Thinking Out Loud

Quick Email Responses: Be Careful!

At the end of the day, many of us cruise through our inbox hoping to quickly respond to email messages, lightening the load for the next day. If you’re on the receiving end of the response, you can usually tell by the tone and structure of the reply if it was done hurriedly. And likely, because you’ve done this yourself, you can empathize with the sender. 

Although the essential information may be conveyed in a succinct format, intention (tone) isn’t necessarily clear. Often we’d like our email messages to be purely informational but that’s not really possible. Even a one word response, such as “Yes,” has a tone to it, and it’s difficult for the receiver to be certain about the intentions of the sender.

I recently received two emails, both were just two sentences long and in response to a question I had asked. The answers were very clear but the intention of the sender was not. So why is that a problem if I received a clear answer? Because now I’m not certain how or if to follow-up. Do I write back asking for clarity of tone? Not likely. Do I send another message that subtly tries to draw out more information so I can better determine the intentions of the sender? Perhaps.

If I know the person well and have a good working relationship, I can be direct and just ask by saying something like, “Are you really okay with this?” Of course, I could still get back a one word response, Yes/No, which isn’t necessarily a help. If I don’t know the person very well, it may be hard to be so direct—and better to ask a specific question that cannot be answered with yes/no. Of course a phone call is always a possibility and always worth considering.

So here’s my suggestion the next time you’re quickly responding to email messages. Discipline yourself to ask two questions:

  1. Is all the necessary information accounted for?
  2. Will the recipient be able to tell my thoughts and feelings about the topic from this response?

Although this will take a little extra time in the short run, it will likely eliminate the need for more correspondence (time!) and because you’ve truly engaged in the response demonstrate more care for the relationship.

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