Why people don't respond to email

We all know how annoying it is to send an email to a co-worker, vendor, or even a client and not receive a response. If this happens to you, it may be helpful to know why you aren’t getting a response. Here are my top three reasons why this happens. Please leave a comment and let me know yours.

Reason #1: Your Email is Hard to Read
The sender is often to blame for a lack of responsiveness. Unsolicited emails aside, some emails just aren’t written with our busy lifestyles in mind. They contain run-on paragraphs or it’s hard to quickly decipher what the person is asking you to do. One person I know averages over 500 words per email, which is longer than this blog post!

I’ve compiled a short list of tips for writing more effective emails, but the biggest one of all is to make your email easy to read and respond to.

Reason #2: Your Email is Not Important
We all lead busy lives and are constantly reprioritizing our tasks, but most people agree that a timely response to business email is a professional courtesy. According to a survey I conducted earlier this year, 68 percent of us expect co-workers to respond to an email within four hours or less and 63 percent of us expect businesses to respond within one business day. When people don’t respond because they’re too busy, they’ve opted to do other tasks instead of replying to the sender.

I recently came across a post on a blog about business writing where the writer described a follow-up message she had received from her graphic designer. The graphic designer had emailed nearly two weeks prior, hadn't gotten a response, and so she sent another message. The blog writer felt it was a professional and thoughtful way to handle the situation. Interestingly, the writer wrote the blog post before responding to the email. 

Reason #3: They Can't Handle Their Business
Many people fail to respond quickly to email because they simply don't know how to properly manage the avalanche of email they receive each day. It becomes overwhelming and email messages simply get lost in the shuffle.

The skills required to effectively manage email are well-documented, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-practiced! Here are some of my favorites that are simple and effective:

  1. Use an out of office message when you will be unable to respond to email within one business day. (Don’t forget to turn it off!)
  2. Clean out your inbox daily. Messages often get lost in cluttered inboxes. (See Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity for more fabulous tips on inbox management.)
  3. Dedicate several blocks of time per day to focus on email rather than constantly scanning and skimming messages. (A terrific tip from The Four Hour Workweek.)

Why else do you think people fail to respond to emails?