The Lost Art of the E-mail Reply

by Leandra Medine
July 29, 2014
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I know it feels like they’ll go away if you just ignore them but guess what? They won’t.

lost-art-of-replying-to-emails

Good afternoon, moonshine. It is 3PM if you are reading this story at its time of publish and I have accrued 43 e-mails in the time it has taken me to hit publish. About half of those e-mails will be going directly to trash (that there are still e-mails populating my inbox referencing Sochi seems like both a digital marvel and catastrophe). The other half will require responses that will consume the next 25 minutes, at least. Many of these responses will simply indicate my need to provide a simple yes or no answer while the remaining handful, the real chunk of time-consumption guised as typing, will require a bit more, let’s say, mental finesse.

To be clear, I am not the reply button whisperer.

I have convinced myself that 30% of the food I consume is food I consume in order to procrastinate hitting the reply button. I have also been told on a number of occasions, mostly from relatives, that I am atrociously bad at responding to e-mails. One time, my mom wrote to ask me if I wanted to have lunch on the day her e-mail was sent, and while I did reply yes, it was two weeks later. Just two months ago, the, how you say, situation got so bad that my dad cc’d my husband on an e-mail, subject title “Shame on Your Wife” about the four e-mails he’d just urgently sent me, which I didn’t answer, to which I wanted to respond: I have a phone number, dad. Instead I cried but that is neither here nor there.

I want to say it’s not my fault but of course, I know that it is. And I’m working on it –really, I am. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail about attending an event for a new pacifier brand (yes, as in the baby prop) to which the old me would have never responded. But the new me politely declined the invitation and that was it. No harm, no foul. It was much easier than I anticipated it would be and frankly speaking, sure beat ducking my head every time a follow up e-mail hit my inbox as though the sender could see me and I was Carrie Bradshaw in that ridiculous(ly telling) episode of Sex and the City when she thought Aidan could see her through AOL. It got me on a reply-roll.

See, but once I got better at answering e-mails, I realized how terrible the rest of humanity — or at least the fraction of it with which I liaise — is at answering e-mails, which leads me to ask the question: when did it become okay to stop answering e-mails? You wouldn’t ignore a text, would you? Much the same way that if an interlocutor were to look directly at you and ask you a question, I’d put good money on the possibility that you wouldn’t ignore his or her face either. So what makes leaving an e-mail, in this digitally golden age of communication, seem okay?

Of course, I understand that there are exceptions. Press releases don’t often require answers. Neither do, I suppose, rent payment reminders. But if e-mailing has become, as several pundits of expression have put it, the most efficient form of correspondence (speculation), what does that mean about our ability to successfully and perhaps more importantly, respectfully transmit information?

Allude to Snapchat’s escalating pervasiveness and I will definitely ignore your e-mail.

Illustration by Charlotte Fassler

REPLIES
  • Michaela

    I would say 90% of my job is based on writing / reading emails… and I am still guilty of the non-reply. It is just SO EASY but you’re so right, you wouldn’t avoid the person if they were right in front of you so why is it OK to do so over email? I guess that’s why calling / seeing the person IN person (if possible) is so much better, but with emailing the new standard.. it’s time we (I) start treating it with the same etiquette as any other interaction.

  • GapToothedGirl

    I’m not a reply-girl, it annoying me…I prefer phone calls…direct, fast…
    XOX, Gap.
    http://www.gaptoothedgirl.com

    • Amelia Diamond

      Phone calls are so much easier but I DREAD THEM

      • http://cityhabit.wordpress.com Modupe Oloruntoba

        right? you can have the loveliest written relationship with a work contact and then on the phone… weirdness.

  • Hannah Elaine

    Oh boy… Definitely work on that. It does not define who you are, but it is hard to ignore the people who are pointing at you, saying “bad, bad”… I am in my emails all day as well, but I give equal respect to all replies and mental finesse.. I am saying that literally too, not kidding. In the years of me doing so, I am now known as one of the nicest people in my company and folks are not afraid to come to me knowing that I will not shove them to the side or just simply not reply. Work on it for sure.. it is an interaction just like face to face… and I think the fact that you even wrote about it, made you feel a lot better.

