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XOXO: What your email sign-off says about you

How do you sign your business emails? Some keep it simple: name and contact info. That's short and sweet enough. And then there are the more expressive types who include favorite URLs, famous quotes, and emoticons. How you conclude your email can affect how you're perceived. Hover over the image above to see what your sign-off says about you.

Not surprisingly, women are more likely to employ quotes or affectionate words in their sign-off. More and more women are signing their emails, even at the office, with hugs and kisses, or "XO." Writers Rachel Simmons and Jessica Bennett say this speaks volumes about how much women's roles in the workplace have changed, and they've written an article about it in this month's issue of The Atlantic.

Simmons and Bennett write: "In Diane Sawyer’s newsroom, staffers say, the anchor uses XO so frequently that its omission can spark panic."

Simmons sums up the kind of emotional status update underlying those X's and O's.

"I think it's very much a sign of things are OK between us. I think when you get habituated to XO -- and particularly if you're attentive to relationships, which I think a lot of women are -- when you notice suddenly there is no X, no O, wait a minute, is there a secret message embedded in that omission?"

Not a secret message of ardent love turned cold, exactly.

"Getting it doesn't actually mean that I want to kiss or hug somebody, it's just made its way into email communication more and more and more as we're unable to kind of signify tone in a lot of ways in our writing," says Bennett. "Now I work as an editor and it is amazing the number of strangers who will pitch me story ideas and sign with an XO in a professional setting."

Bennett says many people agonize over their signatures because they want to look casual and fun, but not appear too stiff or serious.

"We have so little time these days to type much of anything and so XO also just becomes this very quick abbreviation that says everything is OK or I still care about you, or whatever it is, that we don't have time to actually write down in words in our crazy kind of lives," says Simmons.

Simmons says that in the workplace, some women feel like they have to apologize for being direct or too authoritative. The XO cuts the edge off the abruptness that many women in the workplace have learned to curtail.

"As much as I in my life might be working with young women to educate them to be assertive, there's no question that assertiveness gets you punished often, and so women have had to adapt to that. XO is a very ingenious adaptation to that pressure not to be too bossy, too assertive. I've also noticed exclamation points being a cheerful top-off to asking someone to do something," says Simmons.

The XO phenomenon is also a nod to the importance of networking, she adds.

When thinking about your email sign-off, Simmons says the goal is to find something that indicates your feelings about the person, that speaks to the person without appearing disingenuous or overdoing it.

"Signatures are a kind of language we need to learn," she says.

What's your preferred sign-off? Tell us in the comments.

XOXO,
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About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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