No Reply at All

I’ll never understand why some people don’t reply to email.  It seems that this is America’s new national sport.  If you don’t want to take action on a subject, simply don’t respond.  It’s one thing if the recipient is very busy or occasionally forgets.  And I’m not saying all emails need a response.  Many informational emails don’t require a response.  Jokes certainly don’t.  However, if someone has taken the time to give very detailed recommendations or is asking a very specific question, to simply ignore the email I think is inappropriate.  It results in the sender not knowing whether the recipient agreed or disagreed with the email.  Some people, rather than send a negative email, will simply not reply.  However, this brings up a problem.  What if someone sends an important email and never gets a response?  Is the sender to interpret that the lack of a response meant that the person receiving the email disagrees with it or has a problem with the person who sent it? 


This brings up a point about getting things done.  There’s actually a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen that says that if something is important enough to be done, if it takes less than two minutes, just do it and get it over with rather than letting it pile up on your to do list – even if it’s less important than larger projects.  Sending a response to an email that obviously requires a response is worth the time it takes.  You might as well respond right away if possible rather than wait and risk forgetting about the issue.  Or do them all in batches, once a week.  This concept can be used in other areas too.  Say you have a long to do list.  You should do the most important items first, right?  Not necessarily.  If the minor items are worth doing, you can get some of them over with quickly rather than bury them behind longer projects. 


There are a couple of exceptions.  In the dating world, it’s commonly known that the lack of a response means that the person isn’t interested.  I’ve sent emails to women saying, “It was nice meeting you.  Do you want to meet again sometime?”  And a lack of a response means no.  Likewise, I’ve done the same thing many times myself – simply not respond rather than say, “No thanks.”  Obviously another exception would be spam, or unwanted email.  But other than these exceptions, I believe that all questions posed through email deserve an answer rather than run the risk of alienating the sender and causing confusion as to whether the recipient has a problem with the message or the sender.  When someone sends an email requesting information or providing important information, it is respectful and appropriate to respond, even if the answer is, “I disagree” or “No, thanks.”     


It’s also nice to let someone know that you’re working on a response or an answer.  For example, if you get a request by email, but you won’t have the answer for a couple of weeks, don’t wait for two weeks to respond.  Say something like, “I got your email – I may not have an answer for a couple of weeks but I will be working on it.”  When I worked for Metro Traffic, which does traffic reports on the radio, drivers would want to know how long a delay would be.  It wouldn’t necessarily get them home any faster, but they were happier knowing how long it would take and that there would be an end to the delay. 


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