  • Emilia Petrarca

    Look what happened when Ali never replied to Noah…

    • http://chloejohnston.com Heather Lumb

      Won.

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    I’m more inclined to answer an email than a text. Maybe because I am usually the one who has initiated the email, and thus have chosen to write and respond. They’re typically with people I don’t know in person, so I am much more inclined to get back.

    It’s horrible, but I just feel like it’s easier to ignore a text from a friend about a dress they bought or the like. I have to remind myself to give feedback in a text like that.

    My father says I have Selective Texting Syndrome. If he texts me to ask what kind of burrito I want from the dive-y Mexican place with dreamy food, I’ll get back to him in record time. If he asks me to find the document he left at home but needs at work, I’ll find it and give it to him but I’ll never answer a text about it.

  • Rose

    I mean, I don’t answer texts sometimes….I’m actually mostly better about answering emails, I think. Unless it’s a “form” email where they didn’t even bother to look up my name, etc and just send the same thing over and over, then, nope!

  • http://www.honeystuck.com/ Katie Levans (www.honeystuck.c

    I loathe email, especially when it comes from people who have my phone number. (Sorry, mom. Just text me, I beg of you.) I’m currently in the process of zero-ing out my four boxes. Sucks.

  • Liz Warners

    My main method of communication in my volunteer coordinator position is email as well. Email is so non confrontational that I am very prone to procrastinating the reply. Even when people get fed up with waiting for me to reply and actually pick up the phone (gasp) I can play it off as “oh my gosh I cannot believe I did not respond! It thought I had!” Sometimes I even just play dumb like I never received it (spam folder anyone?). Its a horrible habit to get into, and I think I waste so much time on drafts of emails and losing emails and having too many folders that sometimes I wish it never existed.

  • Maisie

    Girl, you need to get yourself on unroll.me!
    https://unroll.me/

    It won’t cure the press releases but it will definitely help with unwanted GroupOn emails about waxing and pacifiers.

  • http://tongueburnt.blogspot.com/ Sarah Elise

    I think it’s easier for me to ignore e-mails because of all of the shit that I’ve signed up for throughout the years. I get SO MANY newsletters and Twitter notifications and messages that specifically say “Do not reply to this email” and so it’s almost like I’m ENCOURAGED to direct every single e-mail in my inbox to the trash.

    I don’t get junk mail via text. I get communiqués from people that I generally *want* to talk to. That doesn’t mean that I won’t ignore them sometimes, but it happens substantially less than on e-mail.

    So I guess less machine-automated messages = more replies?

  • ee_by_cc

    I usually don’t INTENTIONALLY leave emails unanswered. It’s more like I get the email and don’t want to answer immediately. Why? I don’t know if there’s any one reason but I suppose it could have something to do with not wanting to seem like a loser (i.e. I have nothing better to do but troll my own email all day…)/I don’t want to be so accessible/I want to think of something super witty for my reply/that Snowden guy made me slightly paranoid…

    http://www.enduringethereal.com

  • http://blushingtheory.blogspot.com/ Nicole Rivera

    I’m super paranoid about emails. I have multiple inboxes: one personal, one for junk mail (newsletters, marketing, etc.) and one for blog-related emails. This way, I can enter each inbox in the right mindset. Next, I’m a huge believer in using the ‘Archive’ button and deleting emails! Anything that I need to act on stays in my inbox, and anything that I’ve replied to / finished gets archived, and anything that is pretty unimportant and I’m done with gets deleted. I try to zero-out my inbox every night– helps me sleep better! I hate leaving people hanging so this method just works well for me.

