What Does Email Silence Mean?

by Meryl Evans | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

Ilise Benun, author of Designing Websites for Every Audience, has been talking about “What does the silence mean?” in her Quick Online Marketing Tips newsletter. This is an issue I have grappled with many times especially since I rely on email as a primary means of communication rather than the phone because of my hearing loss.

You email a client, follow up, and whatnot. Paul has been dealing with this for over a year, only instead of clients, he waits to hear from recruiters and managers about a job. When is it OK to follow up again? Is it even OK especially for those related to finding a job? There is no clear etiquette.

When you don’t hear back within a certain amount of time, what happens? I’m like Ilise and start jumping to conclusions. “Too expensive?” “Doesn’t like me?” (this is more of a female response than a male response) “Did I not say it right?”

We’ve come to expect email response within a short period of time, but I don’t start convincing myself with reasons why I haven’t heard back that quick. The answer could be a simple as the person is too busy to respond. It could also mean, “No,” although I think a person deserve to hear (read) it rather than get a silence.

Ilise reports the silence is rarely about you. Let’s try to remember that. I believe this is accurate because I went through a very busy period where I didn’t respond to friends’ emails within the 24 hours typical of me. I had become my friends, who rarely reply to my emails within two or three days. But I always respond to work-related emails within 24 hours, usually much less.

If I don’t have time to give a full reply, then I drop a short note to the tune of, “Busy, will reply later.” Save a standard “busy reply” as a file, template, or shortcut to copy and paste. That is better than silence and it’s better than getting multiple follow ups from the person wondering if you ever received the email. How about we turn “quick acknowledgments” into a new etiquette? Maybe we’ll save emails and stress in the long run.


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  • Posted by Lockergnome's IT Professionals on August 9th, 2004, 11:07 AM

    What Does Email Silence Mean?

    I have grappled with the issue of what does email silence mean? many times especially since I rely on email as a primary means of communication rather than the phone because of my hearing loss. You email a client, follow…

  • Posted by Dennis Hays on August 10th, 2004, 8:43 AM

    Years ago, I was a recruiter (read: Head Hunter) for some major companies in the US and in Europe. Human Resource people and others seeking personnel for jobs get busy and lose track of many things, including people. If you can’t be placed immediately, you fall back into the pile of resumes.

    Remember, looking for a job is a marketing job, where your client is yourself. Feel free to always remain in contact, but make yourself a nuisance by calling/writing too often. What you’re trying to do is not get lost in that pile of resumes but be on the top of the pile. That way, when a request comes in, your name will be the first to come to mind.

    So, what’s the best frequency? That’s really up to you and your contact list, but every other week is usually not excessive. Send a polite email.

  • Posted by Chris on August 11th, 2004, 2:06 AM

    Yep I’ve asked that question many times about email etiquette when it comes to job hunting. 99% of the time I never hear back and its harder to keep up the pace when you send out dozens upon dozens of resumes to know which you have heard from which you want to follow up etc. I have also heard pros and cons about being “pesky” with follow-ups. Sometimes it works. Other times it does not seem to work at all (seems to be the norm). Going on nearly 2 years of no work (any work…) I’ve learned that finding a job is basically a crap shoot especially with IT. But…hoping that the article in Sunday’s paper is true…that IT is coming back….

    Best of luck to Paul!

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