The new trend in email management lately is to simply delete what you don’t wish to reply to, thus effectively ending any conversation before it even begins.
You know. It’s sort of like getting a letter from a relative who pissed you off last year at Christmas and showing him that you are still holding a grudge a year later, so you toss his letter into the trashcan.
Your neighbor comes over to complain about the loud noises you and your wife were making last night. While his lips are moving you’re just staring at him, then decide that you don’t want to continue the conversation so you shut the door in his face.
Or turning out the lights and pretending the next day when he stops by your cube at work that you never heard him knocking. “No no. I never got your email. Can you resend it? The Junk Email Fairy ate it.”
If you really, truly want a reply to it, no email should be more than six sentences long. Really. Otherwise you may as well start the subject line with “OKAY TO IGNORE”.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. If your boss is one who tells you, “No no – Don’t use the phone to talk to the client, send it by email so we have a record of it!” Guess what? Go to Google, look up the phrases, “Commercial Litigation” and “Email Discovery Process”, “What we have to deliver to the Plaintiff” then “Corporate Email Archiving Policy”.
So what do people REALLY think when you just delete their email? What might you unintentionally be projecting?
Here’s what they think. And I’ve even conveniently broken it down by Role:
The Salesman Pitching You – “He’s just really behind on his email, so I’m going to continue to follow up six to seven times by email and maybe three or four phone calls until he tells me he’s not interested.” For God’s sake – put him out of his misery and just take 0.2 seconds to reply: “Not interested. Thx.” (Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m NOT suggesting that anyone reply to spam. That’s a completely different article entirely. But for God’s sake – if a 0.2 second, 3 word email reply is going to put the guy out of his misery so he can move on and save you the pain of receiving an additional 6 followup emails and calls, the math is in your favor…)
The Friend – “Did I piss him off at the Christmas party? Why is he mad at me?”
The Good Friend – “He’s just a non-confrontationalist. It’s not his fault. That’s just who he is. He doesn’t want to get involved in anything.”
The Manager – “Have I really hired someone so incompetent that they cannot use the medium of choice for our office? What was I thinking? Should I be having second thoughts about replacing this person? Why is this person CC’ing me on every other message they send out? Why do they feel the need to cover their ass? What is the root cause of this CC Madness? Do I need to hire someone with more confidence? Or has our own corporate environment created a Culture of Paranoia?”
The Team-Member – “Are we being led by an idiot savant or just an idiot?”
The CEO – “Dammit. Nobody’s replying to my email. Get me Tim in IT right NOW. Hello Tim? Listen. We need to block this Facebook thing here at the office. People are spending waaaay too much time on it and it’s cutting into our overhead. Nobody’s replying to my email because they’re too busy spending time on Facebook.”
The Cyborg Anthropologist – “I completely understand why nobody is replying to my email. Email is so 1999. The volume of email being sent now is simply so high that it’s literally impossible for recipients to be both gainfully employed AND spend the time needed to reply to each inbound message; and really, not every message deserves a reply.”
My point here is pretty simple folks: Email is Broken.
It’s broken for two reasons, one of them is Technological, the other is Human. Both are fixable.
And NONE of the social media shiny ball tools will replace email, in spite of their overinflated valuations or how many times Mark Zuckerberg can exponentially fold a single piece of paper over and over for investors. Sorry.
Email is broken from a Technological standpoint when I send a legitimate 1:1 communication to a friend and the recipient’s system mistakenly labels it as Spam (Junk Mail) and shunts it to the Black Hole or the Junk Mail folder, which nobody has time to check anymore – either way, it doesn’t reach the intended recipient.
It’s like paying for Playboy and having the postman decide that I shouldn’t be reading it, so they toss it in my trash can curbside instead of delivering it to me and letting me make that determination. Even worse though, if that legitimate communication was about a business deal, I may have just lost $10,000 because of an overly excited spam filter named after a fish with teeth.
Email is broken from a Human standpoint when I send you a legitimate 1:1 communication and you miss it because so many other people are sending you long, actionable email messages that have nothing to do with YOUR Task List and everything to do with THEIR Task List, that you’re days behind on your “mail”.
The other half don’t truly understand email but they have a deep fear of speaking with their mouth over the telephone, so they use email similar to how one might use instant messaging, creating an ungodly volume of superfluous messages for you. By the time you do get to my message, you’re either too embarrassed to reply to me for fear I’ll think you’re an idiot and that you can’t effectively manage your own email; or, you opt to just delete it and have me make one of the assumptions listed above. Your call.
Why won’t Twitter replace email?
Really? REALLY? You really have to ask that question? How old are you – like 22?
Can you really, honestly picture a corporation sending business correspondence that is indexed instantly by Google, limited to no file attachments and constrained to 140 characters? What have you been smoking?
So if email is broken – and trust me, it is very, VERY broken; what will replace it?
In our lifetime, it may take years if not decades to replace the system that was originally designed to allow the military to communicate in a post-nuclear-war world. The irony of all of this – the irony is that email was originally designed to be the most reliable form of communicating after the most devastating event known to man; and yet now, some decades later, the most-asked-question at cubicles everywhere is this: “Hey, did you get my email?”
Of course I did. If you sent it, I got it. I didn’t reply to it because today is Friday and I’m not doing email on Fridays. Or you weren’t important enough to reply to. Or I just don’t have my shit together. Or – and this is most likely it – did actually look at it, but it was so F’ing long that it looked like it was going to take me longer than two minutes to read or act on, so I closed it for “Later” and went on to see if the next message was more exciting. Or shorter.
And I think you and I both know that “Later” never happens when the Fire Hose has no “Off” switch.
Regardless of what you think of me, I shall continue to Not Reply to your email until you unfriend me on Facebook or unfollow me on Twitter.
Train your people. Train your boss. Limit the people you engage with. Use the phone.
When I was growing up boys actually had to talk to girls USING THEIR MOUTHS.
It was REALLY SCARY. Especially when you had to talk to the girl’s MOTHER with YOUR MOUTH before you got to talk to the girl. But it really separated the men from the boys.
Maybe what we’re really missing here is …a License to Drive Email, complete with training and an exam!
Or maybe we should stop being afraid of using our MOUTHS to communicate by telephone!
When did people start being so afraid of talking?