Non-Responders: How to Deal With Colleagues Who Don’t Answer Their Email
Does it sometimes seem like your co-workers are ignoring your emails? If so, you’re probably not paranoid—you’re right. In a survey of 1,000 people, almost two-thirds said they ignore emails at work.1
Email is a valuable work productivity tool, but like any good tool, it must be used properly to be effective. If you’re dealing with co-workers who don’t always respond to your emails—or who are slow to respond—it may be time to reassess your approach. Here are five tips that may help you turn non-responders into first responders.
Send Fewer Emails
It’s so easy to write and send emails that it’s often done impulsively. Before clicking “compose,” ask yourself whether the email you’re about to write is really necessary. Proceed if it’s important information you need to share—or request—immediately. If it’s a routine matter, you might want to include it in a short list of bulleted items in a later communication. By limiting the number of emails you send, you’re silently telegraphing to colleagues that when they see your name pop up in their inboxes, it’s probably something important. And when you’re ready to send that email, make sure you’re targeting the right co-workers in the “to” field. Don’t include anyone who will legitimately be left wondering, “Why did he send this to me?” Oversharing can be demotivating and hinder the response rate and worker productivity.
Make Your Subject Line Count
Use this field to grab your colleagues’ attention and encourage them to open the email—the first step in motivating non-responders. It may help to take a cue from email marketing strategies even when you’re dealing with co-workers. In a survey, 47% of people polled said it’s the subject line that prompts them to open an email.2 And subject lines that convey urgency may increase the open rate by 22%.2
Constant Contact, which specializes in email marketing, offers the following suggestions:3
- Use seven or fewer words—or no more than 40 characters—so the full subject line displays on smartphones and other devices. Shorter may be better. “Sometimes subject lines that use only a word or two can stand out and get the most engagement,” according to Constant Contact.
- Include a deadline.
- Start with a command, when appropriate. “Join us,” “Register today,” or “Sign up” are good choices for announcing a training opportunity or similar event.
Keep It Short, Focused, Simple
Research shows that emails of 50 to 125 words have the highest response rate.4 Your emails to colleagues may need to be longer than that, but they should always be concise. Let co-workers know what you need and when you need it. When you’re done writing an email, read through it and cut out any words or sentences you don’t need. Keep the wording clear and simple and use tools like bullets to visually signal that reading your email will be a breeze.
If you’re dealing with co-workers who are non-responders, you may want to try reaching them on Slack, Teams, or another messaging app your company uses. You don’t want to hinder your own work productivity by spending too much time hopping from channel to channel. But with so many communication platforms available today, there may be one for you and your co-workers that’s more effective and efficient than email.
Don’t take it personally when a co-worker doesn’t respond to an email. It may be annoying, but it’s usually not a malicious act.
Infuse a follow-up email with a sense of urgency to motivate co-workers to respond. Stop by a co-worker’s workspace for a face-to-face follow-up. If you’re in a work-from-home setting and can’t make an in-person visit, go old school and pick up the phone. But if you have to leave a voicemail, keep it short.
If your colleague still doesn’t respond, you may need to ask your supervisor or your company’s HR manager how to proceed. If it’s a direct report, you can address the issue in a performance review or performance plan. Or, you can get insight and guidance from an industrial psychologist, if your organization has one on staff or in a consulting role.
Remember, you’re not out to get anyone in trouble, but if your job performance hinges on your co-workers, you don’t want to let the problem drag on.
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