How to Respond to an Email After a Socially Inappropriate Amount of Time has Passed

Maybe you’re at work. Maybe you’re the monarch of a small European nation and find the concept of work passé. Eventually you will encounter an email you unintentionally (or perhaps maliciously) let sit unanswered for too long.

But don’t worry, this happens to everyone. The interesting phenomenon is that the original sender, himself or herself, likely doesn’t remember or care that they didn’t receive a response. If a hand-written letter is like grabbing coffee with an old friend, sending an email is like seeing someone you went to high school with while home for the holidays, making eye contact, and pretending like you hadn’t seen them in the first place. If calling someone on the phone is like giving them a handmade mug for Christmas, an email is like wrapping-up the shoe you stole from their suitcase thirty minutes earlier.

Email, for better or worse, seems to be the preferred method of information exchange for private inter-business relations. The only form of popular communication lower than email is text — the yellowed armpit of literature — though I’m sure as the tsunami of technology rapidly approaches armageddon, I’ll need to update this educational essay accordingly…

So you’ve let that email sit in a puddle of its own urine for too long. It happens. Do one of the following to ensure this doesn’t lead to “another one of those conversations” with bossman.

  1. Make a funny. That email response could have saved someone a ton of money, unnecessary stress, or even their health, but it’ll all be okay when they realize the person who f-ed them over for eternity could also potentially be a weekend drinking-buddy.
  2. Pretend like nothing happened. Your response no longer pertains to anyone’s life, and in fact, the recipient could very well have died in the 4 months since they inquired about their insulin-refill-whatever. The important thing is to remain professional and never acknowledge your shortcomings.
  3. Threaten them. Take the offensive. No one cares about receiving accurate information from you once you promise to come ’round their place with a baseball bat and leave them walkin’ like an ostrich for the next six months.
  4. Send an OOO reply. Your 4-months-tardy response makes sense now that you’ve let them know you’ll be on paid leave from last Tuesday through this Thursday.
  5. Delete the message. And after that, go to your trash and permanently delete it. This email has caused you too much anxiety as it is, plus it’s almost 6:00. This is your mental health we’re talking about, and nothing’s more important than that.
  6. Quit. There’s no time like the present, and this chair is causing lower back pain. You’re a victim of 21st century life, and Argentina is beautiful this time of year. Run away. Do it tonight.

Really though, apologize, respond appropriately, and ask if there’s anything else you can help with. This, as well as many other workday banalities, should pass with little fanfare.