Fun fact: According to a recent Adobe survey, people say the most annoying phrase they’ve ever seen in email is this:
Not sure if you saw my last email…
If you’re also nodding your head and saying, “Hell ya, can’t stand when people say that,” you’re in the right place.
See, no one likes it when others are passive aggressive, over email or really anywhere. And while the intent of this phrase is harmless—to get the person to respond to said past email—it ends up coming across as annoying, distrusting, and sometimes flat-out rude. Plus, it’s less likely to make the person actually want to respond.
So how can you follow up on emails the right way? Here are some more reliable phrases to try:
1. “To Meet Our Deadline/Stay on Schedule, I Need Your Answer by [Deadline]”
Rather than beat around the bush—“Not sure if you saw my last email, but it’s pretty great, and you should take a look because…”—just get to the point.
What do you need from the person? And when? And why? By being direct and giving a reason, you make it basically impossible for the person to ignore you (especially if a bunch of other people are CC’d and can see your request).
2. “I Know You’re Busy, But I Want to Include Your Input/Expertise and Will Need it by [Deadline]”
I’d call this the more polite version of the above. This shows that you understand that the person is swamped with other responsibilities, but also that you value their opinion (flattery never hurts) and would greatly appreciate a (quick) response.
3. “Let Me Know if We Should Go With [Option 1] or [Option 2] by [Deadline]”
I like this because it’s super specific and makes the person’s choice even easier. Rather than come up with their own answer, they just get to pick one of two (or three or four, if there are several options)—and you get to walk away with an obvious solution.
Of course, a successful follow-up email requires more than just these phrases. This article does a great job of outlining what’s key in getting people to respond—including using an informative subject line and making a clear connection between the person and your needs.
Regardless, I think we can all work on being a little more upfront at work—it’ll only make our interactions (and emails) stronger.