I am frustrated with how people treat email. There have been several times lately where important communications are sent by email. And I haven’t gotten them. And no one’s bothered to figure out why. And I haven’t found out until after the fact that there’s a problem—its hard to know that you’re not getting emails that you don’t know are on the way.
Let’s get something straight folks: email is not two-way communication. Sending an email is like shouting into wild blue yonder and hoping someone’s around to hear you. Unless you get a response, you don’t know that your message was even received. And you have no control over when the message is read. If you have something important to say, and want to make sure the other person heard you, and in a timely manner, you will have to demand a response, or follow up with an actual communication. Like a phone call.
See, much as I hate phones, they have an upside. If you dial, and the other end rings endlessly, then you know that your call did not go through. Unlike a misspelled email address where you never see that “undeliverable” message from your mail server. And if you only get an answering machine, you might get a clue as to whether you’ve actually reached the correct person. But best of all, when you connect and actually speak to the person on the other end, then you know that they heard your words.
I wrote last week about how neurotic I was about Charlotte’s first soccer practice, where I hadn’t heard bupkis from the coach beforehand. I even called the school and was given vague reassurances, but no actual problem solving. Last night, after her second practice, I asked when we’d get a copy of the game schedule, and her coach looked surprised. Turns out he’d emailed it several days ago. Turns out, he’s been emailing since July 30. Luckily he had his roster, including email addresses on it, and I could see immediately that someone had mistyped mine.
The dumb thing is, that email address has our last name in it. As in “TheSmiths.net” (Not ‘Smith’, but I don’t feel like publishing our family domain at the moment) And someone had misspelled “Smith”. Right next to Charlotte’s last name, which was spelled correctly. I would have thought that, having misspelled the domain name of the email address, that his mail server would have told him it was garbage at least once. But, it didn’t. And since I had no way of knowing that he was emailing me, and he never requested a reply to check his list, then neither of us knew there was a problem.
But I did know there was a problem. I had called the school, to the only contact I had, and no one bothered to look into it. I’m guessing the message didn’t get passed to the team coach, or he might have wondered why I wasn’t reading all of the emails that were answering all of the exact questions that I had, and he might have double-checked the email address.
The other email incident lately involved the correct email address, but a time limit. I had entered part of one of my manuscripts in a writing contest, and managed to submit something that was too long (OpenOffice and Word apparently disagree on the finer points of formatting, but that’s a different story). I got a response from the contest coordinator, requesting that I resubmit within 24 hours. The problem was, that email came on Charlotte’s birthday (the same day I was being neurotic about soccer), to an address I don’t see at work. In fact, I only check that address about 3 times a week (I’d love to write full time, but…). Despite the time limit, they used email and assumed that I would see it and be able to respond. Luckily, someone did call two days later, and gave me the opportunity to fix the submission (which I did, first thing thing the next morning, and then checked that email address for the first time all week).
If something is important or has a time constraint, call. If you are establishing an email distribution list for the first time and you’re typing in email addresses, ask for a reply on the first message, and follow up (by phone) to any who don’t reply. And it never hurts to hand out a hard copy of your contact information, so that people can contact you with questions.