Because of electronic communication, the standard rules of business etiquette are changing. Emails pose a moving target when it comes to the accepted, and expected, salutation or greeting. While many professionals prefer to maintain some semblance of past etiquette, others throw out the stodgy for a more familiar and quick greeting, or even skip it altogether. The bottom line is that the proper salutation really depends on who you are sending the email to and what kind of relationship you have or expect to have.
Set the Tone
The salutation sets the tone for the message you’re about to deliver. For example, you might prefer to start with “Hi” or “Hello” when you send an email to someone with whom you are trying to build a relationship. An informal salutation can make the recipient feel comfortable with you. Changing your usual salutation also sets the tone and changes the tenor. For example, if you always write “Hi,” and then suddenly switch to “Dear” or “Hello,” you immediately send the message that you are about to get serious.
Consider the Source
Among the things you need to consider when crafting a salutation are your relationship to the person to whom you’re sending the email, the culture of your company and the subject about which you’re writing. “Hi” is appropriate for a friend or colleague, while you may need to use “Dear” for a more formal greeting to someone with whom you have no previous experience. “Hey” or “Greetings” may be used when you’re addressing someone you know well that appreciates a lighter tone.
Play it Safe
You’ll always be safe with “Dear,” followed by the name of the person you’re addressing, according to a Forbes article. Use a first name if you’ve been previously introduced or have an informal relationship in place. Use Mr. or Ms. when you are addressing a superior, the tone of the email is strictly professional, or when you are approaching the recipient for the first time.
Always include a name in the salutation of an email. According to Dr. Marianne Di Pierro, Director of the Graduate Center for Research and Retention at Western Michigan University, people instinctively feel good about a message when they see their name on top. She goes on to say that by not starting your message with the person’s name, you may as well be saying “hey you.” That’s disrespectful even to your friends.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."