    Nicole
    http://blushingtheory.blogspot.com

  • Jessica

    Found this for my boss. She LOVES me for it. https://www.acompli.com/

  • Tara Edie

    I am a guilty email idler…while I love that emails often get right to the point without the fluff of small talk, there’s also little to no pressure for a response, so the “Hmm…I’ll think about it” becomes “Oops…”. I’m more responsible in real time.

    http://www.southbysunset.com

  • http://mxpstyle.com/ Michelle

    Ugh.. I was once that awful person who always forgets to respond to emails. I try to be better about it now, I just have to convince myself to respond to one to get the ball rolling, haha

    — Michelle | http://mxpstyle.com

  • Tracy

    I am not the reply kind of girl…but I am working on that!

    http://fashion-soup.com/

  • Andres Poiche
  • Victoria

    I’m pretty good at replying, I hate seeing those unread messages in my inbox, i can’t stand it when I see my friends’ 3547 unread messages. that little red number is menacing

    • Amelia Diamond

      I HATE THAT RED NUMBER. Phone acne!!

      • Victoria

        Especially when it’s an app update, like NO, leave

  • http://www.newelena.com Elena a

    What a good post!!I have to say reading email is fun but then extra effort to answer the very same moment!!donno Why?! Because of that sometimes I tell to myself DO NOT open the email unless you answer it…Maybe because it takes time or I get lazier for answering but for some reason text message is not like that Reply fast .;)

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    So that’s why I get thanked so often for having replied! It’s you. And you. And you. :-)

    (couldn’t conduct my one-person-business without answering mails but do not bother that much as a private person – I also cancel all unwanted newsletters straight away to keep it simple)

  • ShanIsRad

    My job relies on emails, so I try to answer them as quickly as I can. It drives me crazy when I don’t get a reply on something very important, so I do become the person that will call to get my response.

  • Cinamaron

    I am SO BAD with stuff like this. It’s not intentional. I always read the email/text/etc and decide to reply later, then forget to reply later and by the time I DO remember I am so embarrassed that I haven’t replied yet that I just don’t reply. It has definitely led to some friction with relatives. I don’t have this problem with work related stuff at least!

  • BasicallyMary

    Since I am an assistant and run someone else’s life I must answer emails. If not, I could fall victim like one of Henry VIII’s wives and loose my head. In my own personal life, I tend to not answer my emails. This led me to owing my old gym 500$s in collection fees. Help me I’m poor?

    • http://www.thefashioncookbook.com Hannah & Patricia

      Aww, that’s the worse. You would think they’d pick up the phone in that situation, huh? Can we really be expected to keep up with our three or four email accounts? I know I sure do not.
      -P

  • http://www.thefashioncookbook.com Hannah & Patricia

    Reading this article was one of those “AHA” moments. Bad email etiquette in general is a pet peeve of mine – and not replying at all is one of the most foul offenses. But this article got me thinking, psychologically speaking, is there a reason WHY we’re prone to shamelessly ignoring emails? And it occurred to me, maybe all of the spam, junk, and thousands of emails trying to draw me to the various retail sites I somehow keep subscribing to, have in a way conditioned me to place less value to email. Maybe deep in my subconscious emails are becoming less “sacred.” So I think for someone like you Leandra who is inundated with emails on a regular basis maybe this is happening to you too?

    Just eight o’clock ramblings.

    Love,
    P

    http://www.thefashioncookbook.com

  • Helen

    My Name is Helen Morgan, From United Kingdom. I wish to share my testimonies with the general public about what this spiritual doctor called Dr Aigbehi has just done for me, this man has just brought back my lost Ex husband to me with his great spell, I was married to this man called Morgan we were together for a long time and we loved ourselves but when I was unable to give him a child for 2 years he left me and told me he can’t continue anymore then I was now looking for ways to get him back until I saw a testimony about this same doctor on the internet on how he has cured so many disease and help people with other similar problems, then you won’t believe this when I contacted this man on my problems he prepared this spell and in two days after he told me that he was through with the spell work my lost husband came back with more love in his eyes, and after a month I miss my month and go for a test and the result stated am pregnant am happy today am a mother of a baby Boy, he said I will also get pregnant again if I wish to thank you once again the great doctor for what you have done for me, if you are out there searching for any of these spells or healing:

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  • laila

    I have been trying for 12 years to get pregnant and needed help! Been going to the doctors but still nothing. the doctor said my husband and i are fine , I don’t know where else to turn. until one day I read how this great man called Dr.Ogbes he helped in order other to get pregnant ONLINE i then contacted the great spell caster via email and he cast a pregnancy spell for me and gave me a 3weeks sure guarantee that i will become pregnant , and exactly 2weeks later I went for checkup and i was pregnant and later on i gave birth, i can never forget the great spell caster that`s opened my blessings of conceiving today its marking 4years my son was born and i also have a baby girl who is one and half years old, i want to use this medium to tell other women out there who is having pregnancy issues not to wait for years like i did contact him today email: landofanswer@gmail. com or call +2347050270227.

