Why Don’t People Respond to Your Emails?

woman pensive at computer
Business Communication
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Students know how it feels: you spend hours crafting the perfect email—and then nothing. You refresh and refresh, check on your phone, laptop, and desktop. We know how it feels. Here are three common reasons and suggested responses for each. Sometimes having the language helps, and of course, these can be adjusted to the situation and for your own style.

Inappropriate or Untimely Request

  • Thanks for the email, but this isn’t really my area of interest [or expertise]. I hope you find someone else to help.
  • Thanks for reaching out, but I’m not the right person for this because . . .
  • This sounds like a great idea, but I’m fully committed at this point. Best of luck on the project.
  • Can this possibly wait until September when I’ll have more time to focus on this?

Obvious or Annoying Question

  • May I suggest that you look at the policy for this information?
  • I’m not sure I understand your question. Can you please clarify how I can help?
  • From my point of view, we already covered this when we talked on Thursday. I’m not sure how else to clarify my thinking on this.
  • I’m forwarding your email to . . . who can better address your question.

Overwhelming Request or Question

  • This is a lot! Could we schedule a quick call to discuss?
  • I’m having trouble digesting all of this. Can you please send back a few bullets that I can respond to?
  • The short answer to your question is . . . If you need more from me, can you please be more specific about how I can help?
  • I can answer some of this . . . For your other questions, I suggest trying . . .

Admittedly, all of these responses require some engagement, but we respond to emails for good reasons: to demonstrate respect, to educate, and for reciprocity. I would argue that replying is “the right thing to do”—and a brief response requires very little from us to be good corporate citizens.

Class Discussion Questions

  • When have you written an email that was ignored? Why do you think the person didn’t respond, and how did you feel? Could you have done anything differently to get a response?
  • When have you ignored an email? Why didn’t you respond?
  • Do you agree that responding is the “right thing to do”? Why or why not?
  • When, if ever, is it acceptable to ignore an email?