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What are Return Receipt (RRs) and When to Use Them

Email Return Receipt Etiquette and Tips

This morning, I had an email from a business guy asking how and when one should use Return Receipts (RR). His inquiry was due to one of his associates making this request with every email they sent.

Why do Return Receipts even exist?

I think this feature is useless because it can be easily declined. Return receipts are a way of knowing that an email has been opened on the recipient’s computer.

It does not, however, mean the opened email has been read. While your confirmation may indicate that the email was “read,” there is no way to guarantee that an email has been read. Opened, yes. Read, no.

Return receipts may be helpful in select and rare business communications. For example, one individual wants to confirm that the recipient has received a vital communication.

However, the problem with return receipts is that some misuse them. For example, to “know” the email was received on non-critical, not time-sensitive emails. Don’t be surprised if contacts may become annoyed at this request, feeling your request is intrusive or a form of babysitting.

Situations where I can see using an RR are the sending of time-sensitive or legal communications. In critical cases such as this, communication is vital.

You explain in advance to the other side that you will request an RR to confirm their receipt due to the importance of the communication. Then, nicely ask that they accept your RR to confirm they did receive your email.

When Return Receipts become annoying…

As we know, there is no expectation of privacy in the work environment. If a supervisor wants to confirm you have received a specific email (of course, not every email), acknowledge your receipt and go about your business. If you feel there are other reasons behind these requests, contact them for a sit-down to discuss your concerns.

Now, if a coworker is using RRs for non-critical communications, ask them why. If they cannot provide a valid reason, you are not obligated to acknowledge your receipt, notwithstanding any company policy to the contrary.

Do you communicate with someone who has this feature for every email? Send them a friendly email with a “Did you know…..” the best approach is to inform them that this is not a feature to be used for every casual email.

Explain that RRs are more for special situations where it is essential (not curious) to know an email has been received. Your patience and explanation will help them better use this feature.

Know that Most RRs will be Ignored.

As a recipient, one can determine when/if they want to read and reply to an email. Therefore, RRs should be reserved for those instances where it is critical to know the email was received/opened. And even then, the recipient is not obligated to accept your request.

I have RRs turned off completely. This is due to the number of requests without notice from folks I don’t know and for what I deem non-critical.

I oblige when advised in advance on an important matter and understand why the other side requests an RR. However, due to my settings, they would have to ask me to turn acceptance on in advance, or I’ll never know if one was requested.

You don’t know if your RR will even be seen. How many other folks have the same settings in place as I do and will never see RR requests? You just don’t know.

The Bottom Line for Return Receipts

Use RRs for legal issues and essential company matters where you need proof or a “paper trail” that the email was sent and subsequently opened. All you have to do is ask in advance if it is that important. Simple!

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