5 reasons to wait before hitting reply to an email – email reply etiquette

We have all been the point of breaking. Some of us, hide it better than others. All of us could (most likely) also identify someone who wears it on their sleeves, cuffs, shoulders… you get the idea. It can be a self trial at times to withstand from firing back an email or phone call to some information that we have heard that we did not like. Below are 5 reasons why you should consider waiting to respond.

  1. Email vs. actual communication differences. Written text can often contain words that are more powerful written than if used vocally. Mannerisms in a conversation convey how you actually intend delivery whereas text, not properly defined or interpreted, can leave the wrong message. Over time I have found that it is best to know the person that you are communicating with. For example, there are people that I will meet with in person or via phone, then send a note to supplement the conversation. When I am replying for the first time, or at any introductory phase I try to be brief. All of this can then be looked at from another angle when you are responding to something with high emotion or impact. When the email comes to your inbox, which will most certainly happen at some point, and you want to scream – pause… save the draft and come back later.
  2. The other party in this communication cycle may have been in a similar situation and did not “wait” to communicate. Managing by emotion is a dangerous road and as referenced in #1 should be thought through. The enticing email – asking for a response with capital letters and #$@^#$% should be considered (without the expletives)  but with the same hesitation mentioned earlier. Try to read through the email removing emotion and looking at anything that is factual. Try to understand the context before taking any further action. For example, if someone had a bad day where nothing went right and they are on their 12th hour while writing the email , imagine how you would feel. Read the email, take the information that you can from it, and prepare thoughts that you would respond with. I have found that the best way to communicate back is to call the individual (the next day preferably) and discuss. If you have the ability to set up a 15 min meeting, do so and invite the person to chat. Basic problem solving – where are they – where do they need to be – what is the gap? If it needs to happen sooner, rather than later, contact the person – but give yourself enough prep time to be as objective as possible.
  3. You can take time to research and understand. The longer that you wait, the more likely you will gain perspective on the scenario. I am not suggesting to ignore the email or conversation – just that “instant reply” is not always best. Take time to find the gap (#2). What is the real issue that needs attention – and deal with that. Keep in mind that compassion and empathy do not have to be checked in at the door at your place of employment. Remember, managing with emotion is not good, nor is being inconsiderate of another’s feelings. Even empathy and compassion can be applied without removing accountability and responsibility. Emotion is a very real thing and regardless if it is truly warranted the emotion is real, to someone.
  4. Perception and reality scenario. Depending on your relationship with the person(s) in the email it is important to remember that perception can be reality if there is nothing else available to support another view. I have personally fallen into a trap of responding when I should have waited. What I never expected was that people who did not know me, other than as a name or email address, associated that email with my character. The damage which can be created from an email in response to another (using any combination of 1-5) may have long lasting undesirable outcomes. This can include a permanent perception of “you.”
  5. The whole story needs unfolding. Time allows for the entire story to unfold. Whether it was poor communication from others, or the event was not completed during the inflammatory email, it may be better to wait and see how things play out. Perhaps on shift 1 an event started and the communication did not make it to the other shifts why XYZ was happening. If the respondent knew about XYZ it would be a non-issue… I only propose, that there are times based on the severity of the matter where immediate action needs to take place.

And lastly, damn the REPLY ALL. The mass communication of reply all can be a very dangerous path when responding. I have found that in heated situations where problems and frustrations are being aired – it is best to have side-bar or immediate conversation with the individual. Having an audience only complicates things, IF they are not truly needed.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “5 reasons to wait before hitting reply to an email – email reply etiquette

  1. If I may add: when we send a mail to a wider group of people, their rank and seniority also comes into play. Otherwise, lot of fragile egos could get hurt, thereby killing the idea proposed.

  2. You are right. Knowing your audience is a key. Most commonly, I hear this around any brainstorming sessions but you are right, it is applicable here too!!!

    Thanks for the point out – very good!

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