Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guest Post: Why Sailors Take so Long to Respond to Email and What to Do About It

Last week I wrote a blog post about how it can be frustrating when our Sailors do not respond to emails while on a det or deployment. I wanted to get my husband’s perspective so I wrote him an email, and jokingly suggested he wouldn't respond quickly. Actually he responded that day, and he wrote such a great answer, I’ve decided to make it a guest post this week. Thank you to my lovely and supportive husband for writing it.

Why Sailors Fail to Respond to Emails and 5 Ways to Get Faster Responses
By AOC Jonathan Carroll

Why Aren’t You Answering My Email?

So why does that answer take so long to come back? Or sometimes that answer doesn’t come back at all, even with constant reminders? 

Each Sailor is different, and though, I can’t speak for all of them, this is something that I actually have counseled Sailors on. It depends again on the Sailor, but there seems to be a few common themes. 

photo credit: winged photography via photopin cc
First of all, there is the operation tempo and the times at which we read our emails. Sometimes, we dart into the office and check our email really quick between evolutions, when we have only a few seconds. Due to how long it takes to log into the computer, load up Outlook, and connect to the email server, we often only have time to quickly scan our emails and then log off. Scanning is a perilous adventure when it comes to emails from loved ones because we often miss important details that would otherwise be absorbed in an undistracted read. 

During our busy days we may also read an email then forget to answer the minor questions in it and move on with the major questions. There is so much stuff going on when we are out at sea that it makes concentrated communication harder than you might think. Additionally, we usually check our emails from our desk at work or within the work center where there is a lot of distractions.

Not to mention, during long emails, topics wander. Sometimes when there are 10 points within and email, only 9 of them get answered. Mix in the mundane with the emotional or someone just having a bad day, and there are a whole slew of legitimate reactions that may be yielded. 

photo credit: Fouquier ॐ via photopin cc

Sailors are people like anyone else and a lot of it has to do with our feelings or our reaction to a particular topic, so yes, there may also be a psychological element as well. Sailors hate to be reminded about things that we cannot control. A question about a topic that we can’t do anything about or advise on will become less of a priority and may even be an embarrassment.  

Similarly, if you are asking about a question in reference to something we failed to complete ourselves prior to leaving, we may just shut it out.There are several possible reaction to that situation though. Some people may get upset and pick a fight and not even realize why they are doing it. There is the no-answer or late answer, and there are probably other reactions I don’t know of as well.

Sometimes the ship turns the internet off. You might not think about it, but even having email is a luxury and sometimes antennas break or situations arise that require the Captain of a ship just turn the switch off.  All that information flying off into the sky is a pretty good way for the bad guys to find an Aircraft Carrier.  If a part of a ship or a ship's mission is critical and the organization can’t risk the situation or operation ending up on CNN, Facebook, or Google, a Commanding Officer might just turn off the internet. Information warfare is another part of warfare, and when a ship does this, it's often done without warning.

5 Ways to Get a Faster Response

photo credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet via photopin cc
1. Multiple Emails. If you have multiple topics to cover, use multiple emails. Fill out the subject line accordingly: “Business Email – Where’s the Checkbook?” This allows the Sailor to keep a record of what is what. He can bang out the answer to a three line question easier if it’s not buried in five pages of how your day is or a funny story about the clown and the wood chipper.

2. Prioritize. If you have multiple emails with multiple topics the next trick is figuring out his schedule. Actually, don’t figure it out, just ask. He might like to get the emotional and non-business emails in the evening before he goes to bed. I used to print them out and keep them in a binder in my rack. You can even set your email to send at a specific time, so you don’t have to remember to send it at some awkward time. Send the short separate business emails throughout the work day. He is in a work frame of mind anyway. 

3. Take a Walk in the Sailor’s Boots. Understand that he may not work near or at an office or a computer. Keep in mind that we are scanning and will miss stuff. Identify business emails from personal ones and if it’s something that’s really important, say so in the subject line. Use short paragraphs separated by a space, headers, bullet points, and numbers to organize and clarify stuff throughout the email. Books are organized that way so people can reference back and find information easily. Sailors need that help too.

4. Be Understanding with Sensitive Topics. Consider that your Sailor may be touchy about his/her failing to wire that light or install that air conditioner before he/she left. This is where stating your reason for asking may be of critical importance. Just say you understood why he/she didn’t have time to take care of it before they left, but you want to take care of it so he/she can spend more time doing fun things upon return. Be understanding even with this softened delivery. The Sailor may be hurt and may not want to respond to you out of anger.

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc
5. Timelines. Try to give them a day or two to answer your questions. Sometimes we don’t have time to answer or even check emails in a 24-hour period. If it is a short fuse, and you need an answer right away, state that in the subject line. Keep in mind, Sailors loath the hurry up and answer me right now because I forgot to ask you a week ago when it would have been easier. 

So that’s my two cents on communicating with Sailors who are lagging on answering emails. Now, if only I could find the time to answer some of my wife’s emails instead of writing a guest post for her blog.  =)   

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
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Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
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In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

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  1. I have a question. I'm gonna guess you were surface. Well my boyfriend is a Submariner (one of THOSE weirdos, yes. Haha ), and from what I understand, communication with them is much harder. I've been told I won't be getting email responses from him unless they're at port. Do you happen to know how often that would be? & should I not email him so much if it's a long time, in order to give him time for responses? He doesn't deploy til next year, but it feels so soon since I won't see him until December and then I just have to wait til I stop hearing from him, and I've no clue what to expect.

  2. This is a really great question Taryn and I'm glad you asked it, but you are right! My husband deployed on a flight carrier and the subs are different but I'm going to get you your answer. I've posted an abbreviated version of your question on my Facebook forum to get tips from wives who know, and I'm posting the question on but I'm also going to ask my husband. I shall be back with more!

  3. Here is a response I received on the Unhinged Navy Wives & Girlfriends Facebook Forum:

    "...they usually get emails when they go on the surface as well. any other detail i can give you will be a violation of OPSEC…so Ill leave it like that, hope it helps. Also, when we were in the sub, we both number our emails to each other on the subject line, just to keep track, emails usually gets lost in"


I love, love your comments and questions! Just remember to not mention any security info about your Sailor! Thank you!

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