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Read Receipts - Just Say No!


A Read Receipt is a small, auto-generated email that your email program sends, on your behalf, when you open a new email for the first time where that email's sender has requested to be notified when you have opened their email.
That was a mouthful!
Although the Read Receipt process can occur silently in the background, the default behaviour is for a screen to pop up asking for your approval to send the notification.
I say "No" unless sender is someone I don't want to offend (such as a regular customer who pays on time).
In my experience, less than 5% of emailers request Read Receipts but those who do usually request them for every email they send.
I've even had spam that requested a Read Receipt!


Why Do People Use Them?

While email is quick, cheap and convenient there's no guarantee that any particular email will make it through to its intended recipient.
A higher percentage of emails are never delivered than real letters are "lost in the post",
usually by falling foul of anti-spam systems.
Using the "lost in the post" excuse for ignoring an unwelcome email is also an easy thing to do. A Read Receipt is the equivalent of a Registered Letter.
When you send an email requesting some information urgently you loose the initiative, just like when you chose to leave a message on an answering machine requesting to be phoned back. All you can do then is wait for a response at the other person's leisure.
If you don't receive your Read Receipt within a few hours you can choose to use the phone instead.
Read Receipts are an attempt to impose some certainty, reliability and urgency on email.
You can argue that this is misunderstanding the medium.
The phone is for urgent messages; emails are for when you can wait 24hrs for a response. Emails don't interrupt someone the way phoning them does.
A matter that requires some discussion can be sorted out with a 5 minute phone rather than a few days of email to-ing and fro-ing.
Emails are an automatic written record that can be referred to at a later date rather than remembering the contents of a phone call.


Why Don't I Send Back Read Receipts?

There's a practical difficulty I have.
I receive emails in various different capacities from around 10 different email addresses corresponding to particular job roles.
When I respond, I therefore have to make the From address of my email reply match the address the original email was sent to, otherwise it causes confusion and makes me look unprofessional.
So if I just click "Yes" to a Read Receipt request it will be sent from my default email address which has a 1 in 10 chance of being the right one. I often use an email system where emails are sent out immediately so I don't have the opportunity to edit the Read Receipt while it's sitting in my Outbox.
In a similar way to normal emails, if a sender receives my Read Receipt from a different email address to which they sent the original email: they're confused; I look bad.
I also disapprove of the implication that the emails of someone who requests a Read Receipt are more important than those of other people who are too polite to use them.
After all, people would prefer to receive a response to their email rather than a Read Receipt so, as with all my email, if I have the information to make an instant reply this is what I endeavour to do as it's easier than trying to remember to reply later.
For other emails that require some research or consultation I try to respond within 24 hours or else reply with a status report.


My Advice

My advice is not to request Read Receipts for the emails you send as I'm sure it's more than just me they annoy and make you appear as a self-important bossy boots.
If a matter is urgent then a phone call might be more appropriate otherwise you can put something like this in the email:-
"I really need to sort this matter out by close of business today so, if you're not able to send a full reply immediately, can you please acknowledge this email and send me a quick indication of what you have to do before sending a final reply".

Another tip to increase the chances of getting a prompt reply is to limit yourself to one question or request per email. If you have more, then send each one as an individual email. Chances are that you'll then get some quick replies so that one difficult question doesn't hold up all the easy replies.

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