E-mail etiquette question: Thanks or no thanks?

Is it possible to be too polite? Yes.

This is a minor matter, obviously, so if you're busy move on.

Here's the set-up, as happens to almost all of us, almost every day: A colleague or business associate has answered your routine e-mail request with his or her equally routine answer (let's say you asked for a budget number, for example).

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Your original request included the requisite "please" and "thank-you" because, well, you weren't raised by wolves. Moments later a reply arrives and it provides the information you sought; nothing more, nothing less.

Do you in turn send what we're going to call here "the unadorned thanks?" In other words, do you - as many do - reply with only the word "thanks." (Again, for the sake of this discussion, we're presuming you have nothing else to say.)

If your answer is "of course I do, you rube," then you are probably living unaware that the unadorned thanks is considered by some to be gratuitous, at best - remember, you already wrote "thanks" - and at worst, an annoying waste of everyone's time, most notably, mine.

What's the beef? Allow me an all-too-familiar example to illustrate: Public relations professionals are constantly subjecting me to the unadorned thanks. They'll send a story pitch complete with a pre-thank-you. I'll answer, "no, thanks." And, almost before I can return my attention to whatever task it had been ripped from to reply, I'll see the PR pro's next message hit my inbox.

Just delete it, you say?

No can do. I just can't be sure that it's another unadorned thanks - even though I'd bet the mortgage money - and I've already committed to this conversation, so deleting it unopened seems rude. (No, I don't use the preview pane.)

So I click on the e-mail, curse yet another unadorned thanks, and vow solemnly never to write a word about the sender's client, at least not a positive word.

Of course, there are those who will argue that I'm a nitpicking curmudgeon. And yet others who will argue that you can never be too rich, too thin or too polite.

This is the place, so argue away. ... I know I'm not alone here.

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