  • mercy

    great post !
    tas ransel wanita

  • hple

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  • flower kate

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  • Lydia E Mill

    After being in relationship with him for 3 years,he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the other ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email is DRAISEDIONSPELLCASTER@gmail.com you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or any other problem.

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  • Sofia Anna Anna

    SOFIA ANNA

    Hello friends am Sofia Anna by name, i never thought i will happy in my life ever again, i want you all to thank DR GREAT he is a father that takes care of his children the spell caster of our time, he has saved me from a very ugly situation that almost made my life miserable and i want you all to thank him for me,my husband and i have be married for so many years now with children and the relationship was being threatened by a small girl in his working place,she was almost destroying my home i met so many spell casters but to no avail until i met a friend who came from Africa and she told me about DR GREAT and i decided to contact him and try him out as i was losing faith in all spell casters, but he told me not to worry that now am in his temple everything will be alright he assured me 100% that his spell has no side effects and that it will work straight and save my home and my marriage and after he has performed the spell cast , my husband came back to us with love and affection and he loved us more and more and he never looked back or none did his love for me waiver, if you are also experiencing this sort of your situation in your home, if your husband is drifting away, if you are experiencing a broken home or you have lost your husband to a young woman outside there then look no further help is here is email (GREATLOVESPELL1@GMAIL.COM)OR GREATLOVESPELL1@YAHOO.COM YOU CAN CALL HIS NUMBER ON +2348107938405 is ready to help you out okay..

  • Sofia Anna Anna

    SOFIA ANNA

    Hello friends am Sofia Anna by name, i never thought i will happy in my life ever again, i want you all to thank DR GREAT he is a father that takes care of his children the spell caster of our time, he has saved me from a very ugly situation that almost made my life miserable and i want you all to thank him for me,my husband and i have be married for so many years now with children and the relationship was being threatened by a small girl in his working place,she was almost destroying my home i met so many spell casters but to no avail until i met a friend who came from Africa and she told me about DR GREAT and i decided to contact him and try him out as i was losing faith in all spell casters, but he told me not to worry that now am in his temple everything will be alright he assured me 100% that his spell has no side effects and that it will work straight and save my home and my marriage and after he has performed the spell cast , my husband came back to us with love and affection and he loved us more and more and he never looked back or none did his love for me waiver, if you are also experiencing this sort of your situation in your home, if your husband is drifting away, if you are experiencing a broken home or you have lost your husband to a young woman outside there then look no further help is here is email (GREATLOVESPELL1@GMAIL.COM)OR GREATLOVESPELL1@YAHOO.COM YOU CAN CALL HIS NUMBER ON +2348107938405 is ready to help you out okay…..

  • Sue Preedy

    Hi I am SUE PREEDY from London I got a love spell done on my fiance actually he left me after one year of engagement I was shocked when he told me he does not love me any more he is going to marry with another girl it was very difficult to believe because we were in love from last 5 years he was the guy who never thought to live without me for a second he used to give thousands of phone calls in a day and he was saying to me he does not love me any more, it was a worse news for my family because I gave a very good treat to my friends and raletive on my engagement and we put engagement ring to each other in front of hundreds of people now if he didn’t marry me so it was shame for me in my society so I decided that I will get him back any how, than I found Dr.Trust on Internet I told him my problem he told me not to worry I will fetch him back to you he said that he will come himself and will beg me.he gave me 48 hours time and of course it happened before 48 hours he come back to me and said he is sorry for what he did to me,that he is ready to marry me. we get married and we are happy now as husband and wife. really Dr.Trust is a Miracle Man. contact him for your own help ultimatespellcast@gmail. com or ultimatespellcast@yahoo. com call me +2348156885231…..