16 Reasons Why They Haven’t Replied to Your Email (and what to do about it)

email I often hear people bemoan the fact that someone has not replied to their email.

They assume the other person is purposely avoiding them. What?!

Sure, it’s possible that they are snubbing you. But it’s far more likely that their lack of response has nothing to do with you in any way. Don’t take it personally!

Before YOU get upset that someone hasn’t replied to YOUR email, consider the many reasons why this might be the case (paying special attention to #14).

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When I first wrote this list in 2015 there were only 14 reasons. But technology marches on, creating more reasons as it goes.

Also, I had a recent experience where I was the one who didn’t reply — Ack! — for reasons 15 & 16.

So, time for an update!

16 reasons why they haven’t replied to your email

  1. They haven’t checked their email since you sent yours. Maybe they’re extra busy; or on vacation; or not in the habit of checking email as regularly as you are; or experiencing technical difficulties. Actually, that’s four reasons right there! If it’s that important, give them a heads-up call.
  2. They saw it, but did not open it yet, thinking they’d come back to it, and then forgot.
  3. They opened it, but did not actually read it due to interruption/distraction, and then forgot.
  4. They read it, and fully intended to reply, but got interrupted/distracted and did not have a reliable system for reminding themselves to do it later.
  5. They did not recognize that a reply was called for because they didn’t read it to the very end. Was your email too long? Did it contain too many topics? Try starting with the request rather than the explanation behind it.
  6. They did not recognize that a reply was called for because the request was not clear.
  7. They didn’t recognize it as being important to read due to the vague subject line or unknown sender. I’ve overlooked emails myself from people who were important to me because they were sent by assistants whose names I did not recognize.
  8. They have so many emails in their inbox that it simply got lost in the clutter. Good reason to declutter your own inbox!
  9. They gave you (or you found) a different address than the one they normally use, and they aren’t checking the inbox where your email actually went. This happened to me, with a customer complaining they hadn’t received their digital download order. What can I say? I used the address they gave me!
  10. Your email went to their Junk or Spam folder, which can happen accidentally despite their settings. They might not even know they have settings or how to change them. They might not even know they have Junk and/or Spam folders. You never know what people don’t know.
  11. They set up a Rule to forward certain emails to a designated folder and didn’t realize yours would go there and then forgot to check that folder. (Yes, I’m speaking from experience.)
  12. The email got delayed or lost in cyberspace. Yes, really. It’s not common, but it happens.
  13. They read, it and they do intend to reply, and have not forgotten, but are not quite sure what they want to say. Maybe it’s a sticky situation? Maybe they need more info? Maybe a phone call is in order?
  14. Or…uh oh…wait a minute…what if…maybe they really DID reply?! Before asking them about it make sure you’ve searched your own emails, Junk/Spam folders, etc. Each folder can be sorted by sender, date, and subject. You can also search ALL email items to see where it might have gone. Maybe you’re the one who set up a Rule to forward certain emails to a designated folder and you forgot to look for it there. Also, check your Sent messages folder to make sure you really sent it, and to the correct address. I’ve been known to think I sent a message, when in fact it’s sitting in my Drafts folder. Oops!
  15. There are so many ways to leave messages these days — voice mail, email, texting, Facebook Messenger (and similar internal social media messaging systems), etc. It’s easier than ever before for something to fall through the cracks. And sometimes a conversation that was initiated on one platform is best moved to another.
  16. Even if they have an effective way to manage their email, yours may have encountered a confusing juxtaposition of settings and/or platforms. For example, they might have their email (on phone and/or computer) set to not automatically download images so as to save storage space. And maybe the images were key to the issue at hand but went unnoticed. (I always write “See image below” as a heads up.)

What to do about it

  1. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Give them a break. You never know what’s going on with someone personally, professionally, or technology-wise.
  3. Resend the email….that is, if it’s not an emergency warranting a phone call. If I haven’t heard from YOU yet (and I have searched my own emails for your reply, and verified that I actually sent it) I usually wait a few days. Remember, it’s email, nothing urgent. Then I re-send the email with a note: “Resending in case this message — or your reply — got lost in cyberspace.” Usually, I get a quick reply saying you have just been busy, and forgot, and are happy to reply. This way I have given you an out. It’s certainly not something I want you to feel bad about. If it were that important I would have called — or, at the least, I would have written URGENT in the subject line.  Most importantly, meanwhile, I am not assuming that you are purposely avoiding me!

Do you take email (or lack thereof) personally?

What other reasons can you think of?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2015-2020 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Liana George on October 2, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    I really like your perspective on this issue Hazel. If people are always misinterpreting emails it’s easy to understand why they would take non-replies so personally. You really nailed some of the possible reasons and gave your readers something to think about! Great article!

    • Hazel Thornton on October 2, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks, Liana! I found myself reciting these reasons to others often enough to finally just write them down. LOL!

  2. Janet Barclay on October 3, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Great list – I especially like #7. It makes me crazy when people use “Hello” as the subject line.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 4, 2015 at 7:41 am

      Me too. Or “meeting”….seriously? Maybe it’s the only sort of meeting the sender has on their agenda, but some of us have multiple types of meetings!

  3. Seana Turner on October 3, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Excellent post — we definitely tend to personalize a “silent” response, and it often has nothing to do with us. I like your point about them not reading far enough in to see that a response was needed. For the groups I lead, I try to put a “heads up” about response required in the subject line.

