Unanswered email or text messages are a source of considerable anxiety for many people. Why is the recipient seemingly ignoring us? Was it something we said? Did the message even reach them? Whose to know until they respond. If ever, that is. Now some think the phenomenon requires a formal title, Unanswered Email/Text Rage Syndrome, so distressing it potentially is.
The real question however is, what constitutes an acceptable time frame to respond within? Should we be a little more patient? Surprisingly, this apparently remains a grey area, even though people have been communicating via email for the best part of twenty years. As I see it though, the response time depends on whether the message is personal or professional.
A friend may not have replied to an email for all sorts of reasons. Their child is unwell, they’ve forgotten their email password, or they went away. And didn’t send you an email saying so. Business communications are another matter though, and any business owner should have a system in place to, at the very least, acknowledge receipt of a message promptly.
Or so you would think. But business owners are people also. Their children may also fall ill. They too can forget the password for their email account. Smaller operators may simply be overwhelmed by email volumes. I know how that can feel, as an independent online publisher, especially when everyone decides to contact me at the same time.
Sometimes though, it strikes me that some business people willfully choose to ignore some of the email messages they receive. It seems inconceivable that such a person, particularly one in their right mind, would risk triggering Unanswered Email/Text Rage Syndrome in a client, or potential customer, but perhaps the stratagem is a way in itself of offering a reply, albeit offbeat.
I don’t know the answer
That certainly appears to be one conclusion that can be taken from an unanswered email. Instead of coming out and saying as much though, the recipient would rather that a sender read between the lines, as it were, by taking no action whatsoever. It’s a brilliant ploy, and one that is bound to see much return business going the recipient’s way.
The answer is NO
In other words, I can’t help you, but it will be a cold day in hell before I say as much. No one wants to look bad by having to directly refuse a request, so attempt to mitigate the fall-out by saying absolutely nothing at all. Another ruse that displays class and foresight, as an operation that doesn’t say no, is surely preferable to one that actually says no. Do I have that right?
I can’t be bothered/I’m too busy
This is probably the first thought that a sender has once it becomes clear that the recipient is taking their time in replying. It’s another good look for a recipient, and really has to make a sender wonder why they’re in business in the first instance. It also leads them to wonder how long said recipient will remain in business, if they’re not interested in whose contacting them.
So what should I do?
Just because you can write and send an email message almost immediately, doesn’t mean a response will be just as prompt. We all know that. But being seen to be giving potential, or existing customers, the cold shoulder doesn’t bode well for a business either. If you need to buy a little time, make use of an email autoresponder, they’re not too hard to set up.
Try to categorise and prioritise incoming messages. Prepare a number of short, pre-written responses, that require only minimal personalisation. Something like “thanks for your message, we’ll reply to you in detail in X days time”. One person I know spends a certain time dealing with email every morning, be it one hour or four, before doing anything else that day.
You didn’t go into business, only to see yourself go out of business, because you didn’t have a plan for dealing with the electronic and text messages that are inevitably going to come your way. A reputation for not responding to client communications is not only worse than useless, it will also have people questioning your integrity and professionalism. That you don’t want.
There are still some ancient languages on Earth that linguists are still struggling to understand, so how would we fare if an alien intelligence tried to contact us? How might we ever make sense of what they were saying?
“If an advanced civilization did want to communicate with us, they would probably choose to base their communication on something we have in common, such as the fact that we live in the same physical universe,” says Siemion. “They might use the properties of astrophysical objects, like pulsars, quasars or the shape of our galaxy, as a first step at teaching us their language.”
Ok, so doing things – such as going to the movies – alone, is to be encouraged, we should, from time to time, do more by ourselves. It has its upsides, and accordingly we should have little regard for others might think.
What helps me the most when I talk to myself is that I’m able to organize the countless wild thoughts running rampant through my brain. Hearing my issues vocalized calms my nerves. I’m being my own therapist: Outer-voice me is helping inner-brain me through my problems. According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, talking out loud to yourself helps you validate important and difficult decisions. “It helps you clarify your thoughts, tend to what’s important and firm up any decisions you’re contemplating.” Everyone knows the best way to solve a problem is to talk it out. Since it’s your problem, why not do it with yourself?
