10 votes

It Is Your Responsibility to Follow Up

21 comments

  1. [7]
    unknown user
    Link
    Is this a joke? It is your responsibility to read your email. I have not really had to follow up an email to an institution to this day, and if it was some random guy, well, the chance is lost....

    Is this a joke? It is your responsibility to read your email. I have not really had to follow up an email to an institution to this day, and if it was some random guy, well, the chance is lost. Also, in my experience, stuff like this is really rare. Even when I've written to complete strangers they've kindly responded.

    9 votes
    1. kfwyre
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I absolutely agree with the ideal, but in practice I've had to use the follow-up strategy multiple times. I've had run-around issues with both higher education and government bureaucracy in...

      I absolutely agree with the ideal, but in practice I've had to use the follow-up strategy multiple times.

      I've had run-around issues with both higher education and government bureaucracy in particular. My rule is that anything after my first contact creates a "chain" of communication from my end, and each time I initiate a new communication, I simply list all the links of the chain right at the beginning. I do this until they get back to me.

      For example, my first point of contact might be an e-mail. Depending on how time-sensitive my need is, I'll usually wait a couple of days, and I'll send a follow-up. The follow-up will begin with "I first e-mailed on [date] and am following up, as I have not heard back."

      I wish I could say this was effective, but generally speaking my chain will have to get several links before I get a response. Three is usually the point at which someone will actually get back to me, but I've gone much higher. The nice thing is that the longer the chain gets, the more pressure it puts on the respondent. Sitting through a voicemail that lists "I first e-mailed on [date], followed-up with an e-mail on [date], called and left a message on [date], and am calling again today on [date]" is quite uncomfortable for the listener, but there's an easy way to alleviate that discomfort: TALK TO ME.

      As soon as I actually get a response the chain has served its purpose, so I usually break it. The only times I keep it going are when I need to for the purposes of reinforcing a certain outcome (e.g. someone finally talked to me but it was the wrong person, or someone finally talked to me but something was still in process, etc.). I also give lots of time for the person to adequately respond between each chance, so I'm not extending my chain hour by hour but instead, week by week, or if something is slightly more time-sensitive, day by day.

      Doing things this way shows that I'm patient but not overlookable, as I'm not going away. It also shows I mean business, as I've got a paper trail. Furthermore, because my messages aren't always going to the same person but often dissolve into a faceless institution, it lets any one individual who is getting my correspondence know the history of my attempts and that they are not the first point of contact.

      I fully realize this tactic is passive-aggressive and honestly, a bit tacky. Nobody likes hearing that they've dropped the ball, and they definitely don't like hearing that they've dropped the ball several times in a row. Honestly though, it's the best way I've found to get results. I make myself a justifiably squeaky wheel so that I can get the grease.

      6 votes
    2. aphoenix
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Agreed. What if people just read their fucking email and dealt with things like grownups... I said, while ignoring 140 unread emails. (admittedly most of them are pull request notifications) Jokes...

      Agreed. What if people just read their fucking email and dealt with things like grownups... I said, while ignoring 140 unread emails. (admittedly most of them are pull request notifications)

      Jokes aside, I agree completely. It's one's own responsibility to read one's email, and if you're the sort of person who gets 100K email a month, then maybe a system is required for dealing with it. Start filtering out the things that you don't deal with, and then it doesn't have to be a lottery to see who wins a reply; you can just reply.

      5 votes
    3. [4]
      evrim
      Link Parent
      I'm honestly really surprised with all the comments I'm seeing in this thread. Even though I'm not the author of the article, I generally agree with what he says. Of course in an ideal world,...

      I'm honestly really surprised with all the comments I'm seeing in this thread. Even though I'm not the author of the article, I generally agree with what he says.

      Of course in an ideal world, everybody would color-code their e-mails by importance, and respond with a succinct "I'm not interested," whenever they are not interested, but we don't live in an ideal world.

