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This resource is designed to complement Professional Emails – The Basics, which covers among other things the need to be accurate and clear in your email writing so the receiver fully understands what is expected.  If your email is unclear they should write back in the first place, but always assume the worst and make sure your communication is as good as it can be.

A common problem that corporations face is when information requests are seemingly ignored by the recipient.  Often this is then reflected on the sender for not receiving said information or actioning it in time.  As well as being unfair this puts the sender in an uncomfortable position.  On one hand they are under pressure, from their managers to hit their targets and on the other they are in the awkward position of having to repeat the request and possibly use stronger language in order to achieve that aim.

Such an employee often feels caught between a rock and a hard place.

However, there is hope and what is needed is a process of escalating emails.  The suggestions here are a mixture of online research and my own thoughts.

Before escalating though it is important to understand if the person you are writing to his also waiting in an information chain.  Are they communicating and explaining the situation?  If so a different tact is necessary.  Please be aware of Peter and the Wolf syndrome.  The communicator who always has an excuse could just be trying to cover themselves. Use discernment* to figure out whether you are being ‘fobbed off’ or if the person is genuinely awaiting information for forwarding.  If this is the case they should be encouraged to follow their own escalation procedure – share this link with them if necessary.  Whatever you do ensure you keep all parties informed otherwise you expose yourself to danger of escalation.

* The numbers game is often a fair indicator of being fobbed off.  Once in a while such situations happen to everybody, but if it happens too frequently it would raise serious doubts – hence Peter and the Wolf.

  • An obvious first step is to lose the friendliness. This does not mean being rude or inappropriate, but use more direct language that is more to the point.  The receiver is not reciprocating, evidenced by their lack of due diligence in not sending the information.  Switch to a more formal, even overformal style and omit such pleasant phrases as, ‘I hope you are well?’ or ‘Have a nice weekend.’
  • Use your introductory paragraph to reiterate your position in the company and remind the receiver of the necessity of the information, to meet regulatory compliance requirements, avoid reputational damage, or to smoothly process a client request. Communicate this is serious, take me seriously – so take this email seriously.
  • Explain why you are writing again and why the situation has become unacceptable. Do not be rude or personal, stick to the facts, but leave overpolite language out and keep things formal (see also point 1 above).
  • Use direct language to clearly communicate what you want / need. The original email probably used language such as, Could you… or I would appreciate it if…  Change tone and use phrases like We expect or We requireBe absolutely clear about what is required and when it is required by.  If you have to create a new deadline remind the receiver of the original deadline and make the new one short.
  • Inform (or remind) the receiver again of the impact(s) of their inaction.
  • Use formal language in your sign off. Avoid such warm phrases as Best Regards or Yours and opt rather for Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully.

What to do if this does not work?

Sometimes despite your best efforts it can feel like you are banging your head against the wall.  This is when you truly need to escalate in the truest sense of the word and need to involve firstly those in your vertical and then those in the receiver’s vertical.

Add to the CC your line manager / department head and inform the receiver that this has been done.  This achieves two aims.  It shows your line manager / department head that you are being pro-active in trying to achieve a resolution; the thought that it has been effectively escalated on your side may prompt a greater response.  Warn the receiver that any further email will necessitate the inclusion in the CC of their line manager.

Stick to the facts and raising the levels as suggested in this guide should lead to a resolution and if not then you have in principle handed off the problem to the receiver’s manager to deal with and such lack of due diligence on their part may lead to disciplinary action or even dismissal.

All the above can be summarised into five simple steps, which are summarised in the image below.

One final word of warning, one who lives in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones.  A choice to escalate also points a finger back at you.  Your conduct will also come under scrutiny, be as perfect as you possibly can be and ensure you have all your bases covered.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services, 2019