Dear Olds (or should I say Hi!),

I have a message for you about email communication: Please soften, but also, liven it up.

A few months ago, I began realizing that most of the emails I received from people over, say, 50, left me feeling cold. They were curt — typically a mere sentence or two — and featured unexciting punctuation (maybe a period). At first, I thought this might have something to do with their personalities or the setting (often these were business-related emails), but in the spirit of stoking generational conflict, I have come to believe it actually has to do with age.

That’s because I recently discovered that my parents, who are in their 60s and pretty hip do it too.

For the past few months, I’ve found myself on more email chains than usual with the two of them. We’re planning my December wedding and much of talk about the event is conducted over email in five way conversations with the two of them, my fiance, myself and our wedding planner. Everyone likes each other, is excited about the occasion and keeps their diva in check. But it has provided me with some new insights, including this one about the generational differences in email etiquette.

A sample missive from a recent email confirming receipt of some information from our synagogue:

“Thanks (and Shabbat Shalom).”

Now, there is of course nothing wrong, or offensive about this email on its face. Mazel for making the effort to add a little bit of friendliness by referencing the upcoming sabbath. But a little fluffy language, or an exclamation point sprinkled in, could go a long way in exuding warmth.

My suggested edits:

“Hi!

Thanks so much for sending this!

Shabbat Shalom!”

Or simply: “Thanks!”

Some email etiquette experts would tell you I’m wrong, that baby boomers’ short and businesslike messages should be prized. “It’s best to err on the more formal side, versus too casual,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. And of course there are those (20-somethings included) who are over the exclamation point, arguing it signals youth, inexperience, weakness and now meaninglessness. To that I say: Get on board!

Even Gmail, arguably the gold standard when it comes to inboxes, admits that exclamation points have a role to play in email conversation. Earlier this year, the company launched its “Smart Reply” feature, which offers up possible responses to missives in your inbox, including “No worries, thanks for the update!” and “Oh no! Feel better!” The tool will even adjust its algorithm to match your email personality. “If you’re more of a ‘thanks!’ than a ‘thanks.’ person, we’ll suggest the response that’s, well, more you!” the company said in a post announcing the new feature. 

I would advocate for becoming a “thanks!” person if you’re not one already. When you don’t have facial expressions or voice inflection to signal to the person on the other end how you’re feeling, it’s important to air on the side of niceties, softer language, an inside joke, exclamation point or (appropriately used) emoji to ensure the other person leaves the email interaction feeling positively about it.

You may not think you’re sending any signals by simply responding to an email with only the necessary information, but trust those of us raised as “digital natives” — the jargoniest of all jargon — and fluent in tech speak, you probably are.

So before you hit send, take 10 seconds and think, what can I do to sound more like a cheery, syrupy millennial? The recipient’s inbox will thank you.

Thanks!
Jillian