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Etiquette at Work

When is ‘You’re welcome’ called for?

Q. Business e-mail situation — I let my client know I have completed a task; they e-mail back a thank you. Do I e-mail them a “You’re welcome?” Or is enough enough already?

S. B., BURLINGTON, VT.

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A. The answer to your question is nuanced and definitely a gray area. What you should do is determine if a “You’re welcome” is called for.

In a conversation, “You’re welcome” is the correct response to “Thank you.” Now, think of your e-mail as a conversation. Does the “Thank you” terminate the conversation, conveying “Roger that — over and out”? If it does, then “You’re welcome” or any other response isn’t needed. On the other hand, if the “Thank you” is intended to show appreciation, then, just as in a conversation, respond with “You’re welcome.”

In your case, tone of voice matters, and you can hear the tone even in someone’s writing. If the rest of their message speaks positively (glowingly) of our work and effort, then that’s appreciation and deserves “You’re welcome.” But if instead their “Thank you” is a matter of fact acknowledgment that you completed the task, then “You’re welcome” is superfluous.

With that in mind, a better way to think of the situation is obligation versus opportunity. This is a client we’re talking about here. You have an opportunity to reach out to that client and let the client know how much you appreciate the business. So, “You’re welcome” may not be required, but it sure is a great opportunity. Thinking of it that way makes the decision easy.

Surprisingly, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome” are words that are not used enough in business. Yet they help create a positive work environment and are a great way to show appreciation of employees and colleagues. That said, it is important any compliment is deserved and offered sincerely.

“Please” softens a demand by making it an ask. Most people would rather have someone ask them to do something than have someone demand it of them.

“Thank you” is your way of expressing appreciation rather than simply expecting someone to do something. People like to be appreciated for their efforts rather than being taken for granted.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.
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