How much time do you spend writing and rewriting difficult emails? If you’re like me, it’s quite a bit.
For the situations I find myself in often, I’ve developed simple email templates to make the process painless. Here are two favorites:
Situation: Someone didn’t reply to your email
When someone doesn’t reply to my email, I tend to tell myself self-deprecating stories about why that is. If I let my inner critic take the keyboard, I might write something like: “Hi, I’m super sorry to bother you because I know you’re busy and have way more important things to do than reply to my email...Unless my last email somehow offended you, which is why you haven’t responded, in which case I’m extra super sorry. Please reply so I don’t keep wondering?”
Thankfully, it’s easy to resist that instinct when I’ve got simple language I can use on autopilot.
I use one of two templates, depending on the dynamics. If it’s someone I have at least a little bit of a relationship with, I’ll write, “Bumping this back up in your inbox in case you missed it,” followed by something nice like, “Hope you had a great weekend!”
I recently used this strategy with someone who I consider to be a total VIP. I’d spent an hour crafting a very thoughtful initial email but after 10 days still hadn’t heard back. This left me full of self-doubt and stories about what his lack of reply meant. Ten minutes after I sent that simple two sentence email, he replied with a lovely note that included an apology and explanation: the company email had been down, so he missed my initial email.
In other situations, I’ll write, “I’m writing to follow up about XYZ,” and then ask a specific question.
For example, I requested a press pass at a big conference a few months ago. Again, I’d spent quite a long time crafting my initial pitch email and was disappointed by the lack of response. When I still hadn’t heard back after a week, I emailed the following:
I'm writing to follow up on my request for a press credential below. Would you let me know if you're interested in having me cover [conference name]?
Five days after my friendly nudge, I heard back. My initial contact forwarded my email to a different person entirely – the decision-maker – who followed up enthusiastically.
Situation: An email you’ve procrastinated on sending is now long overdue
Of course, there are times when I’m the one that’s taking forever to reply. Whenever I’m long overdue on an email, I find myself in a guilt spiral: it’s been too long and they’re probably mad, so now not only does my email have to be really good, but it should also include a litany of excuses.
I don’t recommend this strategy. Alternatively, an honest but brief acknowledgment of the delay can reinitiate the conversation.
I tend to say, “Thanks for your patience. Please don't interpret my delay in responding as a lack of [enthusiasm/commitment/interest].” Then I say something affirming and cut to the chase about the topic at hand.
Here’s what that template looks like in action: A client was working on a partnership with another business but had gone several days without replying to an email to discuss details. She wrote:
Thanks for your patience. Please don't perceive my delay in responding as a lack of interest. I am excited about our potential collaboration and the value it could provide to both businesses. I’d like to meet in person to brainstorm the best approach and discuss terms...
He replied right away, and they got together soon after to iron out the details.
In either scenario, there’s a risk of coming across as either a b*tchy and demanding or painfully aloof. Trying to strike the proper balance can be daunting, and it can lead to even longer periods of inaction. These templates help me stop second guessing myself and to keep it simple and professional.