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Power User

Silencing Email Read Receipts: Why You Don’t Always Get What You Want

By Vivian Manning

Back in the day when I was a young and naive pup, I didn’t pay much attention to how my email was set up. I’d sometimes be surprised by a little pop-up that accompanied an email I’d just opened in Microsoft Outlook, asking me to please confirm receiving and reading that email: aka a “read receipt.”

silencing email read receipts

I may have been naive in those days, but I was also (and still am) private and paranoid. My reflexive privacy twitch always caused my finger to click “no” every time that box appeared. (“No, you can’t know that I received and read your email — that’s my business, not yours.”) Eventually, I began poking around for a way to turn off those occasional, annoying pop-ups. It wasn’t long before I found it and silenced them permanently — telling Outlook never to send a receipt, no matter how nicely the sender asked.

No annoying pop-up — no receipt — happy me.

Why tell you this? Because it seems that a number of emailers still send read receipt requests (though, really, I wouldn’t know …). Apparently, they don’t realize that getting the acknowledgment they’re looking for requires actual cooperation on the part of the recipient. Well, just because you’ve asked doesn’t mean you’ll receive. Like me, your email recipient may have turned off the ability to respond to read requests, or they may just choose “no” on a one-off basis (if they don’t mind annoying pop-ups). Or they may be using email software so old and decrepit that it’s incapable of sending a read receipt.

You can’t force a response if they are determined not to respond unless you employ third-party software add-ons.

If you’re an Outlook user and find, like me, that you don’t want to be bothered by read receipt requests, here’s how to control them.

Controlling Outlook Read Receipts

The steps below are for Outlook 2010. If you have a different version, just get to your Outlook “Options” however you can and follow from there. If you use a different email package, poke around in your options menus until you find something resembling the instructions below.

To set your read receipts preference in Outlook:

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click Mail.
  4. Scroll down to the Tracking section and click one of the following options under “for any message received that includes a read-receipt request,” then click OK to set your choice.
  • Always send a read receipt. (This means if the sender asks, you won’t see the pop-up, but senders will receive a confirmation that you received and read their email if they asked for it.)
  • Never send a read receipt. (My choice.)
  • Ask each time whether to send a read receipt. (This is the default setting, meaning you see the pop-up if the sender requests a read receipt, but you also retain control over your response.)

Now you know, when it comes to email, absence of acknowledgment is not evidence that the email was undelivered or unread.

When You Really, Really Need Confirmation

If you really need to know that an email was received and read, you must, in the absence of a reply, find an alternative way to confirm it. You could pick up the phone and ask, or request confirmation right within the email itself. Or, you might try a registered email service such a ReadNotify or RPost (which comes with the added benefit of encryption).

Do you have a favorite method of confirmation? Please drop any recommendations in the comments box below. 

“Power User” columnist Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office. She currently indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech, where she provides “tips of the day.”

More Tech Tips from Vivian Manning

Illustration ©ImageZoo

Categories: Legal Technology, Managing a Law Firm, Power User
Originally published May 24, 2022
Last updated June 20, 2023
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Vivian Manning

Vivian Manning retired from Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario in 2019. For more than 16 years she served as the firm’s IT manager, office manager and technology trainer. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston LLP (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with a total of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office.


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