It happened. Again. Everything they needed to know was right there in the email, but still the questions came–not ancillary, clarifying questions, but inquiries into the very details that comprised the message itself. Who? When? What? It was all spelled out right there. Don’t people read emails anymore?

Apparently not, and it’s frustrating. Here are some examples from my recent past:

  • A friend sent an admittedly lengthy but information-packed message to a short distribution list of people close to him. The message was relevant to all (it wasn’t a thoughtless blast-to-the-world kind of thing) and called for a response. Only two of five people responded. When asked about a particular item contained in the message, one person went blank and even admitted not having read that part.
  • Another friend forwarded an email to me for comment. When reading the entire trail attached to it, I noticed an item that was in urgent need of correction. Some dialog later we sorted it out, but only after discerning that my friend hadn’t actually read all of what he had sent to me. The error was glaring enough that he would have noticed it on his own, had he read it.
  • I routinely hear complaints from people who need answers to multiple questions, which they ask in email messages to people throughout the company. Invariably, the recipient answers the question contained in the first sentence and moves on. The other questions languish in the discarded message, unanswered.

I’ve learned to front load the messages I compose with the really important stuff to increase the chances of it being seen. Communications become executive summaries, bullet points, or quick quips. However, while I truly value the ability to be succinct, the subject matter sometimes requires a deeper dive. I try to be judicious with when and to whom I send longer messages, but I still fear they won’t be read. I hate hounding people for information or answers.

Clearly, the power of email communication is diminishing. People are bombarded with so many messages on a day-to-day basis that if they were actual letters, the US Post Office wouldn’t be looking to curtail services. The sheer volume has diminished the value. I understand people receive a lot of junk, too; I get just as much as anyone. I may not read every forwarded joke (or even very many of them), but I DO read my real messages.

I don’t have the answer, but I know we need to find it. Snail mail has become a relic of the past, phone calls depend on the recipient’s availability, and emails are becoming oft-ignored. How are we supposed to get things done? Until we figure it out, I promise to stay on point in the email messages I send–if you promise to read them.