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Sign-off etiquette: Is ‘all the best’ any better than ‘thanks’?
‘Yours sincerely’ came into play for someone you had met, properly and formally, in a Jane Austen, ‘Miss Bennett, may I introduce you to Mr Darcy, kind of way. Photograph: iStock
As often as not, I will find myself looking at the end of an email in mild disbelief. Are you really sending me “Kind regards”? I mean, what are regards if not kind in the first place?
I come from a generation which gave these issues the thought and consideration they deserved. At school, we learnt all about letter etiquette. Sr Dolores insisted on it. It was her thing. And the most important part of any letter, what clearly marked you out as a serious person in life, was how it ended.
“Yours faithfully” was to be used when you did not know the person and had never met the – if you wouldn’t recognise them if they walked into your kitchen, opened the fridge and went off with your lunch. But you were expected to declare loyalty to these strangers. Good manners dictated that you would let them know of your steadfast intention to stick with them, through thick and thin.
“Yours sincerely”, on the other hand, came into play for someone you had met, properly and formally, in a Jane Austen, “Miss Bennett, may I introduce you to Mr Darcy” kind of way.
I so loved that rule. It made life very easy. I stood by that rule for years and years until letters began to shuffle off the social scene and emails swaggered in centre-stage, brash and cocky, filled with that new-kids-on-the-block bluster.
And this all happened so quickly and so brazenly that Sr Dolores and her letter-loving cohorts were caught off-guard. They didn’t have the time to gather and confer and come up with new lists of Dos and Don’ts.
In no other aspect of life, do we go around keeping people up to date with the values underpinning our behaviour
All of which has left me and no doubt countless others staring at emails, pondering whether “Kind regards” is the equivalent of someone standing up in a room and announcing that, yes, they were indeed about to leave but before they did so, they wanted everyone to know that they were leaving with kindness in their heart, so much kindness!
I really don’t buy it. Surely it’s up to the recipient or recipients or whomever else is still loitering in that room to decide for themselves whether this person is actually being kind? In no other aspect of life, do we go around keeping people up to date with the values underpinning our behaviour.
We don’t announce, “This is me being very generous!” when passing around a bag of sweets or interject an “Excuse me, but right now I am demonstrating exceptional levels of patience” when waiting our turn to use the microwave.
For a while there, I went with “Regards” on their own. No “kind”, no anything. I decided people could read into those “Regards” any way they wanted.
All the best
But for no particular reason, I slipped into “Thanks” and stuck with it for a long time until, this whole conversation came up socially and an apologist for the “Kind regards” approach, wanted to know what exactly I was being thankful for.
Now as is the way with questions that are infuriatingly legitimate, that fairly stopped me in my tracks. What indeed? For taking the time to read the email? For hanging on in there until the very end? For not bailing half-way through?
We should opt for something clear and unambiguous. Something that doesn’t pretend to care but does the job nonetheless
I do occasionally throw in an “All the best” but only to people I know well. Very well. Really, really well. And to be honest, even as I do so I feel I’m letting Sr Dolores down. I can picture her face fall, her eyes widen. I can practically see her reaching for a chair to steady herself. “All the best”!
So that gets used very sparingly and has no real impact on a day-to-day basis.
And so I’m putting it out there that we should opt for something clear and unambiguous. Something that doesn’t pretend to care but does the job nonetheless.
Something along the lines of “Okay, we need to wrap this up and anyway chances are we both want to go and check if there are chocolate biscuits in the kitchen or talk about that programme we watched on Netflix last night – with our colleagues in the other room (for what would be, of course, a professionally appropriate length of time) as that final scene was so very confusing; and therefore this piece of communication has formally and faithfully and in the most sincere way possible come to an end”.
As indeed it has.