What’s Wrong With You? Or Is It Me?

Now that I blog, people tell me I have license to complain about things. Truth is, that’s what has always annoyed me about this so-called “literary-form” from the very beginning (see my inaugural post). Who gives a rat’s ass about my rants particularly when they concern things beyond my putative wheelhouse? (By the way, what exactly is a wheelhouse and when did it become code for expertise?)

My discomfort with the blogosphere notwithstanding, and since the purpose of this rarely read endeavor is to more finely tune my writing skills, there is something I would like to whine about. To wit, the refusal of so many colleagues, interlocutors, and would be confederates to respond to my email messages in a timely fashion (i.e. within 24 hours absent some form of reasonable explanation: weekends, holidays, illness, travel).

Seriously, why can’t you answer my damn email? Almost without exception, I find time to respond to any non-commercial message that makes it to my Inbox. Doing otherwise is just plain rude. And, as mom always said, it doesn’t cost anything to be a mensch. Besides, I don’t send email to exercise my fingers or to waste your time. While perhaps not earth-shattering, the emails I send requesting a response should be responded to, however briefly or perfunctorily. Yet, days, weeks, sometimes eternities go by without the courtesy of a reply. I don’t get it!

For many years, friends and loved ones have accused me of over-thinking, and I admit to doing the very same in this regard. When my emails go unanswered I seek explanations, and run myself through a series of mental gymnastics, because (truth be told) it is entirely unthinkable to me that you could simply ignore my electronic correspondence. Here are some of the mind games I find myself playing:

  1. You’re busy. I’m sure that’s true, but so am I. I didn’t write to chitchat. Answer my email, then delete it (or file it), and you’re ahead of the game. One small step towards an empty Inbox. And if you can’t get back to me right away, why not send a quick email saying just that?
  2. Lost in cyberspace. I’ve tried the “perhaps my email got lost” thing, and found it wanting. While it sometimes elicits an embarrassed response, my email has never actually gotten lost in the cloud or anywhere else.
  3. Tomayto Tomahto – I have come to understand that not everyone shares my obsession with prompt replies. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with this, even if it is true. Because let’s say I allow for the possibility that some perfectly decent person feels no obligation to respond in what I consider a reasonable timeframe, how long am I supposed to wait? What exactly is the email statute of limitations?
  4. It’s not all about me – People have other priorities, I know. Wait, did I just say that?
  5. Something’s happened – I cannot count the number of times while waiting for an overdue response that my mind conjures up a tragic scenario in which something terrible has occurred in your life, thus explaining your otherwise inexplicable tardiness. Happily, no such tragedy has ever happened, which further raises the question, “why can’t you answer my damn email?”
  6. On the road again – You’re traveling again and somehow my email fell through the cybernetic cracks (again). Curious, since I somehow manage to answer all my email even when I’m on the road and overseas. Hmm.  
  7. You don’t actually want to answer my email – No excuses, no concocted explanations; it’s a simple leftward swipe for email, leaving me with a heavy heart and the incontrovertible conclusion that you’re ‘just not that into me.’

I’m sure it never occurs to my non-responsive colleagues that their failure to answer my emails delays, upends, or otherwise convolutes my next steps. Not that their job is to make mine easier, but it certainly seems that a timely response would, to paraphrase Tevye, hardly spoil some vast eternal plan, and could, in fact, make things better for all of us.

On a few occasions, I have been privileged to work with individuals who go out of their way to respond to emails, even when they are busy, traveling, on vacation, or otherwise preoccupied. Since the dawn of the age of email, I have certainly tried to do the same, despite the occasional inconvenience or time crunch.

All of this having been said, I cannot help but wonder if there’s something wrong with you, or if it’s me. Are my expectations so unreasonable or selfish? Please let me know because right now I remain mystified by your discourteousness. And if you don’t want to respond to this query, that’s fine. Just answer my damn email.

Hal Lewis

Read more of Dr. Lewis' writings on leadership at leadershipforimpact.com/blog.