      If you are contacting someone who is (and I regret to use this term but it's the reality) "higher up in the food chain" than you, chances are there are so many others that are trying to get that person's attention. This is just basic supply and demand. There is so much demand for their attention, and the supply is limited.

      Let me tell you the story of a friend who sold his startup a few years ago. When he first started his startup, he had to get banks on board to make his idea work. Now, in an ideal world, he'd just e-mail them a proposal, show them how their banks would benefit from what he was doing, and they'd respond to his proposal with a well-thought response. Well, as you can imagine, the reality was far from that. He had to send countless e-mails, follow up a million times, make hundreds of phone calls. He even had to show up at the office of these bank executives for meetings they scheduled and not showed up for hours at times. Now, he could have sent a few e-mails and give up after not getting a response. His ego could be too fragile to wait for these executives when they didn't keep their promises, but he pushed through all of that, made a positive change in the region, and reaped the benefits.

      The universe owes us nothing. We can just say "it's not fair," and give up, but anyone rational knows that the ones who change the world are the ones who push through all this "unfairness."

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        unknown user
        Link Parent
        (Before all, I notice that my tone was a bit harsh in my original comment, I'm sorry, it was a reaction to the article itself, not you.) Totally agree, in practice, if you really have to, you...

        (Before all, I notice that my tone was a bit harsh in my original comment, I'm sorry, it was a reaction to the article itself, not you.)

        Totally agree, in practice, if you really have to, you follow up. In my experience mailing with FOSS maintainers and people of various ranks of academia in different universities, I've almost never had to follow up, but actually today I've sent my second (and last) follow up for a job offer (a publisher came to me with a translation offer, now they are ghosting me). This was probably the first time I had to do this, in more than a decade an a half for which I've been using email.

        My thing with this article is that it might be a necessary chore in some cases to follow up, but it is not a responsibility at all. It is a chore because others are irresponsible.

        7 votes
        1. evrim
          Link Parent
          No worries, no offense taken! As @Rez mentioned in his response to my comment, this really depends on the context and the power dynamics. Whenever I can choose, I'd choose to ignore someone who...

          No worries, no offense taken!

          As @Rez mentioned in his response to my comment, this really depends on the context and the power dynamics. Whenever I can choose, I'd choose to ignore someone who requires me to follow up multiple times, as I'm clearly not a priority to them, but we don't always get to choose.

          So, I also think that the advice doesn't cover every single scenario. The title is a little bit click-baity, but I still believe that the article itself is generally good advice.

          1 vote
      2. [2]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. evrim
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I definitely agree with what you're saying. I personally wouldn't want to call someone whom I need to follow up with multiple times to meet a friend. So, it is definitely context-dependent. It...

          I definitely agree with what you're saying. I personally wouldn't want to call someone whom I need to follow up with multiple times to meet a friend. So, it is definitely context-dependent.

          It really all boils down to the power dynamics, and how badly you want/need the thing you're trying to get (pragmatically speaking of course).

          1 vote
  2. [10]
    NaraVara
    Link
    This seems more like an essay about how the signal to noise ratio on using email as a method of communication is horrible. If important people getting to important action items is based on how...

    This seems more like an essay about how the signal to noise ratio on using email as a method of communication is horrible.

    If important people getting to important action items is based on how pushy that items owner happens to be, then you’ve got some serious issues in how you’re managing your organization.

    8 votes
    1. [4]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      Agreed. The unfortunate reality is that, without effort, e-mail will become incredibly noisy. I feel like part of this is because it wears two hats: interpersonal communication and notification...

      Agreed. The unfortunate reality is that, without effort, e-mail will become incredibly noisy. I feel like part of this is because it wears two hats: interpersonal communication and notification feed.

      My personal e-mail is essentially only a notification feed. Rarely does any actual communication happen through it (as that's almost all through texting now), so all I get are things like receipts for digital purchases, statement notifications from my bank, etc.

