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Was She Too Concise? Or Am I Oversensitive?

I had an experience recently where an individual sent me an email reply with no message–just an attachment. I felt let down, disappointed that my gracious communication had prompted what appeared to be a hasty, minimal reply. I wonder: Am I overreacting? Please share your opinion in the comments.

Here’s what happened: I had sent an email to a woman I’ll call Yvonne to get a blurb from her on a presentation she was going to make. I needed to incorporate her blurb into an article I was writing that would feature Yvonne’s presentation, among others. It was my first message to Yvonne, so I:

  • Greeted her.
  • Told her why I was writing to her.
  • Gave a brief suggestion on the type of information she might include in her blurb.
  • Told her something important about the setting where she would be presenting.
  • Noted why I had copied someone else on my email to her.
  • Ended with a warm closing and my name.

In response, I received an email with no message–just an attachment. The attachment was Yvonne’s short blurb.

Yes, I got the information I needed. But because it came with no greeting, message, closing, or signature–and no recognition that I was helping Yvonne by writing about her presentation–I felt slighted. When I later was asked by a third person to
help at Yvonne’s presentation, I declined.

What do you think about my reaction? Am I being oversensitive? Should I just write off Yvonne’s approach as efficient? By the way, Yvonne is not a famous person whose busyness or place above me in a social hierarchy might explain the lack of a personal message.

How would you feel about Yvonne’s email? I look forward to your opinion.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

27 comments on “Was She Too Concise? Or Am I Oversensitive?”

  • Hi Ardis,

    There was nothing but the attachment, which was the blurb on her presentation. No thank-you of any kind.

    Thanks for your view.


  • Hi Jane,

    No, the presentation was not on writing for business. Forgive me for not mentioning the topic. I don’t want to point a finger in her specific direction.

    Thanks for weighing in.


  • Did she at least send a ‘Thank you’ with the attachement?
    If not – that is rude and you are right to feel how you feel.
    If she did send one then I could overlook the consiseness of just sending an attachment.

  • Lynn, reading your post from a long way away, I feel affronted by Yvonne’s response. She may well have intended to be efficient and, thereby, considerate, but to my ear it lands as self-important and off-handed.

    I feel that in cyberspace the tone of everything we write gets exaggerated so, without misrepresenting ourselves, we need to be the most polite version of ourselves.

    Your posts always have heart and never fail to inspire me.

    Admiringly and appreciatively


  • Bythia, I agree with you that Yvonne’s behavior would be acceptable after an exchange of several messages. I appreciate your perspective.


  • I agree with you and Ardis. Even a short note of thanks that included a professional signature block with contact information would have acknowledged your support and perhaps led you to want to continue the business relationship. I am curious–did her presentation have anything to do with writing for business?

  • Hello,
    I agree with you on this point.
    If it’s a long exchange of emails and after 4 or 5 back and forth, I think it’s OK to just send the attachment without greetings.
    Usually it’s the opposite, when you ask something from somebody more important in the hierarchy, let’s say a student and a professor, the student will write a long mail and the professor will be much more direct. In this case, the person needed your help.
    I understand your feeling and you’re not overreacting.
    Have a nice day.

  • I would not be offended without more information. She could have been sick. Maybe someone she loves was just diagnosed with a terrible disease. She might have had a tremendous amount of stress and job duties at that time. Give people a break if they do not follow social conventions until you know more.

  • Lynn,

    My first reaction is, “Is this a cultural issue?” There are some cultures in which, when you ask for something, they send it back–why waste time with a bunch of meaningless text?

    However, if she is just sending because that’s the way her culture works, then at the very least she should have put an “” in the Subject Line so that you know not to expect anything in the body of the email.

    There is another issue: If she’s an American, then she may be a victim of the “get stuff done” world. This is the false idea that we need to be “efficient”, not understanding that in certain circumstances and in some cultures this “efficiency” will damage the relationship.

    Are you “overreacting?” For an American, you’re responding just as you should.

  • Thanks, everyone, for weighing in. I appreciate your opinions.

    Gina, I’m glad you mentioned cyberspace. When that is where we communicate, we have to have a way to nod, smile, and build relationships. An attachment doesn’t do that. And thank you for your positive words about this blog.

    Greg, that’s a good point. I will try to hold “Yvonne” in a more positive light. After all, this was just one small gesture.

    John, thanks for bringing up culture. “Yvonne” and I are both Americans who live in Seattle. I appreciate your viewpoint.

    Michele, I agree that “Thank you” or “Thank you!” would have been easy to type and would have made me feel appreciated. Your comment is a good reminder that courtesy can take only a couple of seconds.

    Dee, you sound like me! I often type a reply and then go back and insert a positive opening. It’s so easy to just get into Reply mode without thinking about the person we are replying to.

    Drew, I like your model of a greeting, content, why, and warm ending. In program management that sounds like a great way to keep communication positive without being burdensome. (Please recommend my book to that new generation. Amazon sells the electronic version.)

