The Dangling E-mail Conversation

Doesn’t it make you crazy when you send an e-mail to someone and never get a response?

I’ve discovered that there are a number of reasons why this happens.  It has very little to do with you, and all to do with them.

Most people are just not very efficient e-mail managers.  When I give talks on e-mail management, I ask, “How many of you have over 1,000 unread e-mails in your inbox?”  Usually most of the attendees raise their hands!

Efficient e-mail users make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.  The best way to do this is to keep your inbox at (almost) zero.  (See my earlier post, Secrets of An Empty Inbox.)  Do the same with your Sent Items.  Review both daily to ensure that the only e-mails that stay in those two folders are (1) e-mails to which you haven’t yet replied, and (2) sent e-mails you to which you haven’t yet gotten a response.

Once your inbox fills up more than one screen, it’s time to get busy cleaning it up, because out of sight is out of mind.  That is most likely what is the reason why so many of your recipients are incommunicado.  For more reasons, see this article  from the New York Times entitled, “The Anxiety of the Unanswered E-mail”.

So, as the frustrated sender, what can you do?  Here are some strategies that work for me:

  1. Include in your e-mail, “Please reply to let me know you received this”.   If they comply, at least you’ll know it didn’t get lost.
  2. They may respond that they received your e-mail but won’t have an answer for a few days.  Write back and ask when you can follow up with them, and mark your calendar to do so.
  3. Review your Sent Items folder every few days and resend any e-mails that have not have not yielded a response.  You can say, “Just checking to make sure you received my e-mail since I haven’t heard back from you.”  I usually wait one week before doing this, unless it’s important enough to warrant doing it sooner.
  4. If all else fails, pick up the phone.  (Then you can stress about why they haven’t returned your phone calls!)

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