Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My number one email peeve: Incomplete reply

If you know me you know that I love email. Maybe a little too much, but it’s just so efficient when used properly.

Unfortunately, there are people who also love to use email, but fail to use it well.

Beyond not responding at all, the most frustrating, time-wasting, and annoying email abuse is failing to respond to each of the items in an originating email or bringing up a divergent topic. In other words, failing to reply to all of the issues in the original email.

Have you ever sent an email to someone listing 2-3 items or questions you have, and they respond to only one, or none, and then go “dark”? They may even reply bringing up an entirely new topic that has nothing to do with your original email!

For example, I sent an email the other day like this:

Dear Jack, Johnny, and Jim,

I want to confirm our next meeting. Please reply addressing each of the following items:
1. What day would you like to meet?
2. What time would work best for you?
3. Where would be convenient for you?
Thanks for your prompt response.
-- Stephen

Jack responded only to item two with, “7:00 PM is fine with me.”

Johnny missed all three replying with, “Did you hear the news about ….?”

And Jim came back with, “Any day this week after 4PM works for me. How about Starbucks on 14th & Adams?”

Only Jim got it right.

Send it simple

Whenever I send an email that needs a response to multiple queries, I try to make it as easy as possible for the reader to (1) see that there are 2-3 questions and, (2) to respond to them.

Did you see what I just did in the paragraph above as well as my example email? I numbered the items. That’s exactly how I often structure an email, numbering or bulleting each item that needs a response.

I’ll also indicate at the beginning of the email that there are X-number of questions/items below that require responses.

Reply point-by-point

If you get an email that clearly outlines multiple questions/items, respond to each item!

Not responding completely means time has to be invested in following up to get the answers to the rest of the questions, or to get the rest of the information requested.

Answering all emails with complete responses the first time ultimately saves everyone a ton of time.

A very good way to respond to an email with multiple questions is to put your response to each right after the questions in your reply.

Simply hit reply, delete any extraneous header/footer text, and put your answers below each question. You may want to indent or use a special character that sets off your answers, or put them in a different color.

Reply to the point

Receiving an email from someone may trigger a reminder of a different topic you wanted to take up with them.

Do NOT reply to the email you’ve just received to address a new topic.
Reply to the specifics of their email, then create a new email with a new subject line to address your new and separate topic.

Be e-courteous

When you receive an email, respond to the point(s), respond point-by-point, and respond in a timely manner. It’s the e-courteous thing to do.


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