You’re Better Off Not Responding To These 4 Types Of Emails

In certain situations no response is probably the best response.

Responsiveness is certainly one of the golden rules of teaming and simple workplace professionalism. Indeed, responding promptly to emails (ideally within 24 hours) even if just to confirm receipt of a task or clarify that you don’t have the requested information is a best practice that everyone should embrace. But the truth is that in certain situations no response is probably the best response. Let’s explore four of these situations where you may be better off not responding at all.

1 – Contentious Group Emails

Have you ever been included in a group email chain that volleys back and forth getting more and more convoluted and/or tense with each response? I call these “volleyball emails” and have learned that hard way that unless I have something truly constructive to contribute, it’s sometimes better to keep my two cents to myself. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way after I would chip in early on during a group discussion, then later regret it because the back and forth became exasperating and exhausting. Sometimes it’s better to be an observer, not a participant – particularly if the subject matter is sensitive.

2 - Emails that make you angry

We’ve all been in the situation where we fired off a hot email while we were still fuming about an issue then lived to regret it. Invariably, life teaches us that emailing while angry is rarely a good idea. In fact, the consequences can be tragic so avoid the temptation. Instead, try not to email a response until your emotions have calmed. Sometimes you may want to take a walk, talk to a friend or just sleep on it and revisit the message the following day. Also, it’s important to remember that if tensions are running high, it may be better for both of you to push away from the keyboard altogether and instead have a good old-fashioned conversation. Walk down the hall or hop on a video call – a more personal touch can do wonders (and minimize email induced misunderstanding).

3 - Sensitive information

Remember that emails are indeed documentation so be wary about responding in writing on an issue that’s proprietary or sensitive in nature. Don’t ignore the sender completely. Just find a different way to respond. You may want to drop by their office to share your thoughts instead, but be careful about documenting anything that might be premature or that you otherwise may not want to come back to bite you later. Remember too that once you hit send, you have no control whatsoever where that email may end up. I’ve seen several situations where someone was mortified to find out that their email containing sensitive or embarrassing information (only intended for the recipient) inadvertently ended up being forwarded on to others as part of a longer email chain. It’s just not worth it. If you wouldn’t want to see it written in the newspaper, don’t type it in an email.

4 - Nuisance senders

Let’s face it – some people are a little off and it’s typically better to ignore their emails. These may be people who don’t know you and are reaching out in a questionably appropriate way or they may be sending a veiled sales pitch (no, I’m not interested in learning how you retired early by selling vending machines). Typically, these emails set off your spidey sense so listen to that. If the email seems off, there’s a good chance you may be better off just ignoring it altogether. Some of these emails may feel a bit spamish. Other times they may come across as cold calls or just really bad networking solicitations. Remember that your time is valuable, and you don’t owe someone your attention. Don’t fall into the trap of sending a pity response as that will likely just signal your interest and result in more nuisance emails cluttering up your inbox.

Remember that time is your most valuable asset, and your goal each day should be to decide how to allocate it most effectively. Wasting precious time by responding to these four email types is a trap you want to avoid. Too many people fall into the alluring and dangerous habit of spending time on each and every email without asking the critical question – “Does this email deserve my attention?” Yes, 75% of them likely will, but don’t wrestle over the 25% that don’t. Instead, keep an eye out for these time wasters so you can dispense with them guilt free. You’ll be glad you did.

By Dana Brownlee, first published on October 28, 2020