Email etiquette.

Excuse me, but I am going to go on a little rant here. But the rant is purposeful… I really do not know how to handle this situation. For years, a good friend has emailed me sporadically to stay in touch. They are typical update emails on what is on the forefront of her mind and questions about our latest. My issue is this: I sit down and take about 20 or even 30 minutes to write back to each and every question or point or concern she raises, as well as asking follow-on questions to whatever she spent the email talking about.  And then she never replies. I fully admit that it does often take me a week or maybe even two to write back to these types of emails. They aren’t urgent in nature and I want to take my time to reply… sometimes, or more like than not I’m traveling, and I only have five minutes and these emails warrant more time. First of all, am I in the wrong for taking up to two weeks to reply? Is that terrible?  Do I need to resolve to clean up my email act and always reply within a week? What is the acceptable ‘length of reply rule’ for non-urgent correspondence?

But my issue is this: I do reply. She never, ever replies. It’s not like she replies most of the time and an email or two slips her mind. I know she, like all of us, is always on her iPhone so I know she gets my emails.  Then, two months later I get another similar email and I’ll dutifully reply, but to be honest I’m just totally sick of this one way exchange. Should I, 1. email her and tell her my concern or 2. just stop replying to her? 3. take the approach I would take at work, and follow up one of my recent replies to her emails, by forwarding her the email and being like, ‘hey, just wanted to make sure you received this?’

What would Miss Manners do? Seriously, I need your advice! Thank you in advance.

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10 responses to “Email etiquette.

  1. Haha… I will admit I see a bit of myself in your friend. Usually with old friends, we’ll go through a cycle where one of us writes, and then one of us responds (within a week or so) and the conversation ends there for a few months. I never saw that as necessarily a “horrible” thing, although we’ve made habit of the first email being filled with an update and questions, and the reply email answering the questions and kind of a “wrap it up/great to hear from you” email. Maybe she thinks that’s the way your relationship works as well, although I bet it’s annoying if you ask her a bunch of questions that she basically never answers!

    I think if your email convos are sporadic enough, I don’t think taking 2 weeks to respond is a huge deal. If your conversations become more frequent (like at least once a month) then 2 weeks is probably a little too long to respond…but if you’ve reached a comfortable enough point where you’re corresponding once every few months or so, I don’t see anything wrong with 2 weeks. I’d rather get a thoughtful email in 2 weeks than a rushed email written in a cab or something right away, you know?

  2. I never thought about trying to reply to personal emails within a week, but I’m sure Miss Manners would like that 🙂
    I think if you have been writing thoughtful responses and getting nothing back, you could match her pace – just dash off a quick email in reply. Or you could console yourself that you are putting effort into a friendship that is valuable to you and keep sending detailed, personal responses when she does email.

    I think that you have touched on a problem that iphones and such give us: we are so constantly connected and available to people that we don’t know how to have a private life. We somehow think this constant contact will give us intimacy and better relationships, but in fact, I think it makes friendships harder to maintain (like you said, you KNOW she got your email, so why is she ignoring it??!).

  3. Dear Natasha,

    I looked up your concern in my 17th edition Emily Post (copy write 2004, is that too old to be current on cyber rules that seem to develop and change so quickly?). She says that you should respond within one to two days for personal emails. Personally I think this is a little quick for a long chatty email, however maybe the problem is that long chatty emails should not exist. Do you think you could switch your correspondence over to a paper form?

    If you do want to continue this correspondence in this format, what about taking a simple, direct approach with her: “Susie, I really like getting your update emails, but it kind of hurts my feelings that you never respond to mine.” I think this could effectively call the issue to her attention without hurting her feelings.

    Are you sure she’s not reading your blog?


  4. I would write a letter. I’ve always felt that emails are no place for lengthy correspondence. I always associate emails with quicker pithy correspondence. See if she sends a letter in return and if not just reply in a short email, within three days.

    Lil Bit Brit

  5. I agree with Annie that you might want to address her about it directly.The fact that she cares about your thoughts and opinions enough periodically to seek out advice means that she should also show that respect by responding when you get back to her. I think that if I were in your position, I would state those feelings and see where she’s coming from (I’m sure you would find just the tactful way to do it).

  6. I agree on addressing it directly because it actually is complimentary that you want to hear from her. The other thing that I was thinking is, invite her to instead, give you a phone (Skype) call. That may kind of force her to make the effort that she’s not making over email and calls always end up being much more satisfying. Let me know what happens!

  7. I gotta admit I’d take the passive way out–the “just wanted to make sure you got this email” tactic you suggested. Or I’d maybe reply to the last email I sent, with a note like, “Oh, and I forgot to ask, how was your trip to X?” and then the friend would see the first email copied below and realize she didn’t respond and would hopefully get back to you! But if it keeps happening after that, go ahead and let her know if it’s really bothering you. But even if it’s frustrating, I think the important thing is that she reaches out to you in the first place–it shows she’s thinking about you, even if she is a bit flaky.

    And I know I probably differ from most of your readers in saying that I think email is a perfectly legit medium for lengthy correspondence. If someone writes me a long letter, there’s a very small chance that I would return it with another letter–if you’re lucky, you’ll get an email in return. (And I suspect that if this friend of yours can’t respond to emails, she probably wouldn’t reply to a letter either.) I just never get around to sitting down and writing a letter, whereas I sit at a computer at work all day, and just wait for a fun email that can distract me from my comparatively dull job.

    Also, I hope she doesn’t read your blog! 😉

  8. Blitz them all. Send 6 emails per day to your entire list of distribution lists. Then questions of etiquette do not seem quite so pressing. This is what I do and it works wonderfully. The only bad thing is when family members — such as the Mrs. say things like “Oh, no — I didn’t read that. Because it came from you I automatically pressed delete!”

  9. I have just two words to say to that: self defense.

  10. I have friends that do this, and I believe it is a general email they are sending out to all their old friends, tweaking a few sentences to make it more personal. Sometimes there are mistakes so I can tell this is so. It really bugs me too when I respond with a real personal note and get no response until their next self-absorbed “newsletter” where they ask again how I am and it all starts over. To these people I just send a very brief reply with just enough info to get them to ask more questions if they really care. If they are just aquaintances, I might send a quick “Thank you for the update, I am glad all is well. We are doing fine too.” and leave it at that or not reply at all if I would like to end the cycle. For the dear friends who are lazy and not intending to be rude as they are, I send a short reply thanking them for the update and know we will catch up on the phone or next time we see each other. Yes, they are rude, but sometimes even they are worth keeping around. 😉 You have to decide.

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