If you work in an office, you’ll likely have sent – and received – more than a few emails in your time that start with, “I hope you’re well”.
It’s a generic, standard opener, isn’t it? You probably don’t particularly care if your correspondent is well or not; you’re not expecting them to respond with, “Actually, my cat just died.” But the phrase is the first slice of bland white bread in an email sandwich, and without it, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Last year, a report condemned the sign-off “Best” as a no-no, describing it as a “charmless, pallid, impersonal, or abrupt” way of wrapping up an email. And now, according to one writer, “I hope you’re well” also needs to be consigned to the email etiquette bin.
“While looking back through emails I’d sent to close friends and loved ones, I couldn’t find a single ‘I hope you’re well,’” says Dayna Evans, in an essay for The Cut. This, she says, is proof that using the phrase is a “clear-cut way to prove you couldn’t give a shit about the person you are emailing”.
Instead of churning out what is – let’s face it – a meaningless bit of placeholder text, Evans recommends either cutting out the niceties entirely and launching straight into what you’re there to say. Or if that seems altogether too brusque, consider replacing the dreaded phrase with something else.
“Find something – literally anything – to prove that you are not a robot built for the mundane task of churning out rote correspondence,” says Evans.
Her suggested alternatives include commenting on the weather, or throwing in a reference to current cultural events. (The key here is choosing your topic carefully: keep things light, but still professional. Unless you already know that they’re as gripped as you, asking how they feel about the latest chapter in the Hiddleswift saga might not fly.)
And if you really can’t think of anything else to say, simply find a more interesting way of phrasing “I hope you’re well”. Ask how their summer’s going, or say, “I hope life’s treating you well at XYZ Company!” Basically, make it plain that you’ve personalised the email for them and them alone.
“The most important thing to do when writing an email to anyone – be it work correspondence or a love letter or a threat to your enemies – is to ask yourself, do you actually hope this person is well?” Evans concludes. “If you do, then find some sincere way to say that instead of a bottled expression that has come to mean anything but.”