The rules of digital kissing: is it ever appropriate to sign off work emails with a kiss?

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Amy Swales
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You've brushed up your bad office habits and you've been told signing off emails with ‘best’ should probably be avoided, but what about the X factor?

Didn't angst over digital kisses used to be confined to text messages in the early days of a relationship? That rapid exchange suddenly turning into a tense wait for a reply because you'd gone rogue with ‘xxxxxx’, before fevered analysis of their truncated two-X response (ah, young love).

Now, on top of awkward performance conversations, mandatory work parties and the never-ending politics of the office fridge, sticking a kiss on the end of an email has been firmly established as another workplace minefield for you to wander through without a handy map.

If someone sent you one, should you end your missive in the same way? How bad is it when your phone got over-familiar and autocorrected one X into three? Or worse, when you send one to someone you would never ordinary e-kiss because you were tapping out a message furiously? Big kiss, small kiss, accidental 'c' kiss?

The letter X has denoted a kiss since the 18th century, but it's safe to assume that these days, colleagues receiving it on an email don't actually view it as such, believing that in real life you would have ended that conversation with a sloppy smacker or shouted ‘KISS!’ at their departing back. It's become a slightly warmer way to end your part of a conversation, and is on its way to becoming completely neutral.

As linguist and lexicologist Ben Zimmer told, “You could compare [digital kisses] to how the epistolary greeting ‘dear’ changed over time, originally just for addressing loved ones but eventually becoming neutral”.

So as we wait for our X overuse to quietly slip into the nothing middle ground of ‘dears’ and ‘bests’, has a few (slightly tongue-in-cheek) tips on email kissing etiquette to bear in mind should your mouse be hovering paralysed with fear over the ‘send’ button.

Take your cue

Whoever it is – a boss, a new contact, a client – if you're in a professional environment and you don't know if a kiss is appropriate, wait for them to make the first move. You definitely know when it is appropriate, so consider why you've hestitated this time – it's usually because they're someone you answer to in some way (your manager or client) or you don't feel you know them well enough yet. Thus allowing them to step up the familiarity is the easiest way of avoiding embarrassment or feeling like you overstepped the line.

As etiquette guide Debrett's explains, “If in doubt, err towards the polite and formal, particularly where you are not well acquainted with the recipient. Think carefully about using smiley faces, ‘kisses’ etc. Are these symbols really suitable for the recipient?” If you don't know, don't do it.

Stick to your guns

Work out your own rule and stick to it. You don't usually e-kiss people you've never met in person, but because they did you worry you'll look stand-offish if you don't? Tough. You're only making it harder for yourself. If you start kissing some emails and not others to the same person, they'll start reading into why you did or didn't.

In particular, if you manage people and you kiss their emails often, but then because you're having to tell them something awkward you leave it off, the sudden absence is incredibly loud. Ditto the other way around: if you never do and then deploy it tactically to soften the blow, it'll be obvious. Make your digital kissy bed and lie in it.

Three, two, one...

How many is too many in a work environment? Well, for a start, you know those messages you sometimes get on What's App or Facebook which are nothing but kisses? Just a long string of Xs that basically serve as acknowledgment of the previous message and affection toward the sender of it? Yeah, that's too many.

One kiss is fairly neutral territory these days, and acts a slight softener in the same way that any flowery bits on email do. All that “Hope you're well” and “Have a lovely evening” – you know they add nothing to whatever it is you're getting across, but they're part of an accepted structure, as is the single kiss. The more kisses, the more familiar you are with the recipient: save three or more for family and friends.

XOXO off

Unless you are American, pubescent, Gossip Girl or Paris Hilton, this is not the office-based email kiss for you. Perhaps, thanks to ever-evolving language and the availability of US-made TV box sets on streaming platforms, one day it will be. But that day is not now.

Apply the real-life rule

If the whole thing all still just feels awkward and unclear, try etiquette expert William Hanson's rule: “If you'd kiss the person in real life, then put a digital kiss on the end of the text, tweet or email.” Yep, that rules out a hell of a lot of people, but it makes everything cut and dried (as long as you stick to it, of course). And it doesn't mean the relationship can't evolve to include it. “Just like social kissing, we hold it back until we know the person a little better. A social kiss is an intimate thing that is not to shared with a stranger and I see no reason why a digital kiss should be any different.”

Love you

That's it folks. Language and etiquette rules are flexible in this digital age, so allow some room for common sense. Or just go the other way and try to make signing off with ‘I love you’ a thing. Let us know how you get on with that.

Images: Thinkstock


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.