This question relates to this question I asked about a week ago.

The long story short is, as a part of an initiative to gain visability over what various members of our distributed team were doing, I was trying to get the ball rolling on a weekly email to all team members reporting what we'd been up to/what their role is. I'd asked some seniors to quickly fill out a two sentence type report.

Now, as people in the comments pointed out, this might not have been appropriate on my part, being a junior member of the team, and 'tail wagging the dog'.

While one of the seniors happily obliged, another didn't, even after a follow up email.

I finally caught her in person, and she said 'No, I don't think it's appropriate' (without telling me why), but agreed that I could send the email off without including her.

In the comments of the previous question, one person writes "Honestly, I wouldn't respond to your email for a status update either.".

The question is - is not replying to emails an effective, and professional manner of communicating in the workplace?

Or would it be better to reply with something like 'I'm not going to answer this request because abc'?

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    in the US, the polite way of saying I'm not going to answer is by not answering. Also known as taking a hint. Trust me everyone saw your e-mail. Dec 13, 2013 at 1:58
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    Not answering does not 'communicate' anything. It leaves it to the interpretation of the sender. And I doubt that 'not answering' is polite even in the US.
    – user8036
    Dec 13, 2013 at 8:06
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    Your problem is basically that you didn't get everyone together to discuss whether the status emails were a good idea in the first place. Face to face or at least on the phone is the best way to discuss "Hey I have this idea..." things, not email. Then you'd get the feedback you want. Just sending the email and expecting everyone to jump on board is at best irritating, especially coming from a junior, and that is probably why you are feeling resistance. Dec 13, 2013 at 9:42
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    @JanDoggen, I don't consider not answering an email a polite or professional communication strategy, but it is very common in the US. So maybe there's a memo I didn't get. Dec 13, 2013 at 16:37
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    Responding to things that are a waste of time is a waste of time unless the time to continuously delete them exceeds the time to request you stop for whatever reason.
    – user8365
    Dec 13, 2013 at 16:52

4 Answers 4


The question is - is not replying to emails an effective, and professional manner of communicating in the workplace?

You are addressing the wrong core problem here.

The reason it's ineffective is because you are writing emails which can be easily ignored. This answer does a wonderful job talking through some strategies to help avoid this, but generally:

  • Make your email clear and concise
  • Make it easy to respond to
  • Make it clear what implications of responding/not responding are

In your case, it sounds like your email violated all three of these. It was suggesting a process change for your team without them being on board, required some effort/thinking to condense current project work, and was more of a "hey wouldn't this be cool!" type email.

Your primary problem this time was sending an email when you should have have first had a conversation/etc to get buy-in for the idea.

But to respond to this question again:

is not replying to emails an effective, and professional manner of communicating in the workplace?

Yes, it can be. You can even write emails in such a way to allow this. I have sent some emails to busy people along the lines of, "Let me know if this is something you'd be willing to do" and as a result a non-response is exactly the appropriate response. Note I do not do this for emails which I actually need a response to.

But ignoring poorly written/thought through emails is a way of life for some busy people. It's more effective to do this than spending all day responding to tons of email from people who can't be bothered to put forth effort to make it easy to deal with. Many get 100+ emails a day (and probably someone will comment saying they wish they only got 100). If each of those requires several minutes on average to read, process, and respond, you're looking at hours of time and this means you don't get actual work done.

For those people, ignoring non-critical "what do you think?" or otherwise not-clear/actionable emails can in fact be the only way to effectively get work done during a day. They probably correctly figure if it's important enough someone will followup again in person/IM/phone and if not? Well, it clearly wasn't worth their time to respond.

If you have time, spend it practicing writing actionable emails. This is quite difficult and unfortunately not a common skill. For the sake of everyone receiving email, please, learn this skill.

  • This goes so far that you can even prepare the available answers e.g. ask for 'Yes','No','Counterproposal'.
    – user8036
    Dec 13, 2013 at 8:09
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    @JanDoggen I sometimes (rarely, but still) go even further than that, ie besides preparing available answers I write something like "I plan to act assuming your answer is No - please correct if this is wrong"
    – gnat
    Dec 18, 2013 at 18:00

"Yes - sometimes"

Realize here that not all emails are created equal. Nor are all corporate cultures. The mileage varies radically on a case by case scenarios.

