Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Answering mails (updated)

I've blogged about this before, so feel free to ignore. I just had an added thought.

A friend of mine had talked about how I often answer emails with just one sentence. I asked why that was so remarkable. She said:

[it's interesting] because the one-sentence is a nice compromise between answering in detail to a message (that takes a lot of time) and not answering at all (that happens when one has answered in detail to too many messages and doesn't have time left). If one does not answer, the messages are there waiting, it is uncomfortable.

I have often marvelled at how many people are apparently *not* uncomfortable with having unanswered emails. Many people (most?) seem quite happy to let their in-box be perpetually full. And to never actually answer many mails. I don't get it, I want to ask them: there's a mail sitting there from a friend or a customer. And apparently you make a conscious (?) decision to delete it without answering it... what's going through your head at that moment? "This person is not important." ? "This mail is not important." ? "I'm too busy for that one." ? "I'm sure he/she will understand if he/she never hears back from me." ?
You just hit the delete button without thinking at all?

Another friend of mine once said that when his inbox has built up to great proportions, he just deletes it all in a fit. I wonder if that is common. To me it seems like letting the mess in your living room pile up until every half year you just empty it all into a garbage container without sorting it at all.

I may finally have gotten the answer after 13 years on the Net:
Anikó said:
I have been a not-always-answering person for long. Actually, it changed not long ago.

It's about how the mind works. You don't have to make the conscious mean choice not to answer. You just have to read the message and think: I will answer later. That gives you the good feeling of being a good and reliable person, and you don't think about it. And then, next time you open the mailbox, there are new and urgent things to read and answer, and you don't go back. Then the unanswered letter gets to the second page of your mailbox, so you don't see it anymore when you open your mail. And through the rules of geological stratification, it gets lower and lower and you never reply to it.

Maybe at a certain point, some moths later, you clean the whole thing. Then you may see it, but it is too late anyway. A slight feeling of guilt seizes you, but not for long: life goes on !
[Also: if it's been weeks and nothing happened, maybe it was not that important after all... -Eolake]

So, this is how I see the process.

To my defense, I don't think I left too many e-mail messages unanswered... But some, yes. And, from the time life was through real letters, I left quite a few letters unanswered. This was part of my cleaning this december: I went trough my mail and answered all of them. Some I received 10 years ago. Just a post-card in an envelop, wishing happy new year, giving my new address, saying sorry for not having answered, but wanting to keep in touch. More than 20 postcards. Felt good !

Actually it is not long ago I realized that if I don't answer to a not very important or unexpected e-mail right when I read it, then I will probably never. Without any bad intention. So I set myself a rule that if I want to answer, I have to do it right on the spot. because now I know that if I say to myself : I will answer later, it actually means I will never answer. And that's a serious decision!

1 comment:

Ray said...

"Many people (most?) seem quite happy to let their in-box be perpetually full."

This is especially true of some newspaper columnists, who ought to be asking themselves why they write the stuff if they don't want it to be read and commented upon.

One notable exception to this is a lady in Toronto who does a column in the Globe and Mail. She usually answers, even if she's on vacation.
The last email I got from her was to say she was just starting a vacation in Mexico, and happy to be leaving the snow behind. We need more with her attitude toward
those readers and feedback. And I hope she's enjoying that Mexican holiday.