Five Ways to Respond When Someone Ignores Your Emails
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A 2020 study concluded that 65% of emails are ignored – and I wouldn’t doubt it’s far from the truth (Ozdoruk, 2020). Try these five techniques if you’re getting crickets after you push “send.”
Why do people ignore emails?
In order from most to least likely, here is why someone ignores your email.
1. Don’t see it as important enough
Remember that everyone has the time to respond to an email – even rich, successful people with good jobs. They choose to do other things with their time.
Come on, there are 295 million people following Kylie Jenner on Instagram and they’re not all unemployed, uneducated, unsuccessful, broke people with nothing to do all day.
There is a subconscious beat that plays in all our minds. I call it the “disser’s anthem.” It’s how we rationalize blowing off other people, and it goes like this (cue the rap beat):
The disser’s anthem
I have a right to diss anyone I feel like, because I am ”just too busy” with my annual reviews, SEC audit, and my kid’s podiatrist appointment.
So watch me diss, diss, diss like this!
We play this in our head over and over again until someone confronts us about why we ignored their last five emails and then we sing the anthem.
“So sorry for the delay in responding,” we write (so glib and patronizing, by the way). “I’ve been so busy with my annual reviews and SEC audit, and on top of it all, my daughter has plantar fasciitis and has to miss half of track season!”
(wait for the sympathy nod)
2. Don’t know how to respond
You are overwhelming the reader if you are sending out block paragraphs. I find lengthy emails to be totally annoying.
They might not even know what you are trying to communicate, because you cluttered the email with wiggle phrases, acronyms, cryptic analogies, or other forms of gibberish that obscure your point.
If you aren’t crystal clear about what you mean, fewer than 1% of people will take the time to figure it out.
Other reasons someone may not respond to your email:
- They honestly intended to respond at a later point but forgot.
- You said something that scared them, and they want to protect themselves.
- They don’t want to discuss the subject over email because someone else is reading their email and may see it.
- They are worried if they respond honestly, they will upset you.
- They are not the person answering their email – some support person is.
- They didn’t get it – it got caught in spam or there was a server blip.
How not to respond
Before I get into how to respond, let’s talk about what not to do.
1. Consent to being ignored
Like I said, there are various reasons you didn’t get a response. If it’s important, don’t assume they aren’t interested and walk away. In many cases a different approach gets their attention.
2. Get mad at the disser
Every time I hire a babysitter, I try on purpose to ignore them just a little tiny bit because I need to see how patient they really are. I’m not playing games; I have to protect my kids from the wackos, and crazy people will never admit it upfront.
A person’s response when you fail to give them what they want tells you more about who they really are than their words ever will.
Agree? Grazie mille, now for the story.
I meet this one babysitter and tell her to call me. She calls, I ignore her. Two minutes later, I get this text:
You said to call so I did, and then nothing.
Hello who? What is this, an episode of Mob Wives?
Strangely, I’ve seen advisors get equally as hot under the collar over situations like this. Look at the results of my LinkedIn poll.
Nobody appreciates being blown off; being nasty in return is going to get you nowhere.
3. Keep doing the same thing
Everyone has preferences when it comes to how they want to be contacted. If you’re getting crickets over email, try texting, calling, or even sending them a fax or something in the mail.
How you should respond
Remember that subject line of any email is the most important factor in whether someone responds. You made the email subject line so bland, boring, or vague that they felt zero motivation to read it.
Here are five attention-getting subject lines to use with a disser. Use the more direct options after you’ve been dissed multiple times.
Let’s say a client ignores your email about account authority forms.
1. Subject line: Second attempt: account authority forms
Body of email: Maadhav, this is my second attempt to contact you regarding the account authority forms for your mother’s account. Would you please be able to complete them so that we may fulfill your trade request by year end?
Use my two sentence rule. Say what you need and what the consequence will be if they don’t do it, and then stop writing.
2. Subject line: Response politely requested: account authority forms
Body of email: Vasilisa, I wanted to politely ask if you could please complete the account authority forms for your mother’s account? Your response is required so that we may fulfill your trade request by year end.
Make sure you include the word “politely” so it’ll make them feel ashamed for dissing somebody so nice.
Guilt trips for 500, Alex!
3. Subject line: Response required by year end: account authority forms
Body of email: Setsuko, I wanted to politely ask if you could complete the account authority forms for your mother’s account. Would you be able to complete them so that we may fulfill your trade request by year end ?
4. Subject line: Sorry to bug; this takes 3-5 minutes
Body of email: Ferenc, I know that filling out paperwork is a drag but we can’t fulfill the trades in your mother’s account with your signature. It’ll take 3-5 minutes; could you please return the forms to us by year end?
This one is to be used with a less formal type of person.
5. Subject line: London bridge will fall down unless you sign account authority forms
Body of email: Mahijuba, we’ve reached out a few times but haven’t heard back. Without the completed forms we can’t fulfill the trades by year end, as requested – could you please fill them out and return to us?
This one is the Hail Mary. Only do this as a last attempt because it is as direct as they come. They’ll laugh if they have kids/grandkids.
What if you are the disser?
Here’s what to do if you find yourself in the position of ignoring other people’s emails because you are drowning in your inbox. Don’t sing the “anthem.”
- Tell the person you can’t respond at the moment, but you will respond at a specific time (10 PM that night).
- Explain the challenge that is preventing you from responding right away (without using the anthem).
Example: “I’m not sure whether or not bitcoin fits your investment guidelines as per the IPS. I’m offsite at the moment but will check and get back to you by 3 PM tomorrow.”
You would think digital communication would make people closer. But it does the opposite most of the time. Remember the person on the other end of the screen is exactly that – a human being with complex emotions that need to be handled carefully.
There’s no scalable solution for empathy and no shortcuts. It’s a pain to do it every time but by doing so you gain a wealth of character that enriches not only your business but everyone around you.
On another note, I wanted to humbly bring a point to your attention. There are one million children in Afghanistan on the brink of starvation and facing death. I would be very appreciative if you would please consider supporting charities, monetarily or otherwise, who provide humanitarian relief to these and other starving populations.
David Miliband, president of the IRC, once said, “Tell yourself this refugee crisis is manageable, not unsolvable, and each one of us has a personal responsibility to help make it so. Because this is about the rescue of us and our values as well as the rescue of refugees and their lives.”
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to scatter meaningless clichés on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor.
TED. (2017, June 20th). The refugee crisis is a test of our character | David Miliband. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgCmT0qkfQM&t=1005s
Grillo, Sara. January 3, 2022. Do you get offended when a client or prospect ignores your email? Table. [LinkedIn post]. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/sgrillo_activity-6882690291304816640-oRVM/
Ozdoruk, Can. (2020, September 1st). Telecommunications Industry: A Full Look at the Latest Telecom Industry Trends for 2021. Netomi. https://www.netomi.