Now all we have to do is find somewhere to talk thus, without being seen or heard by anyone else.
Text messages, just type and send, and they reach the recipient almost instantly. It’s that simple, thanks to the science behind the technology, that, needless to say, isn’t quite as straightforward. It’s fascinating though, and it all comes down to a beam of light. In a way, that is.
The more popular default email fonts, generally being Helvetica or Arial, do not really fit that bill, and are therefore better used elsewhere.
While Helvetica is beloved by design nerds for its neutrality, its uniformity and lack of consistent spacing make it hard to read in large chunks of text. “The letters are too close together,” said Nadine Chahine, a type designer at Monotype. “That makes it too tight.”
While the Oxford English Dictionary contains a quarter of a million entries, and even Koko the gorilla communicates with over 1,000 gestures in American Sign Language, the total vocabulary of Toki Pona is a mere 123 words. Yet, as the creator Sonja Lang and many other Toki Pona speakers insist, it is enough to express almost any idea. This economy of form is accomplished by reducing symbolic thought to its most basic elements, merging related concepts, and having single words perform multiple functions of speech.
I still receive plenty of long emails, but I couldn’t quite say the same of long, intimate, messages. Fifteen, twenty, years ago, a different story though, when email had literally taken the place of handwritten letters.
Accordingly, I both sent, and received, in depth mails, though yes, rambling might be a more applicable term when it came to some of my stuff. I’m a writer though, so what would anyone expect? So what’s happened? Has email become passé? Do people use social media channels instead? Why email when you can snapchat?
Surprisingly, this state of affairs may be down to email itself, in particular its volume, the majority likely being work-related, that also seems to keep increasing, subsequently leaving little time, and energy, for composing drawn out personal messages.
According to the Radicati Group, a technology marketing firm, business email users now send and receive an average of 122 messages per day, up from 110 in 2010. Sealing and opening all those virtual envelopes takes a toll: A 2012 report from McKinsey found that workers spent 28 percent of their day on email. While the numbers cannot account for how many emails are personal, it stands to reason that few sent on business accounts are – and that people are often too exhausted from the relentless inundation to compose meaningful letters.
It’s something called the “the transparency illusion”, and it means many of us do not realise we are not making ourselves as understood as we thought we were, says US psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson.
Most of the time, Halvorson says, people don’t realize they are not coming across the way they think they are. “If I ask you,” Halvorson told me, “about how you see yourself – what traits you would say describe you – and I ask someone who knows you well to list your traits, the correlation between what you say and what your friend says will be somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5. There’s a big gap between how other people see us and how we see ourselves.” This gap arises, as Halvorson explains in her book, from some quirks of human psychology. First, most people suffer from what psychologists call “the transparency illusion” – the belief that what they feel, desire, and intend is crystal clear to others, even though they have done very little to communicate clearly what is going on inside their minds.
Over do the communication is one solution. At least others will understand you far better that way. And people who communicate clearly tend to be generally happier as a result.
This might, I say again, might make for an intriguing personal challenge… if maybe you live alone, and likewise work by yourself from home… not talk to anyone for an entire week, unless they talk to you first. Not talking first also means there can be no instigating of communication via the likes of texting or email either.
I ride the train to work in San Francisco every day. I habitually say good morning to all the people in my neighborhood along my walk and politely say excuse me as I squeeze like a Tetris piece between other commuters on packed train cars. This week was different. I felt more closed off from neighbors; I couldn’t initiate conversation. I could wave, but that’s kind of awkward to do when you’re passing someone that is about eight inches away. It gives off more of a “talk to the hand” vibe than a cordial “howdy.” The commute was awkward every day of this experiment.
Just look at the Oxford English Dictionary, who added terms like “duck face,” “lolcat,” and “hawt” to their prestigious lexicon this past December. For the English-speaking world, these additions are anywhere from ridiculous to annoying but at the end of the day, the terms are accepted and agreed upon. But how do these new, internet-laden turns of phrase enter the sign language community? Was there a way of expressing “selfie” in ASL, was there a sign for “photobomb?”