Email: When You Don't Get a Response

Ilise Benun, author of Designing Websites for Every Audience, has been talking about “What does the silence mean?” in her Quick Online Marketing Tips newsletter. This is an issue I have grappled with many times especially since I rely on email as a primary means of communication rather than the phone because of my hearing loss.
You email a client, follow up, and whatnot. Paul has been dealing with this for over a year, only instead of clients, he waits to hear from recruiters and managers about a job. When is it OK to follow up again? Is it even OK especially for those related to finding a job? There is no clear etiquette.
When you don’t hear back within a certain amount of time, what happens? I’m like Ilise and start jumping to conclusions. “Too expensive?” “Doesn’t like me?” (this is more of a female response than a male response) “Did I not say it right?”
We’ve come to expect email response within a short period of time, but I don’t start convincing myself with reasons why I haven’t heard back that quick. The answer could be a simple as the person is too busy to respond. It could also mean, “No,” although I think a person deserve to hear (read) it rather than get a silence.
Ilise reports the silence is rarely about you. Let’s try to remember that. I believe this is accurate because I went through a very busy period where I didn’t respond to friends’ emails within the 24 hours typical of me. I had become my friends, who rarely reply to my emails within two or three days. But I always respond to work-related emails within 24 hours, usually much less.
If I don’t have time to give a full reply, then I drop a short note to the tune of, “Busy, will reply later.” Save a standard “busy reply” as a file, template, or shortcut to copy and paste. That is better than silence and it’s better than getting multiple follow ups from the person wondering if you ever received the email. How about we turn “quick acknowledgments” into a new etiquette? Maybe we’ll save emails and stress in the long run.

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