This study explains why so many of your emails go unanswered

A new workplace study by Bahareh Sarrafzadeh of the University of Waterloo, Canada, and Ahmed Hassan Awadallah, Christopher H. Lin, Chia-Jung Lee, Milad Shokouhi, and Susan T. Dumais of Microsoft, reveals some interesting data regarding the psychology of email deferrals.

To conduct the study the team interviewed workers from various positions on the professional food chain, including product managers, researchers, software developers, and interns-all employed by Microsoft.

From being too wordy to passive unclear language to following up too frequently,  Ladders unpacks the recent workplace study to determine the headspace of the professionals that chose to put our emails on the pay no mind list.

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Why do so many emails go unanswered?

According to the survey, people delay responding to 37% of emails that require an answer. The “process of going through unhandled email and deciding what to do with it,” is what the researchers define as email triage. Email triage often promotes response procrastination.

When we receive an email, a series of questions immediately occupy our brain. If we do not have a sufficient amount of time to address these inquiries we are likely not to respond at all. Some of these questions include:

  • Do I know the answer?
  • Does this email require a task to be done?
  • What is the complexity level involved?
  • Does it require context shifting?
  • Can I handle it independently?

The study adds by saying that emails that require careful reading often go unresponded to as well, a point observed in an independent study recently reported on by Ladders. In that particular analysis, the author determined that emails that are brief, to the point and additionally intimate a quasi-familiar rapport garner better response rates.

In general, professional emails should avoid dense language and overly technical jargon. However, this new study suggests that adding a clear deadline to the body of your email can motion the right kind of urgency.

Email recipients that put off responding to emails due to anxiety will probably be annoyed by too many follow up emails, so try and make your first shot as concise as possible. Occasionally employers ignore emails simply because they assume someone else will get to them.  I don’t imagine much can be done in these instances.

“Understanding email deferral could have implications on understanding how people interact with their email and designing email clients and intelligent agents to help people with managing and organizing their messages,” conclude the authors of the study.

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