Life & Work Skills

How to Follow Up on an Email Without Being a Pest

written by KAT BOOGAARD
Source: Social Squares
Source: Social Squares

You scan through each and every sentence of a perfectly crafted email one final time and then hit “send.” Whether it was a job application, request for a meeting, or just a simple question you need answered, there’s now nothing left to do but wait for a reply.

Days tick by, and you’ve heard absolutely nothing. Understandably, you’re getting antsy for a response. But at the same time, you don’t want to seem like a total nag. So, what should you do?

Following up is always encouraged. However, there’s a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. Here are six things to keep in mind to encourage a response without coming off as completely obnoxious in your follow-up email.


1. Be realistic with expectations

In 2021, it’s standard to feel constantly connected, and while that’s definitely helped make life more convenient, it’s also warped our perceptions of what a reasonable response time is. So before ever drafting a follow-up email, it’s important to pause first to think about your expectations. That message you sent days—or even a week—ago that’s still awaiting a response? You can check in on it without seeming overly eager. But, if you contacted someone mere hours ago and are shocked that he or she hasn’t gotten back to you yet? Well, you’re better off practicing a little patience and keeping that follow-up in “draft” for now.


2. Be polite

It can be frustrating to feel as though you constantly need to chase people down in order to get what you need; however, no matter how irritated you become, you shouldn’t let any of that hostility creep into your follow-up message.

That means no snide remarks like, “I still haven’t heard anything from you,” or blatantly aggressive comments like, “I don’t understand why it’s taking you so long to get back to me about this.”

Most of us don’t respond well to anger and finger pointing. So, even if it manages to get you a reply, it likely won’t be one that you like. So make an effort to be overly polite. And remember the old saying: “You catch more flies with honey.”


3. Explain your reasoning

We all get busy. And in those moments when it feels like your to-do list is out to get you, it’s tough to think of anyone’s workload besides your own. This is why it’s important to remind the recipient of why you’re following up—why exactly is their response needed? Of course, this explanation will vary depending on the specific item you’re checking in on. But, for the sake of simplicity, here’s an example. I often have to circle back with potential freelance clients to see if they’d like to move forward with a discussed project. They can be notoriously slow on responding with a decision, so often a line of my follow-up email looks like this:

Please let me know whether you’d like to move forward with the project as discussed. Your firm answer will allow me to map out my workload for the coming weeks.

This is a gentle assertion that my own schedule is hinging on their response. Oftentimes, being reminded that they aren’t operating in a vacuum is enough to inspire people to fire off a quick reply.


Source: Social Squares


4. Switch things up

We all rely heavily on email. But, it’s definitely not the sole form of communication that exists. So if you haven’t had success with the written word, why not try a different method? No, you don’t need to send smoke signals or carrier pigeons. However, if you have a phone number for the person, why not give a phone call a try? Of course, you shouldn’t plan to bombard someone with an endless stream of emails and calls—that’s how you develop a reputation as a pest. However, if you’ve sent two messages and have yet to hear something, sometimes connecting in a more personal manner (such as via the phone) can get you the response you need.

If you’d rather stick to email? You can switch things up there too. If you sent your previous email in the morning, try sending your second follow-up in the afternoon this time around. Sometimes your key to success is catching someone when they’re not absolutely swamped.


5. Set a firm deadline

There’s nothing that lights a fire quite like an approaching deadline. And while including a firm end date in your follow-up emails might seem a little direct and brash, it’s usually effective. Why? Well, it puts the ball back in your court and makes your expectation clear to the recipient. It illustrates that if you don’t hear back by the specified date, you’re moving on.

What does this look like in practice? Let’s continue with the message I used with a hypothetical freelance client above. I’d just tack a simple line like this onto the end:

If I haven’t heard from you by the end of this week, I’ll assume you’ve gone in a different direction.

Whether you’re waiting on an answer from a client, a potential employer, or a co-worker, setting this firm deadline ensures you’re both on the same page—which is key for avoiding any further problems or miscommunication.


6. Know when it’s time to call it quits

The most important thing about using a deadline in your follow-up emails? Sticking to it. You don’t want to set an end date for your recipient, and then continue to contact them about the issue. Then your words and expectations will hold no merit. Why should they ever take you seriously? There comes a certain point when it’s clear you’re just not going to hear back from a person. So let go and move on. If you continue to pester someone, even after they’ve repeatedly (and blatantly) ignored you, you’ll only annoy the recipient and harm your own reputation in the process.

There’s no denying it: not hearing back from someone can be annoying, irritating, and even stifle your own productivity. There’s nothing wrong with following up in order to get your hands on the information you need. However, you want to do so in a way that shows you’re persistent—and not a pest. Keep these six tips in mind, and you’re sure to walk the right side of that fine line.