The Importance of Acknowledgement: Can you hear me?

By Cindy O’Connell & Dr. Susan Fell

This week we offer some musings on the protocol of simple acknowledgement. In the past, our mothers, teachers, and certainly Emily Post, taught us to always, always, acknowledge a gift or kind gesture with a sincere expression of thanks in the form of a thank you note. I don’t know about you, but no matter how I try this is an area in need of constant remediation.

Modern technology has morphed that practice to also include emails or social media posts, and this column shall not disperse judgment as to the correctness of electronic versus handwritten notes of thanks. We find that best practice and time-honored traditions of “what manners most” transcends the actual format of a sincerely-written thank you note. So, our first guiding principle is to acknowledge with thank you notes…by any means please.

Beyond the gesture of acknowledging kindness with thanks, there are other times where the simple act of acknowledgement is also appropriate, which leads to our second guiding principle — to acknowledge the receipt of an invitation.

It is usually appropriate to acknowledge an invitation to an event, given that the host must make plans for a headcount for menu and seating options. The French phrase Rsvp* (répondez, s’il vous plaît) means to respond, if you please. Events today may be organized and communicated via social media tools and in those cases, one should discern whether the invitation has been specifically extended to you or disseminated broadly to a mass audience. If you see that it is an event in which it is important to let the host know of your acceptance, then yes, you should respond. We find that those mass-extended invitations, often include a “click” option to indicate if you are “interested” or “attending” or “not attending.”

Our third guiding principle involves acknowledging missed phone calls. We know that sometimes when an incoming call is presenting on your cell phone or landline, you may choose to ignore it. Studies show that phone calls are almost a relic of a bygone era, especially for Millennials who prefer to text, but some folks do still utilize the phone call as their primary form of communication. If you do purposefully ignore, or innocently

miss a phone call, it is important to later acknowledge that phone call. Unless you are receiving a phone call from an unknown number that might be a phishing call or an unsolicited sales call, you should either call back, or send an email or text message to the caller to acknowledge that you are sorry you missed the call but will get back to them soon. Most cell phones today even have the option of picking a standard message to send to the caller.


Finally, our fourth guiding principle for acknowledgement pertains to emails. Always acknowledgement emails from those you know in a timely manner, especially if the subject is an explicit request.

The exception to this may be those instances when an email has been sent to a huge distribution list as in the mass-invitation scenario described above. Modern protocol is to hide from view a mass list of email recipients (this is accomplished by using the blind copy option) so that you are not sharing personal information with others. Keep emails brief and to the point, and please, do not send out chain emails where you request others to send the same email to 10 of your friends. If you are the recipient of one a chain mail, you are completely exonerated if you do not respond.

This discussion has pertained mostly to acknowledging personal communication, and in a future column we will discuss whether these guiding principles also apply to the business realm of what manners most. Next up:  the protocol of texting, blogging and chat rooms where do we cross the line?

We welcome your comments and especially any personal stories that illustrate the issues shared.

*Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) says this can be written R.S.V.P., or Rsvp, or R.s.v.p.

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