How to get faster responses from your coworkers (without going over their heads)

By Hannah Massen

It’s Monday morning at 10 a.m., but you’re feeling great. After you get this last item from Jim, you’ll finally be done with the major project that’s due on Friday. You draft a quick email request to Jim, hit “send,” then go about your day. 

By Tuesday afternoon you still haven’t heard back from Jim, but that’s OK. The project isn’t due until the end of the week, and you’re sure you’ll hear back from him tomorrow.

Wednesday morning rolls around, and still no word from Jim. Zero, nada, zilch. You consider emailing him, “WTH, Jim?! It’s a short, quick reply!” but instead, you send an “As per my last email…” follow-up. 

And by Thursday you’re really starting to get nervous. You think, this is ridiculous. It’s such a simple request. What’s the holdup? Now, you’re weighing your options: you could stop by his desk, try calling him, send him a text, or even CC his boss on the next email. But what should you do? 

We can all picture ourselves as the main character of this story for a reason. While two heads are almost always better than one, it can be hard enough to rely on other people at work to get your own job done, let alone finish full-team projects. Everyone has a “Jim” in their life, and it feels like the only time you get a quick response from him is when he’s on vacation and his email auto-reply is on. 

But don’t despair. There are ways to get faster responses from your coworkers (without having to go over your their heads).

Save “Emergency” subject lines for real emergencies 

If every other email you send comes with an all-caps subject line or contains words like “urgent,” “ASAP” or “emergency,” your coworkers will start to read them as “boy who cried wolf” situations. In other words, if you make every situation seem like an emergency, Jim will be slower to respond when it really counts. If your deadline is tomorrow, and you need that final project piece now, go ahead and turn your caps lock on. But if you’re asking for last week’s sales reports out of curiosity, give your people some grace. 

Don’t apologize 

Sorry to bother you. I hate to clog up your inbox. I’m sorry to be emailing you again. Sound familiar? When you’re sending a polite email to someone like a hiring manager, apologies can be a respectful way to segue into the rest of your email, but when you’re eagerly awaiting a response that someone legitimately owes you, you have nothing to be sorry for. You’ve done nothing wrong. 

Cut to the chase 

If you need a fast response from someone, chances are you’ve already sent that person at least one email, and those emails likely contained a lot of pleasantries or background information. Make it easy for the recipient to send you exactly what you need by cutting to the chase in your followup. For example, you might write:

Hi, Jim, 

Just reminding you that I’m still missing your contributions to our presentation on Friday. Can you please send me the following items by 5 p.m. today?

  • Quarterly growth report 
  • New client logos 

Thank you! 

Try other methods 

We’re used to relying on email – and for good reason. It’s a fast, effective way of communicating that doesn’t have our phones buzzing all day long. But sometimes a phone call or, even better, an in-person chat is the best way to get your point across. We’ve all opened emails, vowed to respond to them later, then forgotten all about them within the hour, so sometimes it takes going directly to the source to get the job done. 

Outline your next steps

If all else fails, it’s time to describe the steps you’ll take if you never get the response you need. No matter how many tactics you try, there are some people who just won’t get back to you, and that’s when you send your final follow-up email with a note that explains what you’ll do if they don’t reply. You might say something like: 

If I do not receive these items by the end of the day, I will move forward with the report with a note explaining that your contributions were never received. 

Aggressive? Yes. Effective? Definitely.

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