Ignoring vs Not Replying

I had an exchange recently that has stuck with me and so I thought I would write a bit about this topic.

When someone tweets at me, emails me, texts me, tags me, etc, and I don’t reply, they assume I either did not see it or am ignoring it. That might be true but generally, it is not the case.

What is more likely is that I saw it, I got the message, I understand it, and I may even be acting on it. But for any number of good reasons, I have chosen not to reply to it.

There is a very big difference between ignoring something and acting on it, but that difference is not visible to the person sending the message. And so they assume that it is being ignored.

Sometimes I will like the message (if it is on social media) to acknowledge that I saw it. But if I don’t actually like the message (eg “you are the dumbest person in the world Fred”), I might not do that. Or I might. It sort of depends on my mood.

But the truth is I read a lot more and act on a lot more than I acknowledge publicly. And that is the case for many people I know who for various reasons (volume, legal, PR, etc) can’t or don’t reply to many messages.

So my point is don’t assume your messages are being ignored. They may be having the desired impact. But you may not know it.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. kenberger

    Another pro tip for people actually expecting a response from someone whose time demands are competitive:Try as hard as you can to make the request as non-awkward as possible, do the work to lessen the work on the recipient’s end and maximize the chances they actually *want* to respond to you 🙂

    1. kenberger

      Hey where’s my reply?! It’s been a whole 10 minutes!!

  2. Amy Lombardo

    Or we may all have unhealthy expectations of responses and response times in this day and age. I continually hope that the pendulum swings quickly in the other direction and that email and social media both become places to convey information without expectation. Because it is impossible to keep up with it all, and unless social media is your core job function, we shouldn’t try.

  3. WA

    655K Twitter followers, millions of eyeballs a month on the blog, forgetting about the rest of your media reach…and a reminder of why you may not reply to all the emails that may follow…nicely done – and no response required, suggested, expected etc…

  4. Rick F

    Sounds like you’re getting some hate Fred, the vast majority of us are amazed at how responsive you are considering.

    1. fredwilson

      No. Not at all. Just musing on a comment that was left here about someone else

  5. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Picturing all the people right now who’re imagining this is a veiled message just for them.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Good eye!

        1. Girish Mehta

          The language was similar.Then again, availability bias. Could be something else entirely.

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen

            I had to look up availability bias 🙂 TIL!

          2. Girish Mehta

            Information that is more readily available is not more right.All of Fred’s personal correspondence is not available to me, yet I am hazarding a guess based on the little information that is “available” to my mind.

      2. fredwilson

        You prompted it for sure. Thank you for doing that. But the post was not written so much about that interaction. It was more broadly about the situation

        1. Girish Mehta

          Not me…:).

          1. fredwilson

            Right. You just flagged it. Sorry for the confusion. Not intentional

    1. fredwilson

      It is a veiled message to nobody

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Well, you’ve just titled my next punk album.

        1. fredwilson


        2. Salt Shaker

          Accepting pre-orders?

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen


      2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        @fredwilson:disqus – Lol – Not at all veilled – you engaged me directly re @brian_armstrong a couple of days ago – and it was fair comment. I made a poor assumption and stand corrected.Sometimes acknowledgement creates value, or encourages engagement and I do believe it is potentially important. BUT it is never obligatory. The assumption I made was as weak as it was not accurate.You have my apologies and thanks for a simple lesson!

  6. R Phillip Castagna

    The real issue is just how obnoxiously good and inviting your writing style and self-presentation has become over the course of keeping this blog. You mentioned in the “Practice” piece a while back that writing everyday naturally made you better… Speaking from my own experience at least, I definitely feel an urge to comment/reply to pieces you put up at least 20-30x more often than anyone else I follow online. I’ve never been a “commenter” type of person, but you’ve really nailed the calm/conversational/insightful intersection point, and continue to do so routinely. The instinct I get to “engage” is strong enough that it’s almost annoying, especially compared to anyone else I see in VC right now….And so now you are the proverbial cool uncle who doesn’t have enough time for his bewilderingly large extended family. There are both better and worse things.

    1. fredwilson

      Thank you

  7. LIAD

    You’ve just given the textbook response to a question going back millennia.Q: why isn’t God answering my prayers?A: just because you didn’t get a response, doesn’t mean he didn’t hear them or put things in motion.#PopeFred.

  8. jason wright

    in the absence of a demur assume all responses are in the affirmative. a positive mantra.

  9. Mac

    Last year you had a post explaining that, due to the sheer volume of emails you receive, you found it necessary to delete many of them. However, the rest of that post seemed to indicate we should keep trying. Are you now saying you are seeing more of them and not to assume that a ‘no response’ doesn’t mean they are being ignored or deleted? And, are we to now understand that a ‘no response’ essentially means to ‘not keep trying’?

  10. KB

    “You’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you”

  11. Hugh Khan

    Albert-Laszlo Barabasi in his book, Bursts, explains well (with data) the typical pattern of how we all tend to respond to expected replies. From Einstein’s letters to social media obligations today. Same pattern.

      1. Hugh Khan

        Barabasi’s work on social networks is very interesting, entertaining and relevant. I recommend his books, Network Science and The Formula, ahead of Bursts.

        1. jason wright

          Summer holiday ‘work’ 😉

  12. Adam Sher

    So my point is don’t assume your messages are being ignored. They may be having the desired impact. But you may not know it.Doesn’t not knowing it imply that the messages are not having the desired impact? Or are the senders waiting for a response-as-action and not the action?

  13. jason wright

    Not getting a reply would really tank my year. Where’s my shrink?

  14. Richard Reisman

    Interesting points, and I have often felt (not specifically referring to you, Fred) that there is a need for a polite, non-committal way to signal — at low cognitive cost — that something was seen, maybe at a few levels, but most importantly as a basic acknowledgement such, as “Noted, thanks.” That should be available for all channels (email, comments, etc.). Additions could signal things like limited agreement, limited disagreement, or not something I can think about right now.

  15. Pointsandfigures

    You didn’t reply to my PLEASE BUY THE KNICKS message. : ). It’s not good for the Knicks to be this bad for this long. That goes for the Bulls too

  16. Bill Smith

    I am not going to respond to this post. But don’t assume I didn’t read.

  17. Chaim Klar

    Thanks @fredwilson:disqus!

  18. Saul_Lieberman

    Fred – how do you feel when you don’t get a reply?

  19. Matt A. Myers

    Patience is something learned, more difficult for some than others. Attachment is the bigger difficulty most have. Eventually you learn to pace yourself, and then eventually if no response – or no response within a timeframe you deem required for whatever it is you’re trying to move forward with, then you learn to move on; not making assumptions is important here, otherwise that’s where illogical, irrational resentment can form. It’s why being connected to your body, self-awareness, is so important – so you can sense these signals clearly, and before they get unnecessarily strong/big which cascades into other symptoms, problems.

  20. John Revay

    Fred – I am always impressed by how responsive you are especially for being a hot shot VC.I am comfortable in pinging you – email, txt, tweet and I do get the sense you read it – I am sorry for pinging you at odd hours some time

  21. Adam Mastrelli

    such a needed statement here. love it.