Not receiving e-mail answers can thwart efficient work and be stressful, especially when you’re waiting on an important answer that doesn’t arrive. Today’s blog post will provide you with tips and strategies on how you can deliberately improve your e-mail response rate with foreign contacts.
To get one thing out of the way, there is no magic bullet. However, there are certain things that can help.
The first question that crops up when it comes to contact with people from different countries is how urgency is generally expressed. In Germany, this is usually done through language. If something is important or urgent, Germans often mention this expressly, send a high-priority e-mail or WRITE IN ALL CAPS. Germans are perfectly fine mentioning urgency, often and explicitly.
However, there are certain cultural regions where an issue’s importance or urgency is expressed differently – for instance, by mentioning something often, by asking about it multiple times or by sending several e-mails. So the fundamental question is this: Did your counterpart even understand that an answer is important to you? Maybe you should express urgency less through language in the future…
Tips for when you don’t receive an e-mail response
- Reach for the telephone instead of sending an e-mail. Even if it’s more of a time investment, important things require the right medium. After all, you don’t congratulate your partner on important milestones and anniversaries via e-mail. And keep this in mind: insisting on e-mails even though you’re not getting answers isn’t productive either.
- Make sure you maintain a good relationship with your contacts. In a lot of countries outside Central Europe, more things are dependent on relationships. The closer the relationship, and the more personal and private things the partners know about each other, the higher the likelihood of [faster] e-mail responses. By implication, this also means that no relationship equals no/bad business.
- In Germany, e-mails are subconsciously seen as equivalent to letters, so e-mails are associated with high obligation. They’re a kind of electronic document, at least in the eyes of many Germans. Not every culture attributes such high importance to e-mails. With that in mind, try not to send incredibly long e-mails. Better to send short ones with attachments. Unlike e-mails, attached documents are seen as highly important by nearly everyone.
- Put important people in your e-mail’s CC. If, for instance, the department head reads it too, the probability that your counterpart answers will certainly increase. Be careful, though. This should be done judiciously, such as in cases in which you urgently require an answer. Otherwise the effect will quickly wear off. The use of e-mail’s CC function is especially effective for people who are particularly concerned with hierarchies, including a majority of people from India, China, Japan, South Korea, the Arab world and several places in Africa.
- Work with clear deadlines that are met in a friendly manner, and explain to your counterpart why a prompt response is important to you. What will happen if an answer is missing or delayed? Write this in your e-mail to help your partner understand your situation.
The silver bullet…
…for e-mails you don’t receive a response to is always a clarifying, constructive conversation. It should be carried out via telephone, Skype or preferably in person. In the process, keep potential cultural differences in mind. It’s important to note here that criticism should NEVER be expressed in writing.
When verbally expressing criticism, start at a low escalation level. When addressing things that need to be improved for the first time, start with something like “I would appreciate it if…”. If that still doesn’t work, you can use stronger formulations such “I would like…” and later “I expect…”.
One final tip
Whether a person responds to an e-mail or not isn’t always due to cultural reasons. In other words, just because a person is from India doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t answer e-mails. There are tons of Indians who respond to e-mails very quickly. Don’t lump everyone together. Try to take everyone’s culture AND personality into account.
More e-mailing tips – in addition to many other strategies – can be found in our cross-cultural training.