The Japanese symbol for respectOnce upon a time (and not so very long ago either), the “reply to all” button in email was rarely if ever used.

A year or so ago, The Wall Street Journal chronicled the public humiliation of an agency copywriter who did just that – in a fit of pique and critique.  [No, that individual wasn’t relieved of his position but he did embark on a face-to-face apology tour ‘round the office.]

Perhaps that’s why well-crafted emails – in fact, any missive requiring a reply - no longer evoke a considered response from the receiver, within, say, a day or so.

If you the sender are (pick one or several):  1) unknown, 2) separated  from the receiver by more than six degrees, 3) asking for a favor,  and/or 4) simply keeping in touch, chances are greater than 50 percent that your correspondence will fall into a dead email office – or better  yet, be classified as spam.

We know all the standard answers: 

“I’m overloaded with email.” 

“There aren’t enough hours in every day.” 

“I only watch for specific names/addresses because I’m on deadline.”  [Please feel free to add your own.]

Those same e-laggards holler when their messages aren’t returned.  Grumbling and crankiness ensue; after all, how can they get their work done without the critical information?  There’s much fingerpointing and quoting of numbers like “83 percent of knowledge workers say that email’s critical to their success and productivity at work.”

Regardless of the reason for non-response, from email fatigue to a truly packed calendar, ways do exist to let people know what’s going on.  One’s called the automatic out-of office reply:  “Hey, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can; my monthly report was due a month ago.”  Or:  “If I don’t queue up my credit card charges in my expense report, I won’t be going anywhere.  Ever.  I’ll get back to you in two days.” 

[A more brilliant individual than ourselves declared e-bankruptcy, wiping himself out of the Web-verse in one act.]

Another is called the telephone.  You might be avoiding the world, but it just makes a whole lot of sense to change your voicemail indicating Xtreme busyness or to sneak in an apologetic response in the earliest of a.m.s.    Even other options, texting or Twittering, are far preferable to silence.  Dead.  Silence.

It’s all about communications, ensuring that your personal and professional brand transcends the pettiness of deadlines and annoyances and overload. That you use the right communications with the right speed at work and at play. 

And it’s all about courtesy, the cyber-decency to rsvp to no matter whom, no matter where.  Wonder how NASA’s Space Shuttle and Space Station astronauts handled their e-replies?