Sending rude emails without even realising
In an email, it’s easy to come across as rude without even realising it.
‘Using the salutation hei (hello) followed by the recipients first name is very informal. If we send an email to an unknown English recipient that starts “Hi, Jack”, we might already be in a spot of bother,’ says Kristin Rygg.
We don't beat about the bush
Kristin Rygg is an associate professor at the Department of Professional and Intercultural Communication. She has looked at how we Norwegians start and end emails within a work context.
When Norwegians write an email, not many of us beat about the bush.
‘Most of the emails that I’ve examined get straight to the point. This isn’t so common outside of Norway. In English, one would start an email with for example ‘hope this email finds you well’ or something about the weather. It’s unusual to get straight to the point, and that’s true for many languages.’
Many people can probably identify with starting their emails with ‘Hei *name*’. If the email is intended for an international recipient, this could be a blunder.
Are there any conventions?
Kristin Rygg wanted to study e-mail communication in more detail. She examined more than nine hundred emails from fourteen informants in administrative positions.
She wanted to find out if people imitate each other or if they use a convention. Does it depend on whom they are emailing? Or have they got into a personal habit of writing in a certain way? This was the starting point of her research.
‘I wondered what people think about when they start and end a work email. Are there any conventions? Do people know how to articulate themselves in a work context?’ asks the language researcher.
According to Rygg's research, the short answer is ‘no’.
Previously there were clear conventions
‘During the interviews, I asked if they write the recipient’s name , whether they use "kjære" (Dear) and how they end their emails. I then linked their responses to the actual emails they had sent me. If what they said agreed with what they wrote, it means they make conscious choices.’
It turned out that they were making completely conscious choices, and they were consistent. The longer they had worked in administration, the more consistent they were. Most of the informants could say how they started emails and why they started them that way, but the reason they ended emails as they did was less clear.
‘That's why I asked more questions about "mvh" (abbrev. "with friendly greetings"), "beste hilsen" (best greetings) and "hilsen" (greetings), to find out what they thought about these sign-offs. What’s interesting is that those who chose to use "beste hilsen" did so because they thought it was important to be warm and friendly, even in a work email.’
Those preferring ‘mvh’ thought the opposite, that personal warmth has no place in a professional email. They are writing on behalf of an organisation and don’t wish to be personal.
Creating their own conventions
People create their own conventions of politeness, according to the researcher.
‘Politeness conventions are not universal. Those who use "beste hilsen" (best greeting) think they are being polite. Those who use the abbreviation "mvh" think that it’s old-fashioned to use "med vennlig hilsen" (with friendly greetings) and that "mvh" is just a polite abbreviation. Other subjects believe it's wrong to be so abrupt.’
People choose to use what they think is the politest option, without really having any idea about how the recipient will interpret it.