Is Non-Responsive the New Norm?

We’ve all been there: You send a text or an email and get ignored. No response for hours or days, or sometimes at all. I’m not talking about a ‘hey, how are you’ message (although it would be nice if people acknowledged those too!) but specifically a message that warrants a reply, usually in the form of a question that needs an answer.

As a newlywed with a full-time job, a freelancing business and an active social life, I want to preface this post by stating that I realize that everyone is busy. In fact, we’ve normalized the term ‘busy’ so much that in a totally unscientific poll, I’ve found that when you ask people how they are, the most common response you get nowadays is ‘busy.’ So I get it. But still.

Recently, I’ve felt my frustration build up as I follow up for the third time to a work email that has gone completely ignored, or waited for a response to a question I texted a friend four days ago. This frustration stems from knowing that in our hyper-connected society, the majority of us live tethered to our devices. We check emails and texts all the time, even while driving (I’m talking to you, lady in the car next to me, trying to text, maneuver around a cone and cut me off!). Yet, seemingly more and more often, our messages go unanswered, despite the fact that we can be fairly certain that they’ve been seen. In some cases, 100% certain (read receipts, anyone?)

So what gives?

I know some people shrug and don’t take this behavior personally. Meanwhile, to others, it’s a huge faux pas, and they’re quick to write people off for being unresponsive. I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, and most often am simply confused (ok fine, sometimes hurt!) by people’s inability to respond. I’m the first to admit that I almost never go anywhere without my phone. I check email often throughout the day and if someone texts me a question, I make an effort to reply as soon as I see the message. I do this because with how busy life is, I’d likely forget to do it later, and also because I simply consider it rude not to respond!

When it comes to professional communication with clients and customers, I’m often even more responsive. How could I not be, when these are the very people who make it possible for me to earn a living? Many clients nowadays have moved beyond emailing and phone calls and prefer text communication. Initially, this felt somehow too personal to me, but, as we tend to do with technology, I’ve acclimated and treat work texts just like work emails. In general, if it’s a work day, people hear back from me within hours or at the latest by the next day.

I want to be clear that I’m not writing this post to advocate that people always be ‘on’ or available. Technology is already encroaching further and further into our personal time, so setting boundaries around connectivity is incredibly important. Just because a colleague can text you at 10:30 p.m. to ask you about tomorrow’s meeting, doesn’t mean they should. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should feel compelled to respond. The same goes for the friend who texts you in the middle of a work day and then blows you up when they don’t get a response in five minutes!

That being said though, in a world that’s increasingly busy, I think it’s more important than ever that we are intentional about our communication and how we treat others. Civility still matters! Ignoring emails or texts that need a reply is akin to telling others that they aren’t worthy of your time or concern, or at least not enough to warrant a response. I’m hard pressed to believe we’d treat people this way if we weren’t doing it from behind the comfort of our screens. Imagine if someone you knew, either personally or professionally, asked you a question face-to-face and you simply walked away without a response. While most people would never actually behave this way, isn’t it essentially what we’re doing when we don’t respond electronically?

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this! Have you noticed a lack of response to emails and texts? What do you think the appropriate timeframe for a reply is? And is being unresponsive rude, or do some of us just need to get a thicker skin?

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Liz Lazar

Liz wants to live in a world where email doesn’t exist, french fries are calorie free and people still write letters by hand (and in cursive). When she’s not busy working as a freelance writer, you can find her enjoying a craft beer, reading about the Russian monarchy, or jamming in her one-woman ukulele band. Liz is a native of Hungary and currently resides in Cleveland with her hubby and their small zoo of pets. You can connect with her via her website,

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • For work emails especially internally within my company I’m all about adding 2nd and 3rd request to the subject line when a response is necessary. Sometimes it’s the best way to get a reply and the answers you need!

  • I get so angry at this at work too — but I will admit, I am struggling more and more with it in my personal life. I feel like I am constantly getting emails, texts, facebook IMs and such asking me to support people’s businesses, order products, attend their events, etc. The volume has become almost unbearable. But I struggle daily with remaining a good friend. Thanks for the post — great insight and it’s going to make me think a bit more about how I can be more responsive to those I care about!

  • Thanks for the post Liz. You hit the nail on the head. This is a #1 pet peeve in both my business AND personal life. Not responding in a timely fashion when the sender is known to you, or referred by a friend (I.e. when the message is Not spam) is simply unacceptable and downright rude. Especially in this, the day and age of auto responses and other tools to help manage the onslaught of email. If anyone finds themselves in the position getting so many emails they simply cannot keep up, maybe it’s time to recognize the need for an assistant, either human or software based. Finally, although I definitely use “email etiquette” as one of the criteria by which I judge potential business partners, clients and vendors, I fear others do not thus allowing us to normalize this behavior as acceptable. ‘Tis a shame.

    • I also end up judging others, both professionally and personally, on their responsiveness. I don’t know if that’s necessarily fair so I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but when it happens repeatedly, it can be difficult not to take it personally!

  • I completely agree with you. Unfortunately, we have allowed this behavior to become normal. In my opinion, from a personal point of view this behavior is just simply rude. Looking at it from a business perspective, it is completely unprofessional.

    The positive outlook is that it forces you to look at and really see the people that you are trying to communicate with. This behavior speaks a lot about the people. Are these people really friends? Do you really want to do business with them? Actions speak louder than words. Rude is never ok – not personally or professionally. Thank you for making your thoughts public.

    • I couldn’t agree more! To me, if I don’t warrant a response from someone, it makes me wonder if they warrant a place in my life? I don’t want to be overly harsh, but at the same time, I’m a huge believer in the golden rule and hate to expend energy and effort when it’s not reciprocated!

  • I agree wholeheartedly Liz! I’ve not experienced this as much in the workplace but definitely socially and it’s definitely rude and frustrating when you know a text was received and no reply at all! We’ve become so accustomed to texting that picking up the phone seems foreign… great article!

  • I’d like to offer a different perspective. In my personal life, I am someone who does not respond immediately or in a timely fashion. So much that I’ve given a disclaimer to my close friends and family to expect that.

    It honestly gives me anxiety that there is now an expectation that just because we are literally always “connected” to an immediate source of communication (smart phones), that I’m expected to always be able to communicate. I would argue that the new norm is the expectation of immediate responsiveness because of this new socially connected digital age we live in and we forget the human element. I just want to be “offline” sometimes and for that to be okay and respected. Having a smart phone should not make me always available. I think a lot of people who struggle with constant communication actually have some anxiety about it. But I understand that this expectation does exist and that I needed to communicate to my friends and family so that they DO NOT misunderstand and think I’m being rude or ignoring them. This requires empathy and an understanding that some people have different needs.

    As for work, totally different story. To get things done and be part of a team, you need to respond in a timely manner.

    • Ami – I think you’re spot on about not wanting to feel obligated to connect just because we’re always connected! Technology can be exhausting and finding time to unplug is really important. You’re right that in addition to the rudeness of being non-responsive, we’ve also normalized expecting an instant response. I have to imagine that there’s a place somewhere in the middle that would help alleviate both these things!

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