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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The 2 Times You'll Make a Better Impression if You Don't Fire Off a Quick Email Reply

Here’s something great about smartphones: Someone sends you an email, and while you’re waiting in line or in transit, you can shoot back a quick reply and check it off your list.

And now for something not so great about smartphones: They let you respond instantaneously.

Let me explain. Do you ever skim an incoming message and fire off a quick response while you’re waiting around or going from place to place? (Confession: I’ve sent emails while I was on the treadmill.)

It seems convenient, expedient—even considerate—to get back to someone ASAP. However, if your reply drops all formalities (and you’re not at that level), or worse, doesn’t answer the other person’s question; it actually makes you look bad.

So, here are the two times when waiting to send an email back will make a much better impression.

1. When You’re Asked for New Ideas

Your idea was shot down. Understandably, you want to get right back out there and show that you have lots of other great thoughts swirling around in your head. So, you type back the first that comes to mind and say, “How about we try x instead?”

However, when someone asks for new thinking, she wants you to be, well, thoughtful. And perhaps the idea that jumps to your mind will still be your top contender after you’ve finished lunch, ended the meeting you’re about to jump into, or slept on it. But it may not be—and then you’d have to follow up on your follow-up to say this time you’ve really thought it through.

So, if it’s not urgent, give yourself some time to formulate a response. Jot that initial idea down in drafts so you don’t lose it, but let yourself brainstorm so you can some up with some options.

Want to write back immediately to prove you’re on top of it? Send an email confirming receipt that says you’ll be in touch with new ideas within a given timeframe (like later that day, in 24 hours, or by the end of the week). If the other person asks for a new approach ASAP, try a line like, “Off the top of my head…” which shows that it’s a quick suggestion, not a fully fleshed-out pitch.

2. When the Other Email Is Really Long

Imagine this: You write a lengthy message touching on several delicate or complex points, and someone responds “Great!” just 30 seconds after you hit send. You’d probably wonder if the other person actually read what you wrote.

But when the roles are reversed, you might forget that feeling and be focused on efficiently managing your inbox. So, you skim a lengthy email and since nothing jumps out at you, you write back “Sounds good!” and check it off your list.

And it is good—until you realize you agreed to something you hadn’t previously discussed or have a question on one of the points.

To avoid this problem and make a better impression, employ one of the two following strategies. If you know someone wants a response back urgently, try the suggestion above—confirm receipt and share when you might be able to review the email more fully. It reads like this: “Thank so much for sending this on. I’m in meetings all morning, but will follow up more thoroughly later today.”

Strategy two is best when you’ve reviewed the email, it works for you, and your main goal is to demonstrate that even if you respond quickly, you really did read it. In this case, mention one specific thing—whether it’s that you strongly agree with point one or appreciate the update in point four. And, unless your renowned for your speed-reading skills, still give it at least few minutes.

Yes, holding off on a reply to make a better impression seems counterintuitive, because timeliness is a virtue. But, in the end, it’s easier for everyone involved if you take the time to send one thoughtful email, rather than a quick reply, a question when you later read the email in full, and a clarification once you’ve thought on it. So, cut yourself a break and give yourself the time to process it—oh, and proofread your response.

Photo of multitasking courtesy of Shutterstock.