“Best” Outed by NYT, Vindication in Spades

Thank you, Lola Ogunnaike, for taking one my bêtes noires by its wretched horns and laying bare the email etiquette-less-ness of the world at large. In today's Sunday Styles section, she exposes exactly what I've been trying to explain to troubled correspondents the globe over. Read the whole article but take special note of the first half, in which I finally find my soul mate in a chap improbably but sort of perfectly named "Chad Troutwine":

CHAD TROUTWINE, an entrepreneur in Malibu, Calif., was negotiating a commercial lease earlier this year for a building he owns in the Midwest. Though talks began well, they soon grew rocky. The telltale sign that things had truly devolved? The sign-offs on the e-mail exchanges with his prospective tenant.

“As negotiations started to break down, the sign-offs started to get decidedly shorter and cooler,” Mr. Troutwine recalled. “In the beginning it was like, ‘I look forward to speaking with you soon’ and ‘Warmest regards,’ and by the end it was just ‘Best.’ ” The deal was eventually completed, but Mr. Troutwine still felt as if he had been snubbed.

What’s in an e-mail sign-off? A lot, apparently. Those final few words above your name are where relationships and hierarchies are established, and where what is written in the body of the message can be clarified or undermined. In the days before electronic communication, the formalities of a letter, either business or personal, were taught to every third-grader; sign-offs — from “Sincerely” to “Yours truly” to “Love” — came to mind without much effort. ...

Although salutations that begin messages can be tricky — there is a world of difference, it seems, between a “Hi,” a “Hello” and a “Dear” — the sign-off is the place where many writers attempt to express themselves, even when expressing personality, as in business correspondence, is not always welcome. ...

Mr. Troutwine is not alone in thinking that an e-mail sender who writes “Best,” then a name, is offering something close to a brush-off. He said he chooses his own business sign-offs in a descending order of cordiality, from “Warmest regards” to “All the best” to a curt “Sincerely.”

When Kim Bondy, a former CNN executive, e-mailed a suitor after a dinner date, she used one of her preferred closings: “Chat soon.” It was her way of saying, “The date went well, let’s do it again,” she said.

She may have been the only one who thought that. The return message closed with the dreaded “Best.” It left her feeling as though she had misread the evening. “I felt like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of formal. I don’t think he liked me,’ ” she said, laughing. “A chill came with the ‘Best.’ ” They have not gone out since.

“Best” does have its fans, especially in the workplace, where it can be an all-purpose step up in warmth from messages that end with no sign-off at all, just the sender coolly appending his or her name.

“I use ‘Best’ for all of my professional e-mails,” said Kelly Brady, a perky publicist in New York. “It’s friendly, quick and to the point.”

Lola Ogunnaike and Chad Troutwine, let's be pen pals.

Hopelessly devoted, Melissa

Previously:

  • My original Blink-and-You'll-Miss-It Etiquette Lesson on Signing Emails
  • More on "Best," and some good resources on the why and wherefore