Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Chances are you have sent an email to a coworker, customer, or potential employer and then wondered why you didn’t get a response. You are not alone. With professionals receiving, on average, over 100 emails each day, many messages go unread and unanswered. So, what should you do if you don’t get a response to your email?
Consider whether email is the best channel. Too often we choose email because it’s the communication channel that works best for us, but consider what might be best for the other person. If your email requested information that would take more than a line or two of text to respond to or if the topic was related to a sensitive subject, a phone call might be a better choice.
Review your initial message for clarity. Is the purpose of your message clear? The email subject should forecast the content of the message and your request should be surfaced in the first or second line. Keep in mind that many people check their email on their phones and may not scroll to the end of long messages. Many busy executives are copied on so many messages, that if the action is not clearly stated, the email ends up being deleted.
Wait at least a week before following up. For non-pressing issues, give the other person time to respond. While the topic of your email may be the most important thing on your mind at the moment, chances are it’s not the top priority of the person you are sending it to. Assume the lack of response has nothing to do with you.
Not too long ago I hadn’t heard from a colleague and rather than take his non-response personally, I followed up with a simple, “Is everything going okay?” My empathetic approach resulted in him sharing what was going on in his personal life. My email seemed trivial at that point.
There is also a chance the person you emailed doesn’t know the answer to your question and that they are trying to get the answer from someone else. While a simple response to your message like, “I’ll look into this and get back to you next week”, would be polite, some people don’t follow this practice.
Make the response easy. I learned early in my career that if I could write an email that only required my supervisor to respond with one word, it significantly increased the likelihood of a response. So, in addition to making your point clear at the beginning, try to end with a question that could lead to a “yes/no” reply.” For example: “Are you available to meet Tuesday at 9:00 AM? Or “Are you comfortable with me moving ahead on this project?”
Consider your timing. Try sending the email at a different time of day and on a different day of the week, but only send it within regular business hours. If you have a relationship with the person, you might consider when they are most likely to read and respond to messages. For example, I worked for someone once who I knew would read and respond to his emails first thing in the morning. I scheduled my emails to arrive at that time. I learned that emails sent later in the day would be read but not responded to likely because they appeared so low in his inbox by the next morning.
Attach your original message. Summarize your request using different words and be careful of the tone you use. For example, “I’m writing to follow up on an email from last week” is much more considerate than “I'm writing again because I haven’t heard back from you.”
Check the email address. Not too long ago, I heard from someone that I didn’t respond to a mutual contact’s email. This feels a bit silly to state, but double check you have the correct email address. It’s possible you have an old email address for the person or that you typed the address incorrectly.
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While email has evolved into a primary form of business communication, it is important to consider in advance if it’s the best way to elicit a response. Following the tips provided here should improve your chances of accomplishing your communication goals.