How To Follow Up With Someone Who Doesn’t Reply To An Email
We’ve all been there: You email someone providing them with information or asking for an appointment or input and you get no reply. Anyone who has every worked with me will tell you this is one of my pet peeves.
What Happens When You Don’t Reply To An Email
I admit it, I find such unresponsiveness very frustrating. Here’s why.
- It can show a lack of appreciation. As a blogger, coach and consultant I regularly receive emails requesting information on a variety of subjects. After providing a thorough response, often with several links and attachments, most people never respond back. No word of thanks, no acknowledgement the information was helpful, no appreciation for my assistance.
- It can mean deadlines aren’t met. In my role as an Executive Pastor, I was often expected to provide information to the pastor, church leaders, committees, teams and the congregation in a timely manner. On occasion I submitted reports that were lacking or inaccurate because someone failed to provide me the necessary information by the date I had requested in an email.
- It can cost you personally. I teach an online seminary class that has due dates for assignments. Each semester I have students I have to downgrade because they don’t reply to an email reminder that their assignment is due. If they had responded by explaining their situation and asking for an extension, I would most likely have granted it.
- It communicates that your time is more important than mine. Each year I interview applicants for a church ministry residency program. After they apply, I email them to set up an interview. I am consistently amazed by how many applicants don’t get back to me for days, or even weeks, and the times of my availability that I provided have long since expired.
- It leaves me hanging. When you don’t reply to my email I don’t know if it got lost in cyber space, you missed it in your in box, you are sick, lost, on vacation, or if I have the wrong email address. Should I wait a while longer for you to respond, or should I send a follow up?
Why People Don’t Reply To Emails
I find it helpful, but only slightly, to understand the various reasons people don’t reply to my emails.
- It’s generational. My generation was taught to write thank you notes, respond to letters, and acknowledge emails. Responsiveness to people who spoke, called, wrote or otherwise communicated with you was a value my generation and my parent’s generation held high. Clearly, the following generations don’t hold this value nearly as high.
- It’s a matter of preference. Email as a primary means of communication is decreasing with each generation as new alternatives surface regularly.
- People are reading emails less and less frequently. With the clutter of information hitting people’s inbox many people are choosing to read their emails less frequently, and understandably, with less attentiveness.
- It accidentally goes unread. We’ve all done it. An email gets deleted accidently, we fail to notice it in our inbox, it goes to spam, or we set it aside with intent to follow up but then forget about it.
- They misunderstood. Sometimes people do read your email but fail to note or understand your “ask” and so don’t respond.
- Life happens. People often have very good reasons for not getting back to you, busy schedules, time sensitive responsibilities, health issues, family issues, the reasons are endless.
- You’re just not that important. We all have to prioritize our time. Frequently your email just isn’t as important to the receiver as it is to you.
How To Follow Up Effectively and Graciously
As frustrating as I find a lack of prompt response, I have learned the hard way that a gracious, understanding and compelling follow-up is much better than a snarky one. Here are some things I’ve tried with some success.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume you are being ghosted. This is more important now than ever. We are all juggling a lot.
- Be aware of tone. Research shows that emails that strike a positive tone have an up to 15% higher response rate. So, aim to be friendly, polite, kind, and understanding.
- Start with a compelling subject line. Instead of typical phrases like “Following Up” or “Checking In” try being more specific. For example, “Next steps with project…..” or “I have a question for you.”
- Be clear about your ask. Sometimes when I reread one of my emails, I see that it could have been confusing or unclear. Restating the “ask” using different and more succinct and specific language can help generate a response.
- Provide an easy way out. If you can provide an alternative to your initial request, then do so. Sometimes people don’t respond because they don’t know how to or are reluctant to tell you the real reason they haven’t gotten back to you.
- Demonstrate understanding. Simply stating in your follow up that you understand how easy it is to overlook an email or for life to get in the way helps them save face and preserve the relationship.
- Text, or text and email. Increasingly I find people are more responsive to a text than an email. If the information I wish to communicate is too cumbersome for a text, I email them then text them asking that they check their inbox for an important email from me. This approach rarely fails.
If I do all this and still don’t get a reply, I tend to be judicious about following up again. More times than not it is time to stop wasting my time, to cut my losses, and move on.
Posted on February 15, 2022