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Why Responsiveness Is Next to Godliness by Dr. Tasha Eurich

If you’re looking to Marie Kondo your world, your inbox can be a ripe target. Most of us are swimming in email, with 269 billion messages being sent every day.

This unrelenting flood can be paralyzing. (I have a friend who jokes, “Can I just declare email bankruptcy and move on?”) But by not responding, we’re contributing to a troubling problem.

Think of the last important email you sent where the other person didn’t reply. Your first reaction was probably, He’s just busy. After a few days, you wonder, Did he get my e-mail? A few days later, Did I do something wrong? Then, inevitably, What a jerk!

When it comes to communicating with our colleagues, we have the best of intentions, but often fail in execution. We see an email, plan to reply later, then lose track of it.

But our benign neglect is holding us back in more ways than we realize. Response time is a strong non-verbal cue that speaks volumes about who we are.

As my colleague Adam Grant recently pointed out, it would be unfathomable for someone to say, “I’m really sorry…I didn’t acknowledge your presence in the hallway…I just have too many people trying to greet me these days, and I can’t respond to everyone.”

Not answering email damages our reputation and our relationships. In one study, people who took two weeks to respond to an email were assigned more negative intentions and viewed as less credible than their responsive counterparts.

Here’s the flip side: I once had a client—a superstar Fortune 500 executive—and despite being ridiculously busy, she replied to emails faster than anyone I’d ever met. She told me, “When you’re reliable, people want to be on your team.” So simple, and yet so true.

I’m certainly far from perfect in this (or any other) area, but here are a few tips we can all use to be better email citizens:

1. Get organized. It’s difficult to be responsive without a good email management system. Whether you Take Back Your Life or focus on Inbox Zero, find a system that works for you and stick to it. Or, make it even easier for yourself by asking your most responsive colleagues what they do to stay organized and experiment with their approach.

2. Acknowledge receipt. As one client recently told me, “Everyone is busy, but there’s no excuse for not acknowledging a message. It literally takes five seconds.” If you send a response saying, “Got your email. Will reply as soon as I can,” most people will be surprisingly understanding. It will buy you both goodwill and more time.

3. A “no” is better than no response. If someone asks you for something that you can’t or won’t do, for goodness sake, just tell them. Believing that “no response is the new no” is passive aggressive, cowardly, and rude. Even if a complete stranger has taken the time to email you to politely ask for something, they deserve a reply.* As noted in The New York Times, “Most of us can handle rejection. We can’t handle not knowing.”

Ultimately, when it comes to handling our inbox, we can be so focused on the chaos on our end that we forget the human beings on the other side—all of whom have their own deadlines, goals, insecurities, and stresses. Like us, they are probably doing the best they can.

We can make the workplace more civil and cooperative, not to mention more efficient, by giving others the courtesy we expect from them. Let’s start a revolution of responsiveness—one email at a time.

About Dr. Tasha Eurich

Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times best-selling author. She’s built a reputation as a fresh, modern voice in the business world by pairing her scientific grounding in human behavior with a pragmatic approach to overcoming challenges. Over her 15-plus-year career, she’s helped thousands of professionals — from Fortune 500 executives to early stage entrepreneurs — improve their self-awareness and success.

To Learn more about Dr. Eurich contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]