Rudeness, Responsiveness, Respect ... a Bridge Over Troubled Email Waters

Co-authored by Margaret Walker

Ok. We get it. Some of us get "hundreds" of emails a day. We complain regularly of how packed our inboxes are with junk, spam, and email that really doesn't make a difference as we go through our busy days. We obsess sometimes about how non-productive and cluttered our days are, further exacerbated by the continuing flurry of dings and whistles that tell us "you've got mail".

Tim Burress (E-mail Etiquette and Organization Specialist) says that the average professional processes about 20,000 emails a year - reading and writing. That means that on average, we are spending 2 ½ to 3 hours a day, every day, dealing with these troubled email waters. We are victims of technological "advancement".

But do any of us get too many emails to be rude, not respond, and not show respect to those who are sending us matters of substance? And who gets to define what is and isn't a "matter of substance?"


So, let's look at the reasons for your not responding to our email and determine which ones work. It may provide interesting information for those of us on the non-receiving end.

• You don't want to hear from us.
• We are bothering you.
• You are choosing to ignore us.
• You are just too busy.

In short, all of these are really not comforting. None work. We can only assume that what we have provided is not valued. In many cases, we have gone out of our way to provide data, information, answer questions, and respond to inquiries that seem to have a sense of urgency. And while we believe that your sense of urgency is not necessarily a state of emergency for us, we do believe in answering your request and try to do so in a timely manner. So when there is that vast cavern of silence... of white space... of nothingness... we are stunned. And this happens for days, weeks, months... and over and over again. It is actually quite disconcerting.

So risking being non-PC, let's call it as it is. It is rude. At times, it can even be arrogant to not reply. Particularly when you have requested the email. And, for sure when we ask you to (i.e. "reply requested" for matters of extreme importance). And being fair, if we have sent you something you have not requested, that is intrusive or annoying, shame on us. We really work on this.


According to Merriam-Webster's, one of the definitions of responsiveness is "quick to react in a desired or positive way". We think that responsiveness is an important attribute of building relationships.

Ben Yoskovitz wrote, "Customers can be quite forgiving. But what they won't tolerate is being ignored. Even the feeling or inkling of being ignored can set customers into a rage; and worse, have them looking for alternative solutions to yours."

Responding promptly is the right thing to do. Don't let people wonder if you received the email or are ever going to respond. Think about how quickly you would return a phone call or voice mail. If you need more time to gather your thoughts or get additional information, send off a reply stating you got it and will get back with them. But please respond!


We don't let others' lack of courtesy change how we are. We will usually take the time to reply to those who email us. Once again it's all about common courtesy and respect! Is email courtesy and respect no longer "in"?

There is a difference between interruptive marketing, where emails are as ubiquitous as the junk mail we get in our physical mailboxes or the robo-calls we get on the phone. These are not respectful and are unacceptable. People should not be relegated to being harassed and hammered all the time.

However, we are not talking about drip marketing or lifecycle marketing which can often be an intrusion. We are addressing an email from us to you about something that matters - otherwise we would not have sent it! We are carefully trying to respect your time and hope that you would respect us in return by responding to our request (which often is in response to something you need).

This is the cycle of respect. You ask, we respond, you reply.


We are often blaming the Internet for distracting us from building "real" relationships. However, some of the tools available to us actually do make a difference and help us stay connected. It used to (and continues to) be phones and snail mail solely; now we can add in layers of Skype, text messages and emails. But when you don't respond in a timely manner to a trusted friend, a business colleague, a potential or existing partner, you are limiting your connectedness and authenticity.

Are we wrong for thinking this is being rude? We don't think so. We want to stay connected in an ever-changing, fast-paced, challenging business and personal world, and certainly if people can take the time to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (for example), we think that they can respond and show respect through a simple response to our email.

Hey, did you get our email?

Jim Finkelstein and Margaret Walker are colleagues at FutureSense, Inc., a management consulting firm that specializes in strategy, organization and people. We advise our clients on how to build and sustain their human capital capacity and improve organizational performance by attracting, developing, engaging, motivating, and retaining people. See