I realize that, at first, this new, message-minimalist fashion may feel unnatural. But we can do this—together. You see, all those holiday “regards” prompted yours truly to take a good, hard look in the mirror. And what I saw was someone who could not begrudge anyone on the signoff front. Up until this point, I have been far worse than your average offender when it comes to sign off stupidity.
I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but my go-to email signoff has always been: “My very best.” There’s no beating around the bush here: That’s awful. I intended it as shorthand for something like, “Until next time, I wish you my very best.” But by beginning the signoff with a word that references me, it comes off as rather self-centered—the exact opposite of what I intended. Plus, it’s confusing. Might some of my friends, co-workers, and acquaintances have believed that, for all these years, I meant not to wish them well but to imply that the preceding note was basically the best I could come up with on the topic at hand?
What a nightmare. But that’s all over now. Things will be different for me from here on out—especially if you join me in slaying the email signoff.
And while we’re at it, why stop at the signoff alone? Unless the person you are writing to doesn’t know you, or the two of you have never met, you can do away with your name at the bottom as well. And you can generally leave off your recipient’s name at the beginning, too. Including a formal greeting brings its own manifold headaches: Dear? Hi? Hey? Kill me now. The recipient saw your name in the sender field when she clicked on the email, and she knows her name, too, it’s generally safe to assume. There’s no need for repetition. Remember, we’re streamlining here. All our lives are about to get simpler.
Now, as with any long-overdue movement aimed at upsetting the status quo, our efforts will be met by protestations and bellyaching from the old guard. At the end of phone calls, you don’t just hang up after your final sentence, these sticks-in-the-mud might counter. But of course that’s because you need to know when a phone call is about to end. With an email, you can see the conclusion. No one needs to give you a warning.
Shouldn’t there be an exception for formal business communications, or for one’s first-ever correspondence with someone? Aren’t signoffs kind of nice? Don’t they make notes more personal? Without them, wouldn’t email become too detached and impersonal?
Maybe. But, to be blunt: Tough. We need a hard and fast rule here, people. We’ve been wishy-washy for far too long, and at a cost of time lost and awkwardness gained. We’ll all get used to scaling things back after a short time. In the end, it will make things easier on everyone. So let’s do this. I’ll go first.
A few days ago, I emailed this piece to my editor as an attachment. It felt good to write the corresponding message: “Here’s the piece on how email signoffs are the worst and why we should get rid of them for good. I hope you like it.” There was nothing more. No “Hello,” no “Take care,” or “Best,” or, heaven forbid, “My very best.” A few hours later, I received the following response: “Looks good. I think you’re onto something here. More soon.” And, for that moment at least, all was right with the world.