    • Janet Barclay on October 4, 2015 at 5:03 am

      That happens a lot in my case. Clients will send me an email outlining work they’d like done, I move it to my task list, not actually reading the whole message until I go to do the work. So if they end with a “want to go for lunch?” or “hey, I won a big award” they could easily get offended if I don’t acknowledge it.

      • Hazel Thornton on October 4, 2015 at 7:45 am

        I try to not mix topics in an email. When I only receive a reply to one topic, and not the other, I blame myself.

        • Janet Barclay on October 4, 2015 at 8:08 am

          If only everyone was as organized (and forgiving) as you! 🙂

          • Hazel Thornton on October 4, 2015 at 8:09 am


  4. Jill Robson on October 3, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Great list, I usually leave emails from people it don’t have a lot of contact with until last on my list, especially if it is not time sensitive, if you really want a quick response, like you said they should state this in the email.

  5. Andi Willis on October 3, 2015 at 7:58 am

    In today’s instant society I think we expect instant replies. We are so impatient! I like what you’ve said about checking your own spam/junk folder. I’ve found emails from potential clients, sent from my own website, in there. I felt so bad! I taught me that I need to look there more often.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 4, 2015 at 7:49 am

      I check my junk folder daily, and then delete the contents. I find at least one not-junk email there at least every other day.

    • Janet Barclay on October 7, 2015 at 10:27 am

      Yes, I’ve had people email me, then call me after 15-20 minutes when they didn’t receive a reply. If it was that urgent, why didn’t they just pick up the phone in the first place!

  6. Sarah Soboleski on October 3, 2015 at 8:52 am

    I enjoyed this post! You don’t think about all these reasons when you’re impatiently waiting for a reply, so thanks for clearly laying them all out! I love your point about #14 – thinking you sent your email when in fact it’s still in the draft folder. I actually do this more with texts, formulating a response but never hitting send!

    • Hazel Thornton on October 4, 2015 at 7:47 am

      Thanks, Sarah! Yes, texts too! It’s easy to do.

  7. Lucy Kelly on October 3, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Further proof to not take things personally! Love all these reasons why it’s not about me and nice specifics about how to handle it.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 4, 2015 at 7:47 am

      Thanks, Lucy! I’m glad you found it helpful.

  8. Ellen Delap on December 9, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Love this post! So important to connect in ways that are easy for each of us.

    • Hazel Thornton on December 9, 2016 at 11:45 am

      Thanks, Ellen! Email is the easiest way for me. But not for everyone. And it’s not foolproof!

  9. Susan Stewart on December 9, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Great article. Thanks for posting! There are so many things that can happen to emails and it is easy to imagine that someone is avoiding me.

    • Hazel Thornton on December 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      I’m glad you found it helpful, Susan!

  10. Linda Samuels on December 14, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    One of the keys is that we have so many options to communicate, email being just one of them. For me, it’s my preferred method, unless a phone (or Zoom) call is better. But for so many, email is no longer the go-to communication place. When I’m communicating with someone new, I try to find out what their preferred method is, and then I do my best to use that channel.

    Email is generally reliable, but I’ve had my frustrations. Not so much with the receivers, but more with technology. Before I redid my website a year ago, something wonky was happening with my email provider. Emails sent by others wouldn’t arrive, some of my emails wouldn’t arrive, and it would randomly delete received emails. No fun!

    So when my site was redone, I also switched over my email system. It’s mostly been good. But one consistent problem is that anyone with an “optonline.com” email address automatically rejects and views my gmails as spam. But the good news is that I get alerted to the issue, so I know the person didn’t get my mail, and I can do something about it.

    The bottom line is that I don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t respond. If I must reach the person, I will try a different way or resend the email.

    • Hazel Thornton on December 16, 2020 at 8:25 am

      Ah, the joys of technology! There’s no point in taking any of it personally!

  11. LISA GESSERT on December 14, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    Wow hazel great blog! and it touches on a subject that all of us can relate to! For me if it’s real important I do reach out privately with a text or a call.

    Great Blog!

    • Hazel Thornton on December 16, 2020 at 8:24 am

      Thanks, Lisa!

  12. Melanie on December 14, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    Gmails “smart” filtering system often categorizes emails automatically in a way that doesn’t suit my filing needs. I was missing important messages frequently until I figured out how to wrangle my email folders. Sometimes my own emails get sent to spam if I use my business email vs. personal to correspond with clients. I now always tell clients to check the spam folder.

    • Hazel Thornton on December 16, 2020 at 8:23 am

      Thanks for the Gmail insight, since I don’t use Gmail. Checking spam should be a daily habit for everyone, especially if they are expecting something. Spam filters are great, but I don’t know a spam filter that NEVER sends ANYTHING important to the spam folder!

  13. Julie Bestry on December 15, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    I love all of these different perspectives. You forgot one which should be an offshoot of #14: you wrote the email, you minimized the window because you were going to proofread before sending, and you have so many minimized browser and email and app windows that the email is languishing in your dock (or whatever it’s called on a PC).

    Speaking of #14, did you notice your blog platform numbered these 1-9, then zero, then 1-6? The internet is silly. 😉

    • Hazel Thornton on December 16, 2020 at 8:19 am

      Yep, that would be another version of thinking you’d sent it and being wrong! I went to my blog post to fix the numbering, but…..there they were, 1-16, just like I’d left them…..?!?!?
      The internet is silly, indeed!

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