Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at news-sentinel.com.
Q. Karen, very recently I was having a conversation with friends about the appropriate way to respond to an e-mail. If I send an e-mail to someone at work asking a question, after that person responds, should I send a “thank you” email? I usually do, but then I feel as if I'm burdening that person by making him/her check his/her email. Some of my friends have suggested that the frequency of contact/familiarity with the person dictates the response; others have suggested that if it's a simple yes/no answer, a “thank you” seems unnecessary. What do you think?
A. While I appreciate the overload of email people receive each day, I do think it is very important to respond to emails. Without a response, people are left wondering if you received their email. I do think how you respond and the length of your message is dictated by a number of things: the person to whom you are responding, your relationship to them and the reason for your response. So here are some guidelines to consider:
Has the person sent an attachment or document of any kind? If so, that definitely deserves an email saying you received the attachment. In addition to letting them know you received the attachment, let them know when and how you will get back to them after having a chance to look over the information. A personal phone call may be needed to respond to something that requires some discussion or even a face-to-face meeting may be appropriate. Don't underestimate the power of a more personal response.
Has someone paid you a compliment? If so, respond as you would in person, with a sincere “thank you.” Be careful not to diminish their sincerity by suggesting you didn't deserve the compliment.
A more in-depth response or compliment requires a response in kind. If someone praises your work or compliments you, it is important that you extend the same amount of effort in your response. This shows how much you appreciated this person taking the time to honor you and your work.
Consider the source. If your boss or a superior has sent you an email, regardless of what is in the message, a response is necessary. Not responding can be interrupted as an “I don't care” attitude or bad manners. It only takes a few seconds to respond, and it will let your boss know you are on top of things.
Casual emails can have a more casual response. Use the subject line for your response if the response needed is very brief. Saying yes or no and adding EOM (end of message) in the subject line may be all that is required. And the recipient doesn't even have to open the email for the answer. However, make sure the recipient understands that form of a response.
An email response takes all of the guesswork out of wondering if someone received your email — please reply.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll forward it to her.