it is invariably the right answer. So if your colleague in Kabul writes Dear Mr Hennigan I can be sure that he or she is unlikely to be offended if I use the same formula to reply. And if they have never written to you? In that case look through your emails to see if they have written to someone else you know. If that fails find an example from another person from the same background and if that doesn't work try asking your network for advice. And if you don't have a well-developed network you just discovered another reason why you should do something about that. A network is not just for finding jobs.

MAN OR WOMAN. Let's assume that you have chosen a formula like Dear Mr/Ms X for your greeting. What do you do if you don't recognize if the name is masculine or feminine? Again this is not as hard as it looks. One simple solution is to ask someone from your network -- you really have to take care of that . Another is to ask Google. Let's suppose that you need to write to someone called Andrew and for some reason you don't know the gender. Try googling both "Mr Andrew" and "Ms Andrew" then look at the number of pages Google finds. In most cases it is obvious which is the one most commonly used. But in any case some names are used for both genders -- Kim, Jacky, Lesley and so on -- so in some cases this technique doesn't work. In that case try searching for the person you are going to write to and look for profile pictures in places like LinkedIn. Again in most cases it should be obvious from the photo, unless they have used a picture of a cat for their profile -- a very bad idea for this reason.

YOURS WITH KINDLY WARM REGARDS. People have even more trouble with the salutation at the end of a mail. There are many variations from "Sincerely yours" to just "Best". In this case, too, the easiest solution is to just look at what the recipient usually signs and use the same salutation yourself. Look through email threads and you will see that this is exactly what most people are doing today. And its for that reason that the same person might be inconsistent in their use of greetings and salutations. One day you write "Warmly" and they reply back in the same way. Another day you write "Best regards" and they answer you in that way.

Ultimately the only rule you need to remember is that you should just use the same style that is normally used by the person you are writing to. But perhaps even more important is to understand that the greetings and salutations are not so important anyway. Normally balanced people will not be upset if someone on the other side uses an unusual greeting or makes a gender mistake. It is much more important to write brief and clear messages, to have a clear idea of what you are asking, to answer messages promptly and other things. If you sign a message to me "Regards" I will not think you don't like me, but answer two weeks late and maybe I go somewhere else next time, if I can.

Related posts about email:

Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email
Three Timesaving Tips for Email -- Five Minutes to Boost Your Productivity

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching on intercultural issues.

For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit contact me by mail at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.


Natalia said…
But it sounds as if "regards" does sound kind of cold to you, doesn´t it? As a foreigner it is difficult for me to judge. Although the spanish culture tends to encourage warmth mucho more than the english culture, the final formulae in letters sound very warm in german and english. This "sincerely yours" is common in german too, but translated into spanish it sounds incredibly intimate. It was used in spanish in old times, but not any more. That is why it is difficult for me to use it although I know that it does not sound so in english or german.
Andrew Hennigan said…
Thanks for the comment That is why I recommend that people respond in the same style used by the person who they are writing to. It might sound odd to you but it will be ok to them.

It is interesting that "sincerely" sounds intimate in Spanish; it cold and formal in English.

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