Study: Negative People Are Way Better at Replying to Emails

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 29 2013 11:04 AM

Study: Negative People Are Way Better at Replying to Emails

Negative people reply to email 36% faster
This exasperated fellow is sure to respond to your LinkedIn request posthaste.

Chad Zuber / Shutterstock.com

Friendly, upbeat people are a pleasure to work with—except when they don’t reply to your emails.

The engineers at Contactually, a referral marketing platform, analyzed more than 100 million email conversations and found something surprising. People who tend to use positive, upbeat language in their messages—like “care” and “amazing”—only respond to 47 percent of their emails within 24 hours. Those who more frequently use negative words, like “missed” and “stupid,” respond to a healthy 64 percent of messages within a day. That’s 36 percent more than their shiny happy counterparts.

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It isn’t immediately clear why this should be the case. My first thought was that negative emails take less time to write. I can say, “Sorry, not interested” in 10 seconds, whereas crafting an encouraging response takes a little more time (not to mention willpower). But Contactually co-founder Tony Cappaert told me that doesn’t seem to fully explain the trend. Negative people’s subject lines averaged 23 characters, just 8 percent fewer than positive people’s 25-character average. 

“Maybe the negative folks are more active online in general,” Cappaert’s colleague Jeff Carbonella speculated in a press release about the study. “Sort of explains Internet trolls, doesn’t it?”

Or maybe the causality works the other way, and people who spend all day replying to emails end up bitter and snippy.

The study wasn’t peer-reviewed and isn’t likely to be published in Nature anytime soon. Still, the huge sample size suggests there’s at least something to the findings. Any theories, readers? I look forward to the snide remarks that are sure to appear promptly in the comments section.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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