      My work e-mail is a combination of both. Some of it is genuine communication, while some of it is simply the noise from services that I use. I'm pretty big on "Inbox Zero," but it takes a lot of effort and vigilance. Almost everyone I know is amazed when they see that my work inbox is either empty or close to it, as theirs often have thousands of unread messages.

      A lot of this is because every single service wants you on their newsletter or will send you endless "nudges" like a needy child. At some point the trickle of noise grows to a flow, and with enough time to build up, the easiest and most time-efficient task is simply to give in and ignore it. Very few people I work with know about filtering/blocking senders, unsubscribing from newsletters, or even archiving/deleting e-mails. Most simply scan the list of e-mails in the same way they might look at an internet forum or store shelf--ignoring the majority and clicking only on the ones directly relevant or interesting to them.

      Unfortunately, in treating things this way, it's incredibly easy for individual e-mails to get lost in the noise. While I'm a firm believer that it's my responsibility to respond to every e-mail I need to, I also realize that most of the people I'm working with will likely need the follow-ups mentioned in the article.

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        NaraVara
        Link Parent
        Yeah. I’m pretty diligent about unsubscribing to everything. The services seem to “lose track” of my unsubscriptions though, and I find myself somehow reenrolled every few years. I’ve also become...

        Yeah. I’m pretty diligent about unsubscribing to everything. The services seem to “lose track” of my unsubscriptions though, and I find myself somehow reenrolled every few years.

        I’ve also become so habituated to instantly deleting stuff I don’t need to reference again that I accidentally end up deleting tons of things I meant to keep. It’s almost muscle memory now to insta-delete.

        My wife is the opposite. She literally has over 10k unread emails and it drives me nuts every time I see her phone. She won’t even let me filter out all the solicitation emails.

        I’ve done this to my snail mail too, where I’ve actually called up most of the junk mail solicitations and asked them to stop. They’re only occasionally inclined to follow up though, even though it’s a legal requirement. It’s immensely frustrating how much cognitive load I have to dedicate just to not deal with these attention thieves.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          Akir
          Link Parent
          I honestly wonder if it would be worthwhile to sue these companies who do not comply. They need to be kept accountable. Then again, it seems that most of my email inbox traffic seems to be from...

          The services seem to “lose track” of my unsubscriptions though, and I find myself somehow reenrolled every few years.

          I honestly wonder if it would be worthwhile to sue these companies who do not comply. They need to be kept accountable.

          Then again, it seems that most of my email inbox traffic seems to be from spammers, so corporate emails are not actually that bad. At least relatively. The good news is that everyone's using pretty advanced spam filtration these days, so most users only have to deal with the corporate trash.

          1. NaraVara
            Link Parent
            What’s probably happening is that I’m ending up being re-enrolled through whatever mysterious process enrolled me the first time. It would just be some checkbox or auto-enrollment when I shop at...

            What’s probably happening is that I’m ending up being re-enrolled through whatever mysterious process enrolled me the first time. It would just be some checkbox or auto-enrollment when I shop at the store or something.

            1 vote
    2. [5]
      vektor
      Link Parent
      How about a self-reported importance meta-data field in email? That would help clarify what is urgent and what is mostly just... fluff. The receiving inbox could of course treat that info however...

      How about a self-reported importance meta-data field in email? That would help clarify what is urgent and what is mostly just... fluff. The receiving inbox could of course treat that info however necessary.

      Ahh, who am I kidding. Every email would just have maximum priority, in an arms race against other people.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. vektor
          Link Parent
          Well, the idea is that it helps you clear your queue faster by affirming your hunch to disregard some mail completely.

          Well, the idea is that it helps you clear your queue faster by affirming your hunch to disregard some mail completely.

      2. NaraVara
        Link Parent
        People would just promote all theirs to maximum importance and send you a read receipt request. So it just ends up being extra noise.

