Composing an email can be a tricky thing to navigate. After all, every word you write can be taken by the recipient in a way you didn't necessarily mean. Clichés, bad endings, and weak starts can all distract the person you're emailing from the true purpose of your message. And one of the most common phrases people throw into their emails is often misconstrued by the recipient: "I hope this email finds you well."
According to Diana Lascu, an email marketing specialist with Flipsnack, many people use this as a greeting to start their emails without even really thinking about it. This is because it is often thought to be a "safe start for an email."
"It's supposed to generate some sort of empathy. It's been deeply rooted in the email etiquette and now more than ever seems to be just the right phrase to start your emails with. Except, it's not," she says. "It has been used for way too many times that it has lost its meaning, and nowadays is more like a joke."
The main issue is that many people send this phrase to people they don't even know. James Jason, the chief marketing officer at Mitrade, says this phrase is often used to "break the ice and create a form of connection" with the recipient of your email, who is often a professional stranger.
"People assume that by acting as if they care about the recipient, they increase their chances of being read and acknowledged," Jason says. "I think it should be reserved for people that know each other or have had some form of previous connection. Otherwise, pretending to care about a stranger could backfire pretty badly."
Most of the time, if you are emailing a stranger, you have no idea what is going on in their life. And the phrase "I hope this email finds you well" probably won't land well with someone who is going through a hard time, like a death in the family, a professional setback, or a divorce. Sometimes it can be forgiven because the recipient knows that the sender isn't aware of their personal circumstances, but during the pandemic, Lascu says it's especially troublesome because everyone is aware that "most people are just not well."
"The problem with using this phrase during a global pandemic is it comes off as tone-deaf," says Kimberly Smith, marketing manger who oversees email marketing strategy at Clarify Capital. "COVID has disrupted entire industries and economies and challenged the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of entire societies."
According to Smith, empathy and social conscientiousness are two things that are extremely important to practice in difficult times. And while emails are often seen as more professional rather than personal, you should still have an email introduction that reflects a "certain level of awareness about what the recipient is feeling."
"Starting off with 'I hope this email finds you well' reads like you're ignoring the elephant in the room, creating a disconnect between the sender and recipient," she says.
Jason says he would advise to stay away from the cliché phrases when emailing, especially if you're emailing someone you don't know. A simple "Hello" followed by their name is a natural greeting that "does not infringe on anyone's feelings or private life," he says. Plus, it shows that you have some etiquette by greeting the person you're emailing before continuing on with your message.
However, if you have interacted with this person in the past, use that, says Jason. "For instance, say, 'We met on LinkedIn…' and make your point. Consider that people are too busy to waste even a second trying to guess who you are or why a stranger wants to know how they are doing," he says. And for more email errors to avoid, This Is the Worst Way to End an Email, Research Shows.