In the last few weeks I’ve had occasion to send emails to a number of people that I’ve been out of touch with for some time. I was very shocked that I only got a less than a 5% response rate.
It’s true that I asked a few of my recipients for favors, like acting as my reference in an upcoming job hunt, so I can understand some hesitancy to respond. Still, I’ve known many of these people for years, some even for decades.
The near total lack of response was surprising, considering how well I thought I knew some of the recipients. It was actually quite maddening, if not a bit depressing.
In trying to figure what happened, I got really reflective and wondered if somehow, I had wronged them all. Was I really being a jerk when I thought I was being nice? Was I completely misguided in how close I thought I once was to some of them?
I soon discovered that I was not alone in all of these feelings. It’s a definite trend that people don’t respond to emails, even from people that they know and like. And it drives everyone crazy,
One researcher noted, “We’ve seen an increase in the nonresponse rather than just politely declining. You delete it and hope it goes away, just like if someone comes to your door and you pretend you’re not home.”
Another writer noted that in some cases, that “No response is the new no.” But added this this is often not always true. He cited that “sometimes people would put aside an e-mail to give a longer, thoughtful reply later, but then waited too long and felt embarrassed to send it.” So there’s lots of possibilities.
It’s clear that unanswered e-mails cause everyone a great deal of anxiety. The most common suggestion for ways to get a response is to send a polite reminder. I sent reminders to my list and got a 20% response rate.
The next most common suggestion is just to accept that many people are just never going to respond.
My own personal theory is that in a culture where technology is moving faster than our brains, that we’re just too overwhelmed and busy multitasking to weed out the good from the bad. Perhaps spammers and endless ads everywhere have just inundated us to the point that we have begun to just ignore everything.
For another perspective, one writer asked several Buddhist monks, why they thought people didn’t respond to e-mails. The last of the responses came from a monk who responded that,
“Patience is the ability to end our expectations.”
How Buddhist of him.
And yet can someone really wait forever? On my third reminder, I told people how important they were to me. This increased by response rate to 60%.
So if you want to do it right, you can review this: E-mail Etiquette 101
But don’t miss this…
A wise person at the New Yorker put together a calendar for the whole year of why people don’t respond to e-mails. Why the People You E-mailed Aren’t E-mailing You Back, by Week
This really explains so much. As for my own situation, I remain hopeful that the rest of the people on my list will still send me a response. Someday.