    Sheri, thanks for pointing out the other steps she had to take to complete the communication. A sentence of thanks would have been just another quick step. I agree with your view.

    Brigette, your mention of the greeting made me realize that a “Hi Lynn” would have made a world of difference. Thanks for commenting.


  • The golden rule applies here: treat others as you would want to be treated. That being said, there is NO reason this person could not at least have said, “Thank you.” Sickness, stress, efficiency or anything else should never be a reason to behave rudely. She sounds very self-absorbed. You have every right to be offended. My two cents….

  • I am guilty of being direct and to the point in my work emails, and I often have to go back and add a greeting or nicety before I launch into my content. Even I am horrified at this approach.

  • Greets Lynn,

    As a program manager, brevity is my watchword in business communications.
    However, there is always a warm greeting, content, and a why + warm ending.
    Sending just an attachment is acceptable after dialogue, but not as first reply.
    As mentioned, *you* are not overreacting. However, there is a new generation in the work force, and it appears etiquette is not part of one’s development in these fast paced times. I don’t want or need frivolous content, but I do expect communication.


  • I do think it’s too concise to simply send the attachment – it feels dismissive. Yes, this could be her normal work mode – very direct, to the point – and that’s fine for the people she knows and who are used to it. But for someone she’s never met? I think that warrants at least a simple “The information you’ve requested is attached.” I don’t buy the “too stressed, sick, bad news” excuse. It seems if she had the time and the inclination to check and read email, compose or find a blurb, click reply and include an attachment, typing even just “Attached. Thank you.” wouldn’t be a stretch before clicking send.

  • I think it was rude. There should have been at least a greeting and a thank you. I work in a medium sized engineering firm. We often communicate on the fly with the subject line being the only message. However, even we acknowledge when someone has gone above and beyond. After a few back and forth messages just the attachment would have been sufficient but even then I would have included a thanks with my professional sig block.

  • Anita, thank you for framing the situation that way. Pleasantries are NOT a waste of time when they bring us together.


  • Johnnie Sue, thank you so much for your positive words about my work and my book. I really appreciate you taking the time to share that compliment.

    In your example about the board minutes, it may be acceptable to communicate the way you did. If you had nothing to say to your recipients–and a courtesy message was not necessary–your choice may be regarded as efficient. I suggest asking yourself whether a greeting, sentence, and signoff would enhance the message in any way.


  • Hi Lynn,

    I don’t think you are being oversensitive. Unfortunately for the woman, she lost the opportunity to work with you again because of her curtness. It’s a good reminder that the pleasantries of life are not a waste of time, but rather a way to build good will; on-line or off.


  • Good afternoon, Lynn,
    I guess I am in the minority, here, but I can look back and see that I have been guilty of sending an email attachment without a note. I will at least put something in the subject area. (I sent board minutes to someone this morning with an attachment and only “board minutes” in the subject line.) After this, I will commit to doing better–if you know better, you should do better.

    It is not something that would likely offend me or make me less apt to help her in the future.

    Saying that, thank you for the time and effort you put into helping people improve their communication effectiveness. I appreciate your work and use your book almost daily.

    Johnnie Sue

  • I try to be as direct and short as possible in emails. This was appreciated in my old institution on the east coast, but I have noticed that the culture in my new organization is to have more pleasantries, so I am trying to adapt. But even I would have put a simple “Here you go!” in the message with the attachment.

  • Taryn, your suggested “Here you go!” would have been fine. It includes the warm “you” and the enthusiastic exclamation point. Had Yvonne written that, I would have felt acknowledged and content.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Carie, thanks for making the point about a greeting. I agree that a greeting humanizes the message, and I typically use one. Sometimes, though, I just start with the person’s name with something positive in the first sentence, like this message to you. The positive words build the relationship.

    What makes me squirm is the use of someone’s name followed by a colon, like this:


    That always feels like a setup for a stern message.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


  • Hi Carmel,

    I think a few “Yvonne”s have already stopped by and read this blog post. I too hope it helps!


  • Too dismissive. A little more courtesy was needed and would have required very little effort. I find courtesy falls short in email communications. It like if a bell man carried your bags to your hotel room and you just shut the door in their face without so much as a thank you.

    One thing I just can’t get used to is emails that start with a persons name and nothing else. No ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ or any other type of actual greeting. It comes across as cold. For myself, whenever I start an email with just a person’s name its because I’m unhappy with them and/or I’m communicating with them because I have to (not because I want to). Maybe not fair to project that on others, but that’s how it feels.

  • I understand that we all are very busy, however, that does not mean we can let our manners slide. A successful business relationship requires time spent cultivating that connection. Your response is absolutely valid.

    Hopefully, “Yvonne” and the other Yvonnes out there will read your column and take this as a teaching moment.

  • Because of our IT spam training, I would probably not even open the attachment. In this case, because I was expecting a response, I would not have opened the attachment until I sent Yvonne and e-mail confirming the attachment was from her.

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