Some time ago, this column talked about e-mail issues in a piece entitled E-Mail: Productivity Tool or Black Hole? As most of us know, e-mail can be both of those things and it is important not to confuse one for the other. E-mail, like many other forms of communication, can be effective or next to useless. Today we will look at another aspect of e-mail usage which poses a continuing and vexing problem – the failure of many users to understand and appropriately respond to e-mail they receive.
Let us look at an all too common example. Have you ever sent an e-mail detailing a business issue to a so-called management person within your business and received in return an e-mail that clearly reflected the recipient’s failure to read the entire message? This lack of understanding and worthless response is often exhibited by the recipient asking you a question by return e-mail, the answer to which was carefully spelled out in your original e-mail. This is not only disrespectful of you – the original sender – but shows the inefficiency of the so-called manager and results in wasted time and effort for you both.
My most common response, usually not fully understood by the management person in question, was to re-send the original e-mail and, if I felt as if it might be worthwhile, noting where the message included the answer the manager had requested and repeating my original question, too. Needless to say, if the recipient did not figure it out the second time, I usually let it go. Then, when the issue came up again, originating somewhere in management, I could just forward the original. Of course, this never set well with insecure and inefficient folks, who we find far too often in these management positions.
A common variation on this e-mail issue is for the recipient to respond with the answer to one question in the e-mail you sent and propose a course of action which ignores any other questions you raised in the original e-mail. It is simply incredible how much time can be wasted by persons who do not bother to understand the original e-mail and respond to it.
Maybe my approach to handling such issues is not too kind, but that is not what business is about. How do YOU handle it when your e-mails are not read and responded to appropriately?