E-mail etiquette question: Thanks or no thanks?

This is a minor matter, obviously, so if you’re busy I’d suggest you move on.

Here’s the setup, which happens to almost all of us, almost every day: A colleague or business associate has answered your routine e-mail request with his or her equally routine answer (let’s say you asked for a budget number, for example).

Your original request included the requisite “please” and “thank you” because, well, you weren’t raised by wolves. Moments later a reply arrives and it provides the information you sought; nothing more, nothing less.

Do you in turn send what we’re going to call here “the unadorned thanks?” In other words, do you, as many do, reply with only the word “thanks”? (Again, for the sake of this discussion, we’re presuming you have nothing else to say.) If your answer is, “Of course I do, you rube,” then you are probably living unaware that the unadorned thanks is considered by some to be gratuitous, at best — remember, you already wrote “thanks” — and at worst, an annoying waste of everyone’s time, most notably, mine.

What’s the beef? Allow me an all-too-familiar example to illustrate: Public relations professionals are constantly subjecting me to the unadorned thanks. They’ll send a story pitch complete with a pre-thank-you. I’ll answer, “no, thanks.” And, almost before I can return my attention to whatever task it had been ripped from to reply, I’ll see the PR pro’s next message hit my inbox.

Just delete it, you say? No can do. I just can’t be certain that it’s another unadorned thanks, even though I’d bet the mortgage money, and I’ve already committed to this conversation, so deleting reply to my reply unopened seems rude. (No, I don’t use the preview pane.) So I click on the e-mail, curse yet another unadorned thanks, and vow solemnly never to write a word about the sender’s client, at least not a positive word.

I know I’m not alone on this one. Of course, there are those who will argue that I’m a nitpicking curmudgeon (not the first time). And yet others who will argue that you can never be too rich, too thin or too polite.

Some of the latter were on my case last week at Buzzblog.

“You may not be alone, but you should be,” writes one fellow who is clearly quite irked by my complaint. “It is simply pathetic how common courtesy has been literally forced out the door by people who are ‘too busy’ or ‘can’t waste the time’ to accept the ‘thank you’ message as what it really is — a thank you.”

He’s just warming to the task.

“So, you get an extraneous e-mail. How much does it cost? In your ‘wasted’ time, pennies. In terms of the amount of e-mail going over the wire, less. In terms of good will on the behalf of the sender, possibly priceless.”

Done? Oh, not by a long shot.

“If you want to be a curmudgeon, be one. I believe we have another name for it, but I’m pretty certain you have readers that are sensitive to such language. Just please don’t expect the rest of the world to be the same.”

What other name might he have in mind?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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