I'd say the best estimate would be that not responding is a totally valid option when:

  • There will be little impact to the relationship/working culture of the office
  • There will be little impact to the work at hand

This IS a place where the hierarchy and formality of the culture matter a great deal. Also, the amount of email overload and expected time delays in the culture have a certain impact. "Not responding" really means "hasn't responded yet" - there's always tomorrow.

Here's some example of how much the mileage varies...

Required when:

  • Mail from a boss to his person asking for direct action and response - almost never is it OK to skip this. However, there's often an unspoken expected time frame that varies significantly.

  • Mail from almost anyone with a legitimate reason to ask for a response that will directly impact productivity - this has to be specific, it really has to be legitimate in both the eyes of the sender and receiver. When I say direct, I mean that it has to be a fairly clear and specific request and the lack of the information has to actually block activity. If you could learn the information by another means, if you could take a guess and be 80% correct, if you could figure it out for yourself - then this probably isn't a "direct impact". Examples of direct impact - "Please give me formal approval on this activity", "Please let me know this non-public, privileged information so I can do this thing correctly". These are places where you probably need to set the deadline for response so the receiver knows the condition for success.

  • Mail where the answer will save the receiver a massive amount of work for a trivial amount of work on the sender's part - an obvious one - "please send me your name, address and meal preference" - I may be able to find this by other means. It may not make much difference - but the person responding knows this in about 10 seconds and it'll take anyone else more time to research it.

Totally professional to ignore when:

  • The information to relayed is deemed optional for the receiver
  • There is more pressing business - in a world of 500 emails a day, it's expected that recipients will triage and figure out a priority scheme.
  • The time required to respond greatly exceeds the value of providing the response.

Status/Activities from Superior to Junior

I notice that this is the point of your original issue. This would very likely fall into that last bullet - "The time required to respond greatly exceeds the value of providing the response." I know you said in one of your questions that you were clear that a few quick words was all that was required. The challenge is - this is not a case where the length of the response is correlated to the time it will take. In a busy office, getting your job function and current activities down to a few quick words in a way that the reader will understand can easily take longer than blathering on incomprehensibly for 100s of words. Also - it's quite possible that in the mind of the receiver, having this information will not give you much valuable insight in doing your job. Or, at the very least, the receiver is entirely unclear on what the benefit to you will be.

I've seen plenty of cases where a senior team member will respond to a junior team member with all sorts of useful information on how to do the work at hand, tips, tricks and rules for success, and all other sorts of instructions - this information is quick to right, or often highly reusable, as it doesn't need to be re-written for each new team member.

Much more difficult is to render a description of job function and current status in only a few words when the job is complex and takes some background to understand. Person to person transmission (on the phone or in in-person meetings) is of much higher quality and better value on this particular topic.


You asked: "The question is - is not replying to emails an effective, and professional manner of communicating in the workplace?"

Throw me a stone, but i think it's not effective. Here is why.

Effective means "Having the power to produce a required effect or effects.". Considering that the senior that did not answered your e-mail wanted you to stop wasting her time with e-mails, simply not answering the e-mails wont solve the problem. Not answering the e-mail will not produce the effect necessary to do what she wanted - for you stop sending a not "appropriate" e-mail, or to communicate that she does not agree to what you are doing.

I saw a lot of folks ignoring e-mails, for as Enderland said on his answer (A good one, but i do not entirely agree), because they are e-mail that can be ignored. See the word ignore here. You are ignoring a e-mail someone is sending to you about the job you are beign paid to do. It's not your job to spend time answering e-mail, but many companies policies include for you to answer your e-mails daily.

So, i have seen for three times now in my current company the situation where someone ignore a bad written e-mail... and get backfired. Because even if poorly written, it was something related to the job, and when in a meeting, and the manager asked about how the team was doing, that e-mail that was ignored had something that became important. Like a possible refactor of a entire class because someone didn't read and answered that e-mail.

