A Spoonful of Sugar

Kenny Brechner -- October 29th, 2015

spoonfulNothing makes a person think about the value of civility quite like having the comment field of your blog posts disabled because spammers thought it was a good idea to launch a brute force attack on thousands of WordPress blogs, a robotic frenzy of inserting malware into comment fields to redirect readers to dubious websites. Not personal, of course, but not a demonstration of exemplary etiquette either, one feels.

The comments application will be restored soon, but in these latter days of its absence I thought I would touch on a simple, but to me very important, matter of civility in email communication: the quick acknowledgement response. When email was new to the world I made them as much like formal letters as possible. My initial impulse was that the transition of communication forms should not devolve the quality or character of the communication. When I first started receiving responses from my editor at a local newspaper that simply said “got it” I was nonplussed. This did not seem like quite the thing. Yet very quickly the light came on. I got it too.

Booksellers often find themselves managing communications between several parties, particularly when it comes to arranging events with schools. The lines of communication are fairly complex. Suppose one is setting up a Skype event for a school reading group program with the author of that month’s book. On one side the request is being handled by a publicist, who in turn is connecting with the author and managing their schedule. On the other side the bookseller is connecting with a school contact who in turn has several other connected parties that they are relaying information to. A multimedia classroom at the college needs to be reserved, bus schedules need to be set up to facilitate the event, and so forth.

What I have found is that the adoption of the quick acknowledgement response among publicists is far from uniform. Some folks do not send a response at all until they have something to report. Silence is not golden for the bookseller here. It fouls up the whole line of communication. The school presses to find out if you have heard anything. You don’t even know if the email went into spam on the other side, let alone that the train is rolling. The value of a quick response – “Thanks Kenny, I’ll let you know” – is very high indeed for the tiny effort involved in making it. Email is a ping into the void and quick acknowledgment responses provide the lifeblood of communication. Mary Poppins would have insisted on them just as she did on taking a spoonful of sugar.

I make them all day long to my customers. If a Title 1 teacher asks me for a price quote I acknowledge it immediately, “Thanks Vera, will do!” even if I intend to get the quote back in a half hour. After all, other things might intervene and there is no reason at all to make Vera wonder if her request has been received and will be handled.

All right then. If you agree with me about the value of the quick response, please indicate that with a quick acknowledgement in the comment field below. Oh wait a minute! Denied!