Email and the Golden Rule

Have you ever gotten an email you just wanted to ignore? It's usually something that provides no immediate value to you – perhaps it's from a vendor you work with that wants to tell you about a new product they're selling. There's nothing you can do about it right now, and frankly, you're busy. You're so far up to your eyeballs in reports that you can barely breathe.

We've all been there. The easiest thing to do is to ignore the email.

Now, think back to how you landed your last job, or maybe the one before. Chances are good that you found it not by applying online but through a professional contact.

It's extremely common to be recruited by a company you do business with – either a customer or a supplier. While working with you, a company has a chance to see you up close. They know just how professional you are and how devoted you are to your craft. This can easily turn into a job offer down the road.

But this will only happen if you treat those around you with a certain level of respect. Taking a moment to let someone know you've received their email can mean the world, even if you're not able to fulfill their request.

I'm not suggesting that you say "yes" to everyone, nor am I suggesting you respond to spam. Do, however, take the time to value those around you – even on the days when they're asking for something rather than offering something.

For example, if someone is asking for a meeting that you would normally be open to but are just too busy to take, send an email letting them know you've received their message and would like to meet but are swamped for the next few weeks. Most everyone understands the concept of being busy at work. If a person is asking for your help with something that you really can't do right now due to existing commitments, be honest and up front.

The most difficult scenario is when you don't respond at all. When you ignore an email, it doesn't just tell the person that you're busy – it tells them that they're not important. It says that you'll only respond if you're getting something out of the deal. It suggests that you may not be as professional as they thought.

When you've been with one company for a number of years, ignoring emails can begin to seem normal. You want to be efficient and use your time in the best way. But unexpected things can happen. Your company may lay off an entire division. If you've focused all of your attention on internal folks without nurturing outside relationships, you may struggle to find something new.

It all goes back to the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.