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You’ve got (sincere) mail

THE FIFTH COLUMN

“Thank you for reaching out” is a line in an email I received the other day. I couldn’t tell whether it was meant sincerely, condescendingly or flippantly, like the many times I’ve sent “Hope you’re well” to people.

I did reach out, I guess, because I made the first contact. But what then of the old “Thank you for making contact”? And are we writing “thank you” out in full these days?

I’ve only recently started opening work emails with “Hope you’re well” (even ones with an invoice attached) and understand it now to be a way to soften the blow — like a silencer on a gun — of interactions with the potential of ruining my day.

I appreciate the gesture and am happy to reciprocate. Emails from clients and colleagues by far outnumber those from friends and family.

Of course we should be nice to each other. Civility is the cornerstone of a healthy working relationship. But “thank you for reaching out”? It feels like a boundary has been crossed here. There is an implied desperation on my part I’m not entirely comfortable with. I’m not in peril; my emails are (usually) not a cry for help. No reaching is being done.

That said, I enjoyed reading the line and it stayed with me for the rest of the day. I felt a connection that can only be established with words like “Thank you for reaching out”. I expected, for a brief moment, for my new email friend to ask me to go for a coffee to discuss a burning issue they might need help with. Things that cannot be fully expressed via email. But I haven’t heard from them since so maybe they found help elsewhere. Or asking for help was never the intention. If they were really in trouble, I would have received an email by now.

That leaves flippancy as the motivation, which makes me sad in a way. For a seemingly sincere line such as “Thank you for reaching out” to be stripped of its power — made redundant — and take its place next to “Hope you’re well” is a loss to us all.

But a shout-out is called for to those who still try to work with what they’ve got. Every now and then a “Hope you’re well?” pops into my inbox and my heart lifts by as much as one question mark can lift a heart, and I’m very tempted to respond: “I am. Hope you are too?”

Or I see an email signed off not with “Kind regards” but “Kindest regards”, and I wonder is there even a better kind of kind than that? Or someone sends their “Warmest regards” at the end of an email with contents as cold as ice and I think to myself, kudos for trying.

I typed “Thank you for reaching out” in an email once (this very morning, in fact) but deleted it and replaced it with “Thank you for getting in touch”. I’m not ready to use the line in a flippant manner, nor deal with the consequences should the recipient of my email think it sincere.

As elsewhere in life, there are boundaries to honour when we email each other. Boundaries that will facilitate effective communication and allow relationships to prosper. At least, I think so.

Warmest regards,

Hans

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Hans Mackenzie Main
Hans Mackenzie Main
Writer/Columnist at Mail & Guardian

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