At this point, you’d think that writing an email would be second nature to you. And in some cases, it totally is.
But in others, it makes you want to rip your hair out and call it quits for the day. Especially when you know you have to write one that’s not going to be very friendly. Because, while you may have a very clear point you want to get across, you don’t want to run the risk of coming off like a jerk.
You could try to dance around it. You could even try to add a few things to make an email sound a little nicer. But there are times when a blunt response is actually necessary.
Here are a few of those times (and don’t worry, the title didn’t lie, I’ve included templates, too).
1. When Your Colleague’s Way Behind Schedule
It’s only natural to want to avoid hurting your teammate’s feelings. But it’s just as natural to want to get your work done. If you’ve sent this person a couple emails to nudge them along without any results, it’s probably time to be a little more direct.
As we’ve discussed, I’m in in charge of [project/presentation/report/putting together a chart] for [client/company/a team]. I can’t complete it without [your co-worker’s missing part].
I’m still missing the following from you:
- [Insert task 1]
- [Insert task 2]
- [Insert task 3]
To get the project done, I need this by [choose a date] at the absolute latest. If you need help completing this/these or there’s an obstacle standing in the way, please let me know so we can find a solution.
The key here is to offer help and find out if there’s a bigger issue standing in their way. While they may just be late, they may also be waiting on something on their end and will therefore respond better to the email if you don’t make assumptions.
2. When Someone Keeps Making the Same Mistake
I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, I know I’ve made this mistake, but who cares?” But at the same time, mistakes can snowball—even the ones that have been pointed out to you.
So, if someone at work keeps making the same one (and it’s setting you back), try this template:
I wanted to send you a quick note because [the mistake] we discussed came up again. Unfortunately, it caused the team to [effect 1, effect 2, effect 3], which was not ideal.
Do you have any additional questions I can answer to help you correct this in the future/Is there anything standing in the way of being able to do this?
Please let me know, and I’d be happy to help,
Again, be direct, but offer assistance. You and I have made our fair share of mistakes before. And unless you’re lying to both of us, some of those have been repeat mistakes. So call it out, but end it on a positive note.
3. Your Teammates Can’t Make a Decision
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I say to myself, “You all just need to make a decision.” Not just at work, but if you catch me walking around New York City, you might also hear me mumble these words to myself.
This is especially frustrating when it’s holding you up. So, if you notice that a chain is spiraling out of control, don’t be afraid to step in with a blunt response:
I think we need to take a step back and re-evaluate what we’ve discussed so far. Ultimately, this should help us make a final decision
Here’s what we’ve considered so far:
- [Insert consideration 1]
- [Insert consideration 2]
- [Insert consideration 3]
Based on this, my recommendation would be [your thoughts on the final decision]. If you all agree, I think we can move forward. But if not, I’ll find time on the calendar for us to discuss in person.
This one should be even more direct than the rest. At this point, your colleagues are on the verge of debating until the end of time. So not only will this help everyone get back on track, but it’ll show everyone that you can be a leader.
Email is hard, and it will probably always be difficult in one way or another. One of most common things that makes it a challenge is a desire to be diplomatic. But here’s the thing: Sometimes a situation calls for you to put your foot down, at least to some degree. You don’t have to be a complete jerk to be blunt—and in many cases, you’ll help things move along where they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Photo of person on computer courtesy of Estelle Johnson/EyeEm/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author