When to Ignore an Email

One of the hardest parts of working in the modern office is nailing down email etiquette. We here at WSW naturally have a lot of opinions about email. One half of us happens to be an editor at a publishing company, so 75% of her day is spent writing emails and judging others on their netiquette.

"Netiquette" feels so 90s. "LOL Writin' Correkt BRB" sounds much more modern.

“Netiquette” feels so 90s. “LOL Writin’ Correkt BRB” sounds much more modern.

When considering what emails warrant a reply, the short answer is “every single email, all the time.” HOWEVER, what about Reply Purgatory? You know what we mean, it goes a little something like this:

Dear Milton, 
Attached please find the TPS Report. Please note the new cover letter. 
Thanks and have a great day!
Thanks Samir. By the way, I'm still looking for my stapler. Let me know if 
it turns up.
Hi Milton,
Sorry to hear. Will keep you posted on its whereabouts if I 
happen across it.
Thanks Samir. I appreciate it!
Sure, no problem. Keeping my eye out.
Thanks. I'll take a look at this TPS Report.
Thanks! I think you'll like what I did with the spreadsheet on 
page 5.

The emails grow shorter and more informal with each round, but seemingly something in each message needs a reply. The longest Reply Purgatory we’ve personally experience lasted over a day.

How to stop the insanity before it starts? At what point did Samir and Milton take their exchange from normal colleague back-and-forth to the 9th circle of Hell? There are two approaches to email etiquette in general:

1. The No-Nonsense Approach


2. The Overcompensating Friendly Tone Approach

WSaW is split on which approach is better. Some of us lean toward #1 because nothing besides business information is important enough to put in writing. By this school of thought, the above email conversation  should have ended at Milton’s first reply. In this scenario, Samir, being a No-Nonsenser, does not know where Milton’s stapler is and will therefore not reply because he has nothing valuable to add to the coversation.

Others of us prefer #2. It is easy to tell which people you work with subscribe to #2 based on the number of exclamation points they plop into one email. Overcompensaters worry about sounding too severe, and so will gladly let an email thread grow to avoid being the rude non-responder. There is an art to this overcompensation, however. The trick is to let your effervescence shine but still cut the conversation off before it becomes too onerous. In the above example, Samir shouldn’t have replied to Milton’s second email.

It takes years of practice to refine overcompensation to perfection. Eventually you learn the quirks of each individual you are corresponding with and just how far you should let the emails go with him or her. For this reason, it may be better to just commit to being No-Nonsense.

Unless the email is about penis enlargement. Those threads should run in perpetuity.

Got obvious advice? Got a question? Submit to wearshoesatwork <at> gmail.com


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