Sunday, August 04, 2013
Did you read my email?
An email arrived on a late Monday afternoon that seemed part question and part challenge.
A reader from Northern California wrote to say that in a typical week, he might send out five emails to members on the staff of various organizations with information that he believes they might find interesting. On weeks when relevant news is breaking, he says he might send out as many as 10 to 20 of these emails.
When he sends his emails out, he indicates that he usually clicks the box for "request a read receipt," which would allow his recipients who receive his emails to click if they want him to know they read his emails. "However," he writes, "my tracking record of confirmation feedback of a read receipt is less than 10 percent."
Assuming that not all of the emails he sends out go unopened or unread, the reader wants to know what ethical obligation his email readers have when confronted with this request for confirmation that they have read his email.
"It seems to me that from an ethical perspective if you are going to read the email you should acknowledge that simple act with an affirmation to this confirmation request," he writes. But he acknowledges that human nature probably causes people to believe that it really does not matter since the confirmation could be considered a reply which is their option and their choice.
His question seemed clear enough: Do recipients have an ethical obligation to click and send back requested read email receipts?
But as I was reading his email, sure enough, a box requesting me to click on it to confirm receipt of his email popped up on my screen. It seemed the reader had embedded a challenge as well as a question. His test was whether or not I would click on the box so he would know I received the email.
I did. But you are under no ethical obligation to do so.
Simply because an email writer clicks on this feature does not obligate the rest of us to take the time to use it. Some might not want to engage the original sender any further than his initial email and believe by sending the receipt they might send the wrong message that they wish to continue the conversation.
Many others might simply find that requested receipt feature to be a nuisance. (Of equal curiosity is the use of the "urgent" classification of an email that is accompanied by a red asterisk. I have yet to receive one of those that required any sense of urgency.)
There is no accepted practice among email users that every request from an unknown sender must or should be honored. It might annoy the sender that recipients don't comply in the manner he would like, but annoyances don't always translate to ethical transgressions.
Still, as a courtesy to a reader I clicked on the box and returned the read receipt. I also responded within a few minutes of his initial email's arrival and asked the sender a handful of questions. As of six days after my email was sent, I've received no response.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.