Q: What’s the best way to deal with a non-reply to email? There are three issues: how long to wait before following up, what to put in the subject line, and how to begin the body of the email. I’ve just received a reply to a nudge I sent 2 1/2 days after the first one because I need a decision and the recipient said “Thanks for writing me again, your original email ended up in spam!“
A colleague I shared a friendly dinner with never responds to my emails, which is humiliating and hurtful. He must think he’s more important than me, but I’ll keep sending us updates on my research of mutual interest as he’s able to hire me for a gig. What do you think of all this? – Anonymous
A: The short answer: Generally, wait at least five business days before following up on an email, unless there are time constraints that require faster follow-up. Make sure your subject line is concise, clear, and informative. Start the email with a professional, polite greeting, then don’t waste time. Tell them why you’re writing, what you’re looking for, if anything, then include any additional information the recipient might need.
The longer answer: Email replies are not owed to us. Not responding may be rude, but it’s not the end of the world. For example, if you find it humiliating and hurtful when your co-worker doesn’t reply to your email, what’s going on? What triggers this behavior in you and why? Your colleague is no more important than you. I doubt he thinks something like that. Whether or not he replies to your email doesn’t reflect your importance or self-worth. Right or wrong, he’s made decisions about his own work priorities. Unfortunately, these choices affect you.
If you need an email response, ask for it and be specific about what you’re asking the recipient to do. If there is a time limit, be specific about it. Most people are inundated with email. Quite a lot of people who send emails are bad at writing them. Too many emails are simply unnecessary or incomplete or too long. When work or life gets too hectic, yes, email will probably be the first thing to do. It is a necessary part of our professional life, but it is not our entire professional life.
A few years ago, author Melissa Febos wrote about answering emails. She shared that she prioritizes her writing over a quick email response, but much of what she says is equally applicable to other areas. I was reluctant at first because I’m a people pleaser, but I’ve realized that I don’t have to reply to every email, and honestly I can’t. I try my best to answer as many emails as possible. I try not to wait too long to answer. I accept that I am human and sometimes I will fall short. Extend this grace to yourself and others as well. Don’t let email bother you too much.
names are important
Q: At a recent work event, individuals who completed a program were invited to the stage and received a certificate. We were called up in batches, one of them for foreign employees. Almost all of us have Asian names. As our names were called, the ceremony host wiped sweat from his brow and joked that reading our names was an unexpected test. The mostly white crowd laughed while I felt like I was joking.
I made a conscious decision to keep my original name as I moved to another country and started speaking a new language. It has meaning in my native language and I know my mother chose it with hope and love. I think getting a person’s name right — or at least trying to get it — is fundamental respect.
The least the program makers could have done was ask us how to pronounce our names instead of joking about how foreign they are. After the event, I seriously considered emailing the director, but I’m hesitant because it might seem like a small issue that I should overlook. What should I do? — Anonymous, Paris
A: You should never overlook xenophobia and disrespect. names are important. Our parents tend to put a lot of thought, love, and hope into our names. It is so little required to expect people to spell and pronounce them correctly. This host was incredibly banal and rude with this melodramatic. White people sometimes find it amusing to express their unease about something that even slightly challenges their place in the world.
It’s pretty easy to ask people how their names are spelled and pronounced. It’s even easier to just do your best when reading names aloud without showing too much how small your world is and how little you know about other cultures.
You haven’t given me enough information to determine if you would jeopardize your job if you emailed the principal. If you choose to do so, write to the person who shares your name pronunciation. Suggest that the next time someone in the organization needs to say names they are unfamiliar with, they might consider reaching out to the people for advice. I’m sorry that you and others at this ceremony marred your special moment with idiocy, but that doesn’t detract from your accomplishment. I congratulate you on that.
(Not) telling the truth
Q: I have a fantastic job in my field but I feel unhappy because my boss is a nightmare. I am currently looking for a new job but it is cumbersome. Most opportunities aren’t as “good” (well-paying or long-term) as the job I currently have, so interviewers want to know why I’d want to leave my “good” job for their only good job. I assume saying “My boss is a nightmare” sets off alarm bells, and a euphemistic version – “I have a serious disagreement with my manager” – is hardly better. I don’t think it’s necessarily immoral to lie in this situation, but I can’t think of a decent lie. How can I answer this question? – Anonymous
A: It’s not immoral to hide the truth about why you’re looking for a new job. It is practical. You don’t owe potential employers your personal business. Just tell them you’re looking for a change of scenery or new challenges. If you want to tell one version of the truth, you could say that your current job doesn’t fit your culture.
Bearer of bad news
Q: I was recently fired for something I did early on and never did again after my manager brought it to my attention; Still, a long investigation eventually called for an automatic termination. Getting fired is never fun and unfortunately this wasn’t my first such experience so I need to do that extra personal work to move forward.
What is the best way to deal with inquiring friends, family and separately potential employers when they ask what happened? Different parties are owed different answers; I know it’s important to be more honest with the question in an interview, but with friends and family I find it really rude to ask and I wonder if there’s a good way to say so much without the rest losing my dignity I would like some tips on how to proceed. — Anonymous, Palm Springs, California
A: I hope you are fruitful in this additional personal work. I know how difficult this kind of introspection and self-responsibility can be. In the meantime, how you explain your job loss to your friends and family is up to you. It is rude of them to ask; People are curious and often feel entitled to receive information that is absolutely none of their business.
You have a number of options. You can just say you’d rather not talk about it. You can offer a version of the truth within the limits you set for yourself. Tell potential employers the truth while highlighting how you’ve changed, what you’ve learned, and the steps you’ve taken to avoid the same mistake. Of course, the truth will be a barrier for some employers, but I hope the right employer will value your honesty and accountability, as well as any other professional merits you can bring to their organization.