The Importance Of Common Courtesy In Business Emails
posted in media on 2/2/17
Five years into his career while working for the Detroit Free Press, Frank Bruni was flown in by the Chicago Tribune for an interview. They “put me through a veritable 12 hours of meetings and interviews and writing tests,” Bruni recalled. “Two decades later, I’m still waiting for any word.”
If you’ve ever interviewed for a job or pitched a prospect — or gone on a date — this story is painfully familiar. Your high hopes of landing a job, client or partner are dashed by a silence that’s deafening. In following up, you might as well be talking to yourself. You feel led on and strung along — and rightly so.
Your mind races to replay every interaction. Did you misread the COO’s body language? Did you accidentally offend her assistant with your remark about the Yankees? Did you wear too much cologne? Did they notice the stain on your slacks?
Perhaps your proposal was too pricey or your last email contained a typo. Soon, the navel-gazing takes on a life of its own and down the rabbit hole you plunge.
I’m here to tell you: Stop! To paraphrase George Costanza, “It’s not you. It’s them!” For various reasons — all of which are pure nonsense — the fact that someone, in a mutually recognized business transaction, suddenly goes MIA is unprofessional and just plain rude. (Happily, things turned out OK for Bruni, who now writes for the op-ed section of the New York Times.)
Looking At Communication As Both The Sender And Recipient
As the chief executive of a brand licensing agency, I receive and send hundreds of emails a day. Sometimes, I’m the vendor; other times, I’m the client. Either way, my staff and subcontractors all practice a cardinal rule of e-communications: We respond to emails. Even when we don’t want to.
Indeed, on the strength of our responsiveness, our team has won business. So many people today disregard e-etiquette that with a little common courtesy, you too can beat out your competitors.
Let’s say you exchange several emails with a client-to-be. You send over a sales deck and conduct a phone call. Maybe you even get together for a meeting. Things look promising.
Then, silence. Your painstakingly crafted “checking-in” and “circling back” missives fail to elicit even the slightest acknowledgment. Let’s grant that your recipient has a legitimate reason for not responding. Maybe they’re on vacation. Maybe they’re unexpectedly out of the office.
I get it — life happens. Adults, however, know that every problem has a solution. This is why autoreplies exist, as well as coworkers who can cover for you, and smartphones that make it impossible not to sneak a peek at your inbox.
For example, even a fragmented brush-off — “Sorry, am out; let’s reconnect when I’m back” — is far better than no brush at all. Not only will your recipient appreciate the sign of life; an open-ended reply is also a clever way to test the chops of your emailer: Does he ask you to get back to him, or does he assume the onus and promise to do so himself?
But, you object, “I wasn’t ignoring the sender; I just needed more time to reply.” Indeed, by the time you are ready, a new excuse has emerged: You’re now too chagrined to reply (we’ve all been there).
Think About Your Message
Yet the frequency of this scenario doesn’t lessen its gracelessness. As Aaron Sorkin has Maggie Jordan proclaim in HBO’s “The Newsroom,” “Whenever you hear someone giving a monologue defending the ethics of their position, you can be pretty sure they know they were wrong.” In other words: Be better than your coworker in the next cubicle over.
This is easier said than done. After all, you’re waiting on someone else to make a decision. Plus, as my dad used to say, if the matter is truly important, they’ll follow up.
In this case, consider the matter from the perspective of Ayn Rand: selfishness. Do you enjoy being pestered? Does radio silence make you feel good? What if you need this person down the road — is he likely to treat you with the respect you never showed him? The bottom line: 15 seconds of diplomacy now will save you 15 minutes of awkwardness later.
So, the next time you get an email you’d rather defer, think twice. Think about the message your silence is sending. Think about the bridges you’re burning.
Lastly, don’t lie to your recipient and sugarcoat the situation. Instead, be up front: “Let me get back to you after we finish X,” I’ve been told. “Our team is still deliberating,” I myself have written. And when all else fails, drop the hammer: “We don’t have the budget right now.”
Founder and CEO, Global Icons
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