Advice for When People Don’t Respond to Your Email
I was recently mulling over three situations in which people didn’t respond to my email.
In situation #1, I’d contacted a colleague who had expressed interest in collaborating on a project to ask her if she wanted to proceed, and if so, to give me dates when we could get together. Situation #2 concerned some faraway friends my husband and I wanted to visit. In the third situation, I’d been having an energizing email conversation with a colleague about organizational issues. Then he mysteriously disappeared. In all three instances, there was no response after weeks.
Lots of valid explanations can account for nonresponsiveness: the person is out of touch or sick, the message went into the person’s spam folder, the person is busy and stressed. A friend told me about failing to get a response to a message she’d sent to a highly reliable contractor. It turned out that he had died.
Even knowing there may be reasonable explanations, we sometimes experience emotional reactions to a lack of response, such as curiosity (why there hasn’t been a response), confusion (was it something I said?), sadness (I guess I just don’t count), or anger (how dare they not respond?).
To improve the odds of hearing back from busy people, avoid wasting their time, such as by keeping the message short, getting to the point, being specific, and using a meaningful subject line. Humor can also help; if nothing else, it distinguishes your message from all the others the person receives. And it can certainly help to state explicitly that you expect a response and by when.
If you really need a response—need, not just want—a nonconfrontational follow-up may be appropriate, such as by forwarding your original message with a note saying “Resending in case you didn’t receive it the first time.” There is no guarantee, though, that following up will work. People who don’t intend to respond will be no more inspired to do so after your repeated attempts than after your first.
In my own case, I finally heard from my colleague in situation #1. She had been waiting for her schedule to open up before getting back to me. I realized I should have told her that I’d like to know whether she was still interested in proceeding, and if so, we could then figure out a date to get together.
I also heard from the friend in situation #2. He was away tending to a sick family member. Understandable, and case closed.
I’m still waiting to hear from the colleague in situation #3. Fortunately, if I never do, nothing will be lost except a fascinating conversation, so I simply hope all is well with him.