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'Hope all is well' can be annoying as …

'Net Buzz By , Network World
August 13, 2010 04:19 PM ET
McNamara

Network World - (I am on vacation. Here's a Buzzblog item posted just before I left that prompted a bit of back and forth with readers.)

An e-mail arrives this morning from someone I do not know and with whom I have had no prior business interaction. It begins this way:

"Hi Paul,

"Hope all is well."

Hope all is well? Honestly?

Maybe in the abstract, this person hopes I am well, but not really. Not in the way that I hope my sister in Minnesota, with whom I have been out of touch lately, is well.

The e-mail sender in this case happens to be a public relations professional whose interest in my well being is grounded not in genuine concern but rather the possibility that I might write something nice about her client. She hopes I am well enough to write that item.

What bugs me about this ploy is not just the transparent insincerity but the underlying assumption that it might be effective; that having established this "personal connection" increases the likelihood that I will come across with the goods: positive publicity. (I say positive out of the near certainty that were I inclined to write something negative, the sender would just as soon see me contract polio as remain well enough to post it.)

This beef is a trivial matter, I realize; virtually all e-mail etiquette issues are minor by definition. But every time I read that smarmy greeting my blood pressure ticks up just a notch, meaning that I am -- ever so briefly -- less well.

Venting is good for one's health … and there was plenty of that in the blog comments. Let's start with "Mac":

"What is wrong with someone wishing you well? How can you judge the person's intention from such a benign brief written statement that doesn't have the voice connotations? More importantly, tell us what should one say in opening an email to someone they don't know well? How do you break the ice?"

I took the question to be rhetorical since Mac also suggested that I must have better things to write about. Reader "GooRu," however, stepped up to answer:

"You are missing the point. 'Hope you are well' is an unnecessary and insincere attempt at camaraderie. The ice is broken at

'Hi Paul.'"

Another comment is headlined, "You're a curmudgeon":

"In a world where people need to have politeness and manners, you're eschewing them. Be direct. Get to the point. Time urgency is a sickness. It's part of the Type A Stress Syndrome. Read Friedman and Ulmer's fix for this.

"And stop bashing people for trying to be nice. It's better than the grumpiness you're showing. The ritual of manners is something sorely lacking in this polarized society. The lack of manners points to a diseased mindset, one that must constantly punch to the point. Bah. Have a nice day … otherwise."

I took this one myself with a reply titled, "Welcome, you must be new here:"

Of course I'm a curmudgeon (ask any regular) but I'm not the one being impolite. It is in no way mannerly to feign personal concern as a prelude to soliciting business from a total stranger (nor would Emily Post approve of using "diseased mindset" as an ice-breaker, but we'll let that slide).

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