Why No Answer is an Ineffective Answer
But I am not certain that this would work and, following my own advice, I give an explicit response. No, not answering is definitely not a good idea because it causes confusion, misunderstandings, frustration and anger. Clearing just the confusion usually takes more time than answering the message would have. Sometimes the consequences of the frustration and anger are never resolved.
Let's suppose that Anne asks Brian if he is available for a meeting on a certain date.The next day there is no response from Brian. What does this mean? Does it mean "no"? Or does it mean that Brian never received the message? Or does it mean that he replied but the message went to the spam folder? Or does it mean that he is not sure and will reply later? The problem is that you don't know, so most likely you have to send a reminder or call to ask. Either way if Brian hoped to save some time by not typing a five word email then he ends up spending more time answering followup messages and phone calls.
Giving no answer even has a name, the California No, because of its alleged use in California to say no without giving offense. There are actually many better ways of saying no politely and gently; ignoring messages is not one of these. A polite and empathetic rejection is not only more effective, it is also good for your reputation. When job applications are rejected most unsuccessful candidates still have a positive opinion of companies that write a polite rejection letter and they have a fairly neutral opinion of the companies that respond with a neutral letter, but they always have a very negative impression of companies that simply leave them hanging there, having to work out after a few weeks that there never will be a response.
It is the uncertainty that breeds bad feelings. If you respond to a message with a brief but friendly no then the matter is usually closed and everyone can move on. Send no response and the exchange remains open, annoying the other person every morning that they check their mail and see no response.
Clearly you don't need to send a polite response to every mail. Obvious spams can be ignored without regret, and anything creepy or offensive should be deleted immediately, but for everything else remember that a brief, polite answer is the best way to close the issue and allow everyone to get on with their work.
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Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan delivers lectures and workshops about communication including a popular half-day workshop "Effective Email in a Global Business" which introduces people to the essential techniques to make email communication more productive and less stressful. He also does one-to-one coaching and writing about communication. For more details you can email him on firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also read more on his website http://andrewhennigan.com.