Email etiquette has some unwritten rules. One is that when you send an email asking a question, you expect to receive a reply.

Reality, however, is often very different from etiquette expectations.

For instance, how many times have you sent an email that requires your reader to respond, and you never hear from them?

You ask a question, you wait for an answer. And you wait. And wait.

Finally, you end up calling them, or tracking them down in the break room, or following them out to the parking lot. And you’re left feeling like a cross between a stalker and a nagging parent who’s hounding your kid into doing his homework.

Lately, I seem to experience the email waiting game a lot. And I’m getting pretty frustrated with it.

I’m trying different techniques – keeping my emails short and sweet; putting the deadline in the subject line; bolding the sentence that requires a response; marking the email “Urgent.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And then the stalk-nagging begins.

I think this phenomenon of non-response is a symptom of a larger problem – information overload.

We’re constantly bombarded with messages. Between our computers, tablets, and phones, we’re always connected and always available. At a certain point, people have to check out and stop the madness. There’s really only so much we can take.

There’s also the volume factor. Your email is probably one of hundreds of electronic communications that your reader may receive in a day. It might not be that your reader is consciously choosing to ignore you, it may be that your message simply got buried in the avalanche.

I try to practice what I preach and respond to emails in a timely fashion. For me, I find it’s often most productive to respond immediately, while the message is open in front of me and foremost in my mind. But I confess that I also let days go by before responding to some messages, and yes, I’ve even totally flaked and not gotten back to people. At all.

None of us are perfect. But if I could wave my magic email wand, here’s what I’d wish for:

  • Don’t leave me hanging. Respond to my question, or meeting request, or plea for some piece of information.
  • Please understand that I’m asking because I need to know, not because I’m trying to make your life more difficult or waste your time.
  • It’s a two-way street. If you respond to me, I’ll respond to you. Promise.
  • And if it’s easier for you to pick up the phone and call me, or grab me in the break room, or follow me out to the parking lot, that’s cool, too. In fact, sometimes it’s faster and more productive to just talk about whatever it is instead of firing emails off into the void and then waiting for a response. We can likely accomplish in five minutes of conversation what might take five very frustrating days of email tag to get done.

Ultimately, I think trying to live by the Email Golden Rule – respond unto others as quickly as you want them to respond unto you – is something we should all try a little harder to do. It’ll save us all a lot of frustration and stalk-nagging.

Are you feeling like a stalk-nagger? How do you handle the situation? Post a comment and let us know!