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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The 5 Kinds of Email Personalities That Show Up in Every Inbox

In the world of email overload, is it really a surprise that our personalities make their way into how we respond to messages?

Perhaps your boss, the one who makes you wonder if injectable espresso is a thing, is able to zing back a reply within seconds of you hitting “send”—causing you to wonder, once again, if he’s ever spent a moment unplugged.

While you love the immediacy of his responses, you also know that you can’t adopt his style, despite your best intentions. And that’s because you’re a methodical and steady person—which translates into to your even-paced inbox persona.

Interested in where you fall in the world of email personalities? Here are the five most common types you’ll come across in any inbox. Perhaps you’ll see yourself?

1. The Speed Demon

You’re known as the person who never leaves anyone hanging—not even for an hour (unless you’re at lunch, of course, but even then, your eyes are glued to your phone). As soon as an email comes in, you’re on it, zipping out a response.

While it’s great that you’re on top of your messages, if you’re using it as a substitute for real work you’re avoiding, that’s a problem. It’s satisfying to clear out a queue, but if you’re still entrenched in your inbox eight hours later, you may be addicted to completing the easy task of shooting out responses, rather than diving into the real work that requires real brainpower.

2. The Ghoster

Oh, how I’d love to say “ghosting” only exists in dating, but the truth is, this practice is quite common in professional circles as well; in fact, it’s been going on as long as we’ve been corresponding with one another. But now, with all things digital and, therefore, immediate, you can’t blame your lack of a response on a missing mail truck or even a bad dial-up connection—these just aren’t legit excuses.

You’re guilty of ghosting if you’re the person who’d rather leave emails—especially ones you’re not sure how to answer—to languish in your inbox. Don’t fool yourself in thinking that anyone’s buying your “I accidentally left it in the drafts folder,” justification.

So I’ll say what your co-workers probably wish they could tell you: Any response, (well almost any) is better than total radio silence. Even a quick, “Got your message, working on the details!” note is better than leaving your team wondering if their question fell into a complete black hole.

3. The Accidental Includer

There’s always something in the news about a reply-all situation with catastrophic results. And if you’re guilty of this once or twice, no big deal.

But, when you loop your team into everything you receive, without verifying whether it’s actually relevant to your co-workers, you risk not only annoying your colleagues, but also losing your relevance.

While it’s diligent and careful of you to try to include everyone all the time, consider the fact that many people would rather be brought up to speed later, when it’s necessary for them to actually contribute.

4. The Absentee

Maybe you like having an air of mystery regarding your whereabouts. Or maybe you’re simply habitually guilty of forgetting to turn your auto-responder on and off. Whichever it is, your frequent vacations, sick days, or vaguely defined absences are making your colleagues jealous, frustrated, or completely fed up. When co-workers see that auto-response—again!—they’re forced to skip asking for your input and move on to the next person.

If you want to grow the trust and respect of your colleagues, do yourself a favor and think twice before putting up a superfluous out-of-office reply. Maybe your fix is tailoring the message to your exact situation, and keeping the auto-responder “on” date range to an absolute minimum.

5. The Mistake-Maker

“Oops, sorry! Here’s the attachment.”

Sound familiar? Maybe you’re just quick on the trigger and can’t help firing off an email, only to realize later you forgot an essential step that you’re reminded of when six of your co-workers ping you for the slide deck you forgot to add.

And, you often find yourself with 65 different email chains because you forgot to answer two out of three of your supervisor’s questions, or left the last question on the HR survey blank.

A need for speed should be checked at the proverbial door when you’re knocking out those replies. Just because you’re trying to head out the door, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to rush and subsequently churn out sloppy replies. Do your co-workers (and your inbox) a favor, and triple check that you answered every question, and attached all relevant documents before shooting out a reply.

So, maybe you made it through this list and you can name a co-worker (or boss) for every type, but not yourself. Well, congrats! You’ve avoided some of the more common habits, and that’s reason to pat yourself on the back.

But, before you completely let yourself off the hook, don’t forget about some smaller things that may make you look inadvertently less confident or more rude than you intend. Nobody expects you to be an email superstar, but there’s plenty of reason to try to improve, especially after you notice your own flawed habits.

Photo of person on laptop courtesy of Sam Edwards/Getty Images.