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When Your Emails Aren’t Being Read

Friday, January 6, 2012 by Robby Slaughter

Robby Slaughter

Business process improvement is the reason we send emails instead of memos. What do you do if someone doesn’t seem to read your messages because they ask questions you’ve already answered? What happens if they simply don’t do the work assigned?

It’s extremely frustrating dealing with people who ignore email. When messages aren’t being read it destroys any sense of an efficient business process. Improvement is possible, but not easy. If you’re the supervisor, there are two obvious approaches:

  • Reprimand the individual, and perhaps question whether they are right for the job.
  • Empathize and seek to understand what else is happening in their work life or personal life.

Neither of these conversations is likely to be very comfortable. But what’s worse is that usually, the lack of response is in the opposite direction. Typically, it’s bosses who fail to respond to emails from their employees!

Here are a few business process improvement techniques you can use to ensure your messages are actually read:

  • Write shorter emails - The less you write, the more that will be read. Some topics can be covered almost entirely in the subject line.
  • Avoid replying - People are less likely to pay attention to replies than new messages, because they already know the topic of the email. Where possible, save your replies for your next status meeting.
  • Schedule your sending - Promise your boss you will send her an email at 2PM, and the make sure you do it. Then they will be expecting that message.
  • Use the Urgent Flag and Text Highlighting - But do so judiciously.
  • Ask For Feedback - Tell your colleagues that you understand they are too busy to get to all of their emails, and want to know what kind of information you can put into other mediums.
Some companies have gone so far as to ban email entirely. But if you’re working for a company and you’re interested in true business process improvement, you probably need people to use this technology intelligently. Try these techniques and let us know how they go for you!

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Did you READ the email? - We admit it. We love it when social media reveals workplace frustration. Here’s another one fired off via Twitter.
Read on »
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