I’ve never been very good at telling people to goodbye or to leave me alone.
Perhaps it’s just that Midwestern pseudo-friendliness thing we’ve got, but I’m taught to keep things civil. I don’t want it to get too emotional either.
That’s doubly difficult on the internet, which can be such a tone-deaf place, especially when it’s unclear what the appropriate response might be.
Earlier this week, I received a phone call from a source I’ve known a while. He asked if I’d received his email. I said I had. He asked why I didn’t respond, and I told him I didn’t see anything in it that required an answer. I saw the information (about an upcoming event) and dealt with it appropriately.
Sometimes when someone asks me what a managing editor does, I’ll jokingly say I delete emails all day. I deleted 424 emails on Friday. In fact, by 9:30 a.m. Friday, I’d already deleted 100 emails. I’d bet I delete more emails by 9:30 a.m. than most people delete all day.
By the sheer volume of emails, not everyone can get a thoughtful response.
Most of these emails are solicitations of some sort. They’re asking us to cover something. They’re asking us to buy something. Some call us to task for something the newspaper has done or hasn’t done yet.
Because of the portion of my work involving our website, a handful a day want us to subscribe to some new online service.
These can be hard to figure out whether they’re automated or hand-crafted, since some geeks have all the grammar skills of a Nigerian prince trying to find a place to keep his fortune.
One memorable one was someone using the subject line “Trying to reach you” who sent me three emails a day for a week, trying to schedule a half-hour appointment to try to sell us something I didn’t want and wouldn’t have been authorized to buy. Generally I try to ignore high-pressure salespeople, but I finally had to respond.
I wrote the salesperson I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t authorized to make that kind of purchase, and I wouldn’t buy from someone who used high-pressure sales tactics anyway. I asked her to remove me from any lists she used. She responded back that I didn’t have to be rude, I could’ve just said no.
Some people are genuinely surprised when they do get a thoughtful response. I’ve had a few readers of this column over the years send some pretty nasty feedback, including some questions. Whenever someone asks me a direct question, I feel obligated to answer it, so I’ve responded.
The second email back from an angry reader is always infinitely kinder than the first one was. Sometimes people just need a reminder that the person on the other end is really a person, not just some robot generating words they don’t like.
So here’s to the maddening world of email etiquette. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s not text messages, where no one can agree if you should acknowledge receipt with the single letter “K” or a smiley emoji.