Email Thank Yous: Polite or Nuisance?

Tim Kraft at WordKraft Business Writing asked on IABC’s LinkedIn site whether sending email thank-yous in response to information received in email form was polite or just a nuisance. The resulting exchange between a number of communications professionals was enlightening as well as … lively! (click here)

Generally, most respondents were all for the quick, efficient email thank you. The overall view was that – even if no other information was to be presented – it was a relationship-building communication.

And just as important, an email thank you “closed the loop” in communications, that is, it confirmed to the sender of the original email that his/her communication was received and would be acted up. As independent writer Elena Acoba said, a mind cluttered wondering whether information was received is “more aggravating than a cluttered e-mail box.”

The people who disagreed with this however had their points. There are other methods of assuring emails have been received (MS Outlook’s read receipt function being only one of them), and sending such emails to someone who you’re already in a business relationship clutters the recipient’s mailbox and smacks of insincerity.

But I am reminded of Solis and Breakenridge’s Putting the Public Back in Public Relations wherein they point out (and I paraphrase here) communication is more about anthropology than accounting. People do a lot of things in communicating (even in business) that are don’t make sense or are inefficient.

I’m presently writing this in a cafe. When the cafe worker takes away my empty plate, I will more than likely say thank you. Why should I do that? He’s getting paid to take that stuff away. I personally feel it is not insincere to thank people for doing their jobs (some people try to get out of working!) as well as making the person feel comfortable (even happy) in seeing me in his place of business. Plus I feel uncomfortable not saying thank you when someone does something I would like them to do.

And for a clear look at the anthropological, let’s talk about those “business” dinners where the only topics discussed are sports scores, favourite beers, and the best hotels to stay at while traveling.

Both the pro- and anti-thank you folks have their points. I personally feel anthropology is best in this case rather than the cold hard accounting of email clutter. And, as was also brought up in the exchange, common sense plays a big role here. Don’t send a thank you email to someone seated in the next cubicle or when another form of communication is more appropriate.

And don’t use REPLY ALL to thank just one person – that IS insincere.