If you’re sending emails but not getting responses, you might be making some common mistakes. Here are the top reasons why people ignore your emails.
First: the fundamental cause of most email problems is a failure to use email correctly. This is a technology that has a clear structure. There is a subject line, a to/cc/bcc line, and a body. We know emails can be written, received, replied to, and forwarded. But too many people treat email like a magic box. They use it to bark orders, to keep a diary, or as their personal therapist.
This is not how you should use email.
An article from MakeUseOf gives some examples of typical issues:
You’re Not Stating Your Demand Quickly
We all know that emails should be kept concise. But if yours are more than a few short paragraphs long, make sure your request is in the spotlight from the very beginning, else it may get overlooked.
This means politely getting across what you need in the first or second sentence. You can go into more detail later on, but the premise of what you’re after needs to come first.
Emails need to be short. This much is obvious, especially considering the prevalence of mobile devices. Not only should you avoid writing more than two or three paragraphs, you need to say what you want, right away.
Some good tips include these scripts:
- Can you please REPLY to this email so I know it came through?
- Could you let me know if you will or will not be able to make it?
- Can you print a copy of the attached file for our meeting
All of these are great suggestions to have in your first or second sentence, and you should consider putting them in bold.
You’re Not Setting a Deadline
If you need something, let the recipient know exactly when it’s needed by. Too often, we’re asked to provide a reply “ASAP”, or “soon”. This makes the deadline subjective. If you say “I really need an answer to this question by 4pm today”, however, there’s no room for ambiguity.
Deadlines can be problematic. But in the case of email, using a specific time can be helpful. However, be sure and use absolute dates instead of relative dates. Instead of saying “tomorrow by 2PM” consider writing “Tomorrow (Thursday, January 14th) by 2PM Eastern).” You may not need all of those details in every context, but it makes it absolutely clear to the reader when you require them to act.
You’re Not Providing Alternatives
Continuing with the example above, it might be the case that the recipient just can’t get a reply to you by 4pm. You need to account for this possibility in your initial message by expanding the sentence:
“I really need an answer to this question by 4pm today. If that’s not possible, please let me know by midday so I can make alternative arrangements.”
Human beings tend to panic if they don’t know how to act, and that panic often leads to clamming up. Be sure and give someone an “out” if they can’t do what you need done.
A good way to do this is to make the default response the one you want. “If I don’t hear from you by the end of business today (Friday, Nov 15) I will assume that you are okay with our proposal and I’ll send it out.”
You’re Sending Too Many Emails
If you’re known around the office as being a relentless emailer, your colleagues will quickly become blind to your inbox pleas.
Here’s one where I think the advice is not quite right. The problem is the quality of your emails, not the quantity. If your messages are meandering and confusing, if you just reply to the latest thread in your inbox with a new topic, if you try to discuss policy over email or forward jokes all the time, you will be like the boy who cried wolf in the fable.
But: it’s better to send three brief emails with one topic each than it is to send one email which wanders all over the place and tries to cover three topics. That’s because the recipient can manage their responses individually, forwarding or replying as needed.
Remember: the fundamental cause of most email problems is a failure to use email correctly. Think about it carefully before you put it in an email! And if you want to learn more, check out my book The Battle For Your Email Inbox.