But my answer DOES NOT MEAN you have to write better e-mails. I totally agree that there are others problems involved. But i just don't agree that it is effective to ignore the e-mails you receive. They won't stop coming just because you ignore then.

EDIT: As Amy pointed out, i did not suggested a possible course of action to OP. My suggestion is pretty simple: See if in the next team meeting, you can revive this idea. Make a better plan. Create a simple example on how this can help with communication and visibility. And have your leader approval. This is something that will not work with the stick, but will work with the candy. Find a way for the team to want to do the report, not feel obliged and bored to it. But first, think about enderland answer. He really gave some points, but as i stated before, i would not agree with everything.

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    Maybe this answer points to a possibly bad question. You're right, but there's not much in your answer for the OP to act on. Dec 13, 2013 at 16:48
  • You're right on that @AmyBlankenship. I'm sorry for that. I shall edit it later to add a possible solution. Thanks for the feedback. +1
    – Hugo Rocha
    Dec 13, 2013 at 16:53

To answer the question: Not answering a request from a junior partner for a status update may mean one of two things: 'Don't waste my time', or 'I'm not doing anything, therefore I have nothing to share'. Depending on that atmosphere of the office, 'the less said the better' - in some cases people avoid communication in order to avoid stirring things up.

One becomes curious as to motives: why are you doing this?

If I was on a team of developers, say from five to seven, and the junior member of the team was proposing that we send out weekly status updates, I might reply, but it wouldn't necessarily be a status update.

Communication among team members needs to be focused on you/me dependencies, not 'overall' something. In short, if you're working on a web service and I'm modifying the sprocs that those web services are dependent on, you and I need to talk. If you're working on summary reports and I'm working on form entry, there's little to discuss.

One of the things people were told in the 1970s is that if you wanted to be a manager dress like a manager, so we had a suit working in the same offices as coders. Most of us were scruffy, so it stood out that this guy was in a coat and tie. I didn't see much evidence of him getting a promotion, dress or no dress.

Similarly, if you are trying to 'act like a manager' it sends an irritating signal to your co-workers. If you are a 'team player' the absolute best thing you can do is produce deliverables the rest of the team needs. Some of these are assigned, but some might emerge from one-on-one conversations. If you happen to become a source of tools that simplify other's work, your team members (and manager) will have a lot of respect for you.

If you're an organizational climber, you need to read up on Lyndon Johnson or Dwight Eisenhower. They weren't focused on their 'teams', they were 100% focused on the needs of their immediate and upper level bosses. They spent their lives learning a lot about the people around them - not by asking for stuff, but by learning what these people were really like.

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    This answer doesn't address the question, which is about whether not replying to emails is effective communication or not.
    – user10911
    Dec 13, 2013 at 2:40
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    @geekrunnings - As usual, I'm trying to explore the motives of someone doing what the OP is doing in the first place. Another question is 'included by reference'. Overall, the OP is operating 'outside of normal organizational reporting roles', so one then becomes interested in motives. Dec 13, 2013 at 2:44
  • @MeredithPoor Someone might be "acting like a manager" because she sees the need for change and is trying to do something to achieve that rather than sitting around and waiting for it to happen. Or she could have a healthy ignorance of/disregard for the constraints of job title. It's possible another organization might appreciate this more, or it's possible she needs to allow herself to be crammed into her box if she wants to be a productive worker bee. Not everyone is capable of this though. Dec 13, 2013 at 16:46
  • @AmyBlankenship - Most shops could probably be doing things better - no doubt in my mind. Most often such leadership needs to occur by example - here's how I do this more efficiently than anyone else has so far, and 'there isn't much to it'. Attempting to create work for others that may not even need to be done is counter-productive. Dec 13, 2013 at 20:00
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    That seems to me to be exactly what she was trying to do--here's how I think we should do this and there isn't much to it. I've seen situations where the boss has expressed or implied a desire for something to happen, and then only one person steps up and does it, whereas the remaining team members essentially ignore that desire. Some people need more explicitness from management than others. The OP didn't say that the initiative to gain visibility was her initiative, just that she was trying to get the ball rolling. Dec 13, 2013 at 20:26

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