A content marketing colleague of mine, Brian Honigman, recently shared an article from NYMag that caught my attention: "Let's All Stop Apologizing For The Delayed Response In Our Emails."
I'd be lying if I said I didn't click the link initially expecting to disagree. I long prided myself of keeping my inbox close to zero, and responding to most emails fairly quickly. I've set up auto-responders for certain key words, and have drafts of common responses ready for copy/pasting. An elaborate system of tags, flags, folders and stars helps me prioritize and categorize messages for response.
I'll admit it: When the notification badge on my Gmail app hit double digits, I'd start to get stressed. But that sense of urgency had helped me gain a reputation as a fast responder.
That said, I didn't give myself a large buffer for getting this done. Every response to a message that landed in my inbox more than 24 hours before usually started with some variant of "apologies for the delayed response."
As the article points out, this reflex to apologize for what is otherwise a normal response time creates multiple problems for both the sender and the receiver. By apologizing, you start your note off on a negative note, creating a power imbalance that puts you below the sender and takes the power of out whatever statement, request or information that follows.
Most importantly, this overly apologetic behavior creates added pressure on both sides, reinforcing the belief that an immediate email response is normal and expected, and anything longer is something to be ashamed of. This belief creates unnecessary stress and pressure on both sides, setting an expectation of constant connectivity and unrealistic responsiveness.
For entrepreneurs, this can especially true. For many of us, "working hours" or "workdays" are already amorphous concepts that don't fit the typically definition. We work into the wee hours of the night, and weekends become indistinguishable from weekdays. If you're not working, you're not making money, so you're rarely unplugged.
But the fact of the matter is, few of us expect an immediate response to an email. We generally rely on other more immediate forms of communication--calls, texts, messages--for more urgent matters.
After reading the article, I've tried to adapt my behavior so I'm part of the solution, not the problem.
Expand Your Response Buffer
I no longer put pressure on myself to respond to every email immediately. If a quick response is feasible and efficient, I'll jot one off to remove it from my To Do list, but I'm no longer ashamed to let an email sit for a day or two before responding, if there's no urgent need for a response. As a result, I've been able to spend less time being reactively stuck in my inbox, and more time working more deeply on other projects, chunking email response to a specific time each day.
Buy Time With Confirmation Messages
If an email necessitates a longer response that you don't have time to get to for a while, adopt a quick and formulaic response you can copy/paste to acknowledge receipt of the request and give an estimate of when you'll be able to provide a more thorough response: "I'm going to look into this and get back to you with all the details by next week." Once you've managed expectations on a detailed response, you'll no longer feel pressured to reply immediately and you've fulfilled your obligation to notify the sender of receipt of important information.
Thank, Don't Apologize
If you feel the need to acknowledge a lengthy delay in response time, opt for a "thank you for your patience" instead of an apology. This allows you to acknowledge the delay without taking away the power in the response that follows or contributing to a power imbalance.