        People would just promote all theirs to maximum importance and send you a read receipt request. So it just ends up being extra noise.

        1 vote
      3. anowlcalledjosh
        Link Parent
        Ahaha. Ha. This is already a thing in Outlook, and it's exactly as useless as you describe. The problem is that the sender is not capable of determining an email's importance to me.

        Ahaha. Ha. This is already a thing in Outlook, and it's exactly as useless as you describe.

        The problem is that the sender is not capable of determining an email's importance to me.

        1 vote
      4. Akir
        Link Parent
        There kind of already is something like this. There is an extension that allows you to mark an email as "urgent", and another one that requests your email client send a receipt when you've opened...

        There kind of already is something like this. There is an extension that allows you to mark an email as "urgent", and another one that requests your email client send a receipt when you've opened the email. Most email clients support these extensions.

        The good thing is that those emails are very rare. On the other hand, I tend to dismiss emails with those features because they tend to be from assholes.

        1 vote
  3. Photon
    Link
    Whilst this is absolutely good advice, I also find that there are strategies people can take but people aren't taking that would help them not forget (and need to be reminded over and over) about...

    Whilst this is absolutely good advice, I also find that there are strategies people can take but people aren't taking that would help them not forget (and need to be reminded over and over) about the things they care about. Now, I do mean the things they do actually want to respond to and just forget, not everything else.

    They can be simple habits even, take the example where someone read an email on their phone and decided they would like to follow up when they were back at their workstation, then forgot. Make a reminder via your phone's voice assistant. I do this all the time, just a "remind me when I get to the office to respond to John's email" or "remind me in 3 hours..." or even "remind me tomorrow at 2pm" and if the time isn't right when the reminder goes off, set another one. If this happens multiple times, it's probably not that important to you and you should drop it anyway.

    Yes people are disorganised and you should always be following up with people. But they don't have to be, and after a certain point if it's that bad, they need a personal assistant. I think many people wait too long to get a PA when they really do need one.

    Finally, for personal relationships, if it's so one sided where you have to email someone 10 times to get them to have a coffee with you, and the opposite wouldn't be true, I would just accept that this friend doesn't have time for our friendship, and that's ok, people don't have to be friends with everyone, I just believe there's a moral issue if you're constantly making your friends do all of the work in the relationship.

    3 votes
  4. Algernon_Asimov
    Link
    If someone can't be bothered organising their inbox, reading their emails, and replying to necessary correspondence... are they really going to be helpful to me? That doesn't seem like the kind of...

    If someone can't be bothered organising their inbox, reading their emails, and replying to necessary correspondence... are they really going to be helpful to me? That doesn't seem like the kind of person who's going to be able to get anything done for themself, let alone for me.

    I'm not going to reduce myself to being some desperate stalker-type just to get the attention of someone who can't be bothered with something as simple as organising their inbox.

    3 votes
  5. Shahriar
    Link
    I can't imagine having all that clutter of useless junk being sent to my email address. Even my spam accounts wouldn't accrue that much at all! In this day and age if you take 4 emails to respond...

    I can't imagine having all that clutter of useless junk being sent to my email address. Even my spam accounts wouldn't accrue that much at all! In this day and age if you take 4 emails to respond to, I can't fathom why I would spend that much effort to begin with.

    2 votes
  6. cptcobalt
    Link
    I encountered this post earlier this morning. While reading, it quickly provoked me to follow up on threads I had been thinking about but assumed were dropped/ignored/etc. Within 20 minutes I got...

    I encountered this post earlier this morning. While reading, it quickly provoked me to follow up on threads I had been thinking about but assumed were dropped/ignored/etc. Within 20 minutes I got a reply to one of the emails, so...yeah, I guess the author has a point. As an extremely anxious person, sending more than one unnecessary message just absolutely twists up my insides, but I guess it's worth it.

    His screenshotted examples, however, are quite cringeworthy. Subscribe to my mailing list spam? No thanks.