Follow up emails are often the most awkward emails we ever send. It takes all our powers of diplomacy to craft a message that gets across the urgency of what your waiting for and makes them do something about it asap, but also doesn’t get their back up and offend or annoy them.
If you’re a manager or exec things are certainly easier. Sugar coating or elegant phrasing isn’t as much of a concern when following up with a junior employee or someone who you manage directly. Of course, you don’t want to offend anyone or be imperious but the risk of getting someone’s back up is much lower. It’s your job to follow up with them and they should be used to it.
Picking up the phone is without doubt the most effective way to follow up on anything. But when that’s not possible or appropriate, we must resort to an email.
In general, the ‘works in all situations’ style guide for Business email is this: be direct, concise, respectful and sincere.
Every company and relationship is different, but here are the 3 cardinal rules for writing the perfect reminder email suitable for anyone, anywhere.
- Always be very explicit about what you are referring to – they may not remember and if you’re vague you just make it less likely that they will get back to you – no one likes to have to admit that they’ve got no clue what you are talking about and they’ve completely overlooked it. Don’t ask them to re-read an email thread and figure it out – they will probably miss something.
- Tell them in one short sentence exactly why you need it by x date or asap. Numerous psychological studies have show that putting someone ‘in your shoes’ triggers empathy and that empathy is a strong driver in persuading people to do something for you.
- Ask when they will be able to give you what you need. This gives them some breathing space and lets them feel as if they are in control. If you have already made clear a relevant due date in the first or second part, you don’t need to demand anything here.
A lightweight approach you can take is to just send a one line email asking if they’ve “had time to look at this” and then copy in the previous email or the email which best details the thing you are waiting for.
Of course, there is no best practice for exact wording. As a manager you can and should be asking for feedback from your team as to how you talk to them, and asking people how they feel about your reminder emails is important. There’s nothing like unnecessarily getting someone’s back up every time you check in with them to ensure high staff turnover and a poor team culture. In the end, effective follow-ups are about getting what you want from the other person. That’s usually best done in a sustainable way with direct, concise, respectful and sincere language and tone.
What’s worked for you and what do you use? Let us know in the comments!
This was written by Andy Mitchell