Originally published in Smart Business Magazine
September, 2013

If you are like the majority of business executives, you prefer communications by email. But is it at any price? What about some ground rules for civility?

A recent Google search of “email etiquette” resulted in a substantial number of entries — the majority with a spotlight on protocol for the sender. Call me naive, but shouldn’t the recipient behave responsibly too?

Let’s face it; responding to most emails has become optional due to the absence of accountability and/or real human emotion. One could even say that email correspondence is the professional world’s high-tech version of hide and seek.

However, many employees still spend an excessive amount of time waiting for mission-critical information to be returned via email — and time equals money.

To all senders, nothing is more important than communicating clearly and succinctly. An email beginning with “let me be brief” followed by five full paragraphs is most likely going to fall victim to the Big D — Delete.

The battle rages

Of course, the war rages on between “buyers” and “sellers” — with email being a primary weapon. However, aren’t we all “selling” something? As all recipients are senders too, practically everyone has a story of woe regarding an unanswered email.

Maybe I’m not as popular as I thought. As a test, I recently sent 25 individual emails requesting time to discuss this specific topic. In my mind, I had a relationship with each person; therefore, I “deserved” their time and attention. Right?

Number of responses received ­— two.

Now, inbox fear has become so great it’s also safe to assume that some simply didn’t want to risk comment as that could become the technological equivalent of an “Open for Business” sign associated with their email address.

Understandable. However, history has proven that we now live in a business world where, if we can’t put out someone’s fire today, we can’t get him or her fired up about tomorrow. Tragic.

But the real question was, what response did I “deserve” versus what had I “earned?”

Inbox outtakes

First, before you get all hot under the white collar, don’t assume that every email arrives at its destination — so simple yet so oft forgotten.

Second, understand that most executives report receipt of 300-plus emails per day — it is not humanly possible to respond to each one.

Of course, despite the clever gimmicks intended to make some solicitation emails appear personalized, most of us can tell the difference between a customized email and one sent en masse. For one, I can’t think of the last time I crafted a personal email that ended with an opt-out option.

The bottom line: senders should never expect a personal response to an impersonal email. Instead, focus should be paid to those situations where the sender has earned the right to receive a response.

You don’t “deserve,” you “earn”

Recipients, please consider these questions when evaluating a sender’s request:

■  Do you have an established relationship of value?

■  Does the sender’s appeal fit your priorities?

■  Is the sender in a holding pattern waiting for you?

■  Is the sender following an agreed-upon “next step” in communication?

■  Has the sender demonstrated a possible benefit to you or, more importantly, your organization?

■  Is the sender a potential customer?

Lest you forget: the configuration of most email addresses includes your company or organization’s name — your precious brand. Like it or not, when a member of your team chooses to ignore an email, your company’s image may be taking a beating — one blown-off potential customer at a time.

In reality, there is no single solution that will resolve this increasingly unmanageable issue. However, a little thoughtful consideration goes a long way. Simply put, please just think before you strike.

Marketing guru, business humoristprofessional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida. 

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