Write a cordial beginning or buffer

For e‑mails, memos, and letters, write a cordial beginning as often as possible and appropriate.

Every message is an opportunity to build a team spirit with others in your company and a partnering relationship with vendors and clients. When you have any opportunity to begin with a cordial greeting, do so:

"Thanks for sending that report so quickly."

"You've always been incredibly knowledgeable about this client. I need your help."

"I'm looking forward to hearing more of your good ideas at this meeting. We'll hold it . . ."

Writers often have the feeling this is being "fake." Readers, including you, don't see it that way when you read such a message. You're pleased by it. Of course, the message should always be genuine, and if you begin every e‑mail, letter, or memo with such a message, pretty soon people are going to stop reading the first sentences of your e‑mails, memos, or letters. Take the opportunity when it is there to let the reader know you appreciate him or her.

Express your appreciation for the reader's efforts or help. State the actual occurrence when possible.

Write a buffer if the reader may react negatively to the message.

Analyze the reader before you begin the e‑mail, letter, or memo message. Ask yourself, "Will the reader react badly to anything in this message?" If so, defuse the reaction by beginning with a buffer in which you reassure the reader as much as is appropriate. Don't minimize or dilute a message that the reader must hear, even though it may not be good news. However, begin with a buffer that explains your stance toward the reader in the most positive words appropriate.

This is a harsh message:

Jackson,

In the most recent batch, your data had three errors. You have to eliminate the errors or we'll have to transfer you out of the department into a job where you don't work with details.

Doris

This is the same message with a buffer. Jackson needs to know the consequences, but Doris begins with some words of encouragement. This message is unnecessarily harsh. You would change the wording, but we're using this to illustrate the effect of a buffer even on a harshly written message.

Hello Jackson,

I really appreciate your effort to reduce the number of errors you have in your work. I'm going to make myself available this week to help you try to reduce them to zero.

In the most recent batch, your data had three errors. You have to eliminate the errors or we'll have to transfer you out of the department into a job where you don't work with details.

Doris

The buffer must go at the beginning. The message will be painted with the color you use at the beginning, regardless of the words that come later. Here is the same message with the buffer at the end. You'll feel the difference. The buffer feels like it's just an add-on the writer doesn't really mean.

Hello Jackson,

In the most recent batch, your data had three errors. You have to eliminate the errors or we'll have to transfer you out of the department into a job where you don't work with details.

I really appreciate your effort to reduce the number of errors you have in your work. I'm going to make myself available this week to help you try to reduce them to zero.

Doris

Use the requester's urgency or emotion words in the introduction.

If the reader has requested something from you, he or she may have used some urgency or emotion words: "I need this right now." "I'm really frustrated that I can't get answers to these questions."

Use the emotion or urgency words at the beginning of your message to let the reader know you've heard him or her: "I know you need this right now, so I . . ." "I'm sorry you're frustrated that you can't get answers to these questions. Let me . . ."

Empathize with the reader using the reader's own key words.

Avoid going beyond the reader's emotions when you empathize. If the reader wrote, "I'm really frustrated . . ." don't respond with "I'm sorry you're angry . . ." The reader said she was "frustrated," not "angry." The reader may feel you didn't hear her, or that she really ought to be angry instead of frustrated. Stay with the person's urgency or emotion words.

 

Example

To see an example of an e‑mail that is insensitive because it lacks a cordial beginning and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.

Example

 

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