Settling into 21st Century technology is not without its challenges. It’s not as though developing the computer is akin to discovering a new variety of apple (no pun intended); life on planet Earth has changed forever. With big changes come long periods of adjustment. We are currently in the throes of just such a period now. Just when we think we’ve got everything figured out about one aspect of technology, another new issue springs up.
Such is the case today with email etiquette. Because emails travel almost at the speed of light – who knows, maybe even faster – many of us have come to believe that responses to our emails should be equally lightening fast. This is, however, simply not the case. And this annoys some people almost to the point of distraction.
I received an email recently from a close friend who was pointing out that I hadn’t responded to the emails he had sent recently. Although this was at face value a simple statement of fact, I could feel the irritation this friend was harboring because the anticipated response was not forthcoming in a manner that he felt was timely. Whether his intention was to lay a guilt trip on me or not, that was the effect it had. As I have suggested many times before, we must take responsibility for our feelings, so laying blame on my friend for my feelings of guilt is not appropriate. This exchange does however point out a dynamic that may recalculate our approach to email.
Here are a few thoughts.
If you are going to have an email address and you are going to share it with friends and colleagues, you need to be prepared to monitor it. Allowing emails to build up unanswered is annoying in some cases. Not all emails need a response. I get a lot of emails forwarded to me by friends thinking I will be entertained. I receive numerous announcements and news flashes, none of which need any action at all. I do receive emails however, which do require a timely response, sometimes an immediate one. Those are the ones I focus on, especially if my day is full. Although such emails often require more attention than I can immediately give them, a quick response letting the sender know that their email has been received, and will be answered as quickly as possible, will usually relieve any anxiety.
Don’t give people ‘stuff to do’. Unless you are giving a directive because that is your role as boss, mother, coach, etc., we cannot be expected to just drop everything we are doing to answer an email. By lowering our expectations on when or how an email we send out will be answered, we relieve pressure from both sides. Remember that we have very little idea of what is occupying someone else’s time. Chalk up tardy responses to more pressing demands.
Important emails should still be handled as quickly as possible; even if it means writing to tell the sender that a complete response will be coming shortly. Emails are here to stay. Adjusting to a life with emails is the reality for many of us, but not for all of us. Those of us who skate through life without the ‘benefit’ of technology are not to be scorned. Frankly, I find it refreshing. But for those of us who are entrenched in technology, following established protocols is best. For example, we should try to respond to emails within 24 hours of their receipt. Any communication initiated by email should be answered by email, including business correspondence, invitations, and solicitations we wish to acknowledge.
Those of us who delight in sharing emails about matters of personal interest, political views, or breathtaking photography should not expect a response, nor is one required. If we no longer want to be subjected to such emails, we need to speak up and ask that we be removed from future email lists. Although we may be reticent to request such removal for fear of offending the sender, keep in mind that you are the one being offended in the first place. Alternatively, deleting such emails or tossing them into your junk folder may curb the deluge of such emails. There is always email spam or blocker, too.
We are all still adjusting to this new form of communication. As with most things in life, intentions are rarely meant to be inconsiderate, annoying, or inconvenient. Knowing that a mailbox full of unanswered emails can produce anxiety and irritation in us, let’s do our best not to add to the problem. Think before pressing the send button!