Before you draft that email signature, make sure you're leaving people with the right impression.
We all know what to expect in an email signature: name, contact info, website, maybe a phone number. This is simple Email Signature 101. However, some people seem to view their email signature as an opportunity to list every single accomplishment since their sixth grade spelling bee award.
If you’ve ever received an email back asking, “Why is your email signature a novel?” then it’s time to listen up. Email signatures are not résumés, or a list of bragging rights, they are a point of reference or call to action for more information. So, with that, check out my top three Quick and Dirty Tips for a proper email signature.
Tip #1: Mr./Mrs. Acronym
Having worked in the government for years, I saw acronyms so elaborate that they used up the number of characters in a tweet. Sure, your work or titles are important, but deep down people want to display those acronyms for bragging rights—as if the bigger the acronym, the more important the role. “Wait, the title of this job is too short … It’s only a three-letter acronym! We need at least 15.” In a document, or project, go ahead, acronym yourself until you’re blue in the face. But when you shorten everything you’ve done on your email signature into a string of abbreviations that looks like someone just spilled a bowl of Alpha-Bits and picked at random, you impress no one. Why? Well, they may not even know what you’re talking about!
For example, I received an email that had only one sentence in the body, but an email signature that was so long, I had to scroll down to view all of it. There was his name, his title, his acronym of degrees (three medical degrees), his department acronym, the acronym of the department above him, the company region acronym—on top of his email, Twitter, LinkedIn, personal website… you get the drift. Wait. What the what?
His email signature accouterment was, I’m sure, impressive. But I had no idea what it meant and, therefore, it just looked like filler. When it comes to email signatures, you have to remember who you’re speaking to. This guy could have been the second coming of Einstein for all I know, but I don’t speak his industry lingo, and he lost me trying to impress me. The easiest fix is to always properly edit your signature for the person you're emailing. Don’t feel you need everything in your standard/go-to signature? Instead, tweak it, sharpen it, and tailor it, so people understand the acronyms are actually extraordinary. And if you have a title you’re proud of, say it, don’t leave it in code.
Tip #2: When Witty Doesn’t Work
As a humorist, my job is to entertain and make people realize the funny side of rather unmannerly things in life. So, even when I hear a “bad joke,” I’m more likely to give it a second chance in the spirit of its comedic intent. However, I find that in many situations, the rudest people end up using humor to cover up their true feelings, which only makes them come across as more unmannerly than they wished. For example, I received an email from a friend with the signature: “Sent from my iPhone … because my ungrateful wife took my computer in the divorce, so this is all I have left.”
Word for word, I kid you not.
In fact, if this was something I saw in a movie, I’d be cracking up … but I didn’t. It was real life and it was a real turn-off.
I get that divorce is insanely frustrating but there comes a time when not everything needs to be so out in the open—like in an email signature. I found this to be tasteless and unfair. True, his ex may not be the most “pleasant” person and, yes, she did take many things from him, but he didn’t need to bring that part of his life into an email discussion. Here, he was going for a laugh—and did get one—but it wasn’t a time I was laughing with him, bu rather shaking my head at him.
Always remember the last thing someone sees in the email is your signature, so you want to end things on a high note. If you want to let them know your personality or sense of humor, don’t go with a joke. Instead, I recommend going with an inspirational quote that captures your true character. Like this one, which a colleague uses, “If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.” Here, I get a sense of this person’s outlook on life and openness to embrace hard work and hustle to get what he wants. When I first saw it, I literally applauded his effort and remember it to this day. Always keep the positive and ditch the negative.
Tip #3: The Over Religious
Now, I understand religion is a tricky topic to discuss, so please don’t think I’m telling everyone to stray away from religious signature if they’re already committed to one. But what I am saying is to maybe offer “religious light.” This often comes in the form of inspiration that the sender wants to share with the reader. This is similar to what I said in Tip #2 with the quote I mentioned, but a religious email signature can be a little over the top and come off preachy. For example, one Modern Manners Guy Facebook friend said her ex-boyfriend used to add this after his business email signature, “Have you thanked God today?” Nothing bad, nothing inappropriate, just something you don’t see all the time in a business email … from an insurance broker. A priest? Yes. A rabbi? Sure. But a day-to-day businessman? Not so much.
Here—although with good intention—the sender was implying two things: that he or she is so passionate about religion, he or she thinks about God every day and so should you. Secondly, he or she is making the reader feel guilty if they are not in the same mindset. And this is where I stress more religious light. I will always support anyone’s religious beliefs—as long as it’s not hurting anyone else— but it’s unmannerly to push your religious zealousness onto someone else. When you do this, the reader may feel a little tentative about what they can say around you, language they can use, or topics they can discuss, because they fear the religious sender may be offended about their “unorthodox” lifestyle. I mean, what if the sender asked the reader that very question? What if they didn’t thank God today? Are they seen in a different light because of it?
Unless you work in the religious field, it’s just something to stray away from. Religion is a touchy subject, and everyone has their own opinions; the last thing you want to do is get into a religious debate when you’re not very religious in the first place.
As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.
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