40

Some counter-parties don't reply promptly, and my boss requires paper record like emailing them again e.g. after 7 business days additional to follow-up calls. My boss and I think my writing is very polite. I write one of these.

Dear Counter-party

  1. I apologize for emailing again, but I have not received a reply to my email beneath. I will appreciate hearing from you. Please let me know if you require more time.

OR

  1. Sorry. I have not heard from you to my email beneath. Your reply will be greatly appreciated.

Please let me know if you require more time. Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully,

Pamela

We don't understand why we get some very huffy replies! Two examples from two different companies.

I apologize for our delay. Our company strives to answer emails within 48 hours. But I would like you to be more polite with us when chasing us for our tardiness.


Your email 13 days ago was received. I guess you wanted a reply just to confirm safe receipt of your email, and I'll confirm next time that we wanted more time. But your tone is inappropriate and unprofessional.

  • 142
    Honestly, those replies seem bizarre if they were evoked by an email such as you describe here, so I’m trying to figure out what you may have left out. Are you in collections, or some other business that already puts you in an adversarial relationship with your counterparties? – Ernest Friedman-Hill Nov 20 at 14:16
  • 8
    Lots of people are guessing here on what the issue could be, but did you try asking? Something like, "I'm sorry, but my co-workers and I are at a loss. Could you please indicate in what way my tone was inappropriate so that I may avoid doing it in the future?" Or is that a bad idea? – JoL Nov 20 at 19:35
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    What is your relationship with the "counter party"? Are they clients of yours? Are you clients of theirs? Some other type of relationship? This information is important in gauging which party should be driving. Your surname also seems to be Cantonese - is this so, and is the other party also Chinese-Canadian? The cultural expectations could be different if this is the case. Certainly both parties here seem to be using English as a second language. – J... Nov 20 at 20:41
  • 2
    It's not really clear to me what you're asking here. The current title is written like a survey/discussion prompt, but is not your actual issue. You seem to be either asking "am I being impolite here?" or simply venting that your overly polite wording was accused of being impolite, but it's not clear. – V2Blast Nov 20 at 21:45
  • 1
    Another (wild) guess: Did you write literally 'Dear Counter-Party', or did you replace counter-party with the first name of the adressee or 'Ms. Familyname' (writing 'Dear Mr. Firstname Lastname' can be considered rude (it sounds like telling off a child)) – lalala Nov 21 at 7:30

12 Answers 12

130

While I also think your mails are reasonable, I'd like to provide a different perspective:

You are telling them that they failed to reply. While true that might be considered rude, no one likes accusations. Instead of emphasizing that they didn't complete their task, I'd simply ask for an update on the issue. This is less accusatory. Something along the lines of:

Dear Counterpart,

Can you give me an update on the status of the attached issue?

Sincerely, me

  • 2
    Asking what happened helps too. Gives them some wiggle room to blame it on some other circumstances. – Borgh Nov 20 at 14:22
  • 1
    This is what I do. Even then, you'll get some huffy responses. Some people do not like to be followed up with, even if your email went completely off their radar. Ignore those types of responses. – JRodge01 Nov 20 at 16:00
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    @Borgh Why? Doesn't that simply put an additional burden on them? – Mast Nov 20 at 18:41
  • 9
    I like this better, as being overly polite can be seen as mocking. It's a casual email, there isn't a need for it to be written like it's from a lawyer. – Issel Nov 20 at 19:34
  • 2
    Instead of "can you give me an update..", I would suggest "any update..." possibly preceded by "is there" or "do you have" – Aequitas Nov 21 at 2:23
49

Your emails were fine. The responses were unprofessional.

The only thing I see is you might want to change 'will' to 'would', but that's a personal preference and has no bearing on your question.

  • 7
    will belies an expectation. would is a request. On anyone who is unwilling to assume "someone's first language isn't English long before I thought they were being condescending" it has every bearing on the question. – Mazura Nov 20 at 21:12
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    @Mazura thanks, it just looked weird to me. I didn't know why, but I'm a school dropkick and English isn't my best language. – Kilisi Nov 20 at 21:16
  • @Mazura: It is not clear to me from your comment, are you agreeing with Kilisi, or disagreeing? I assume you confirm his thoughts, but I am really not sure. – Lot Nov 20 at 21:31
  • @Lot - they've identified the problem, but the only part I can agree with verbatim is the word change. It's not a "personal preference", it's a common mistake and should have no bearing, but it did, and that's why the responses were unprofessional. - 90% chance it's a grammatical error. 10%: an ultimatum. But honestly, the writing doesn't lend itself into having such gravitas. – Mazura Nov 21 at 3:41
32

I apologize for emailing again, but I have not received a reply to my email beneath. I will appreciate hearing from you. Please let me know if you require more time.


Sorry. I have not heard from you to my email beneath. Your reply will be greatly appreciated


These both look to me like you are politely instructing the other party to do something. They're polite emails, but they're still an instruction from someone that the other party doesn't report to.

Personally, I don't like it when someone I don't report to tries to tell me that the thing they need is more important than everything else I'm doing. Their thing is not more important - I have my own set of priorities, that aren't based on the same drivers as the those of the person who presumes that they can tell me to drop everything to help them.

It's possible that the people you're talking to feel the same way.

Instead, you could rephrase these as requests, acknowledging that the person you're asking for help isn't obligated to provide it, and perhaps including your motivation for needing a response.

I apologize for emailing again, but I have not received a reply to my email beneath. We're currently preparing a report for the CEO, and would really appreciate it if you could help us please. We have a deadline of the 15th to complete this, so your assistance would be great. Thanks in advance.


Hi Jane, I have not heard from you regarding my email beneath. I know you're busy, and I just wanted to check that it hasn't slipped through the cracks. Please let me know if you need any more information from me.

  • 9
    Email 1: Why are you bogging down clients with your problems? Putting a date on it also pretty much guarantees that you won't get a response until the 15th (or 14th for a cautious client) – Mars Nov 21 at 0:31
  • @Mars We don't know that the 'counter party' is a client. OP did not provide the details of their relationship. – J... Nov 21 at 13:15
  • @Mars I'd rather get a reply on the 15th than no reply at all. The reason I made up for that example was to demonstrate to the other party that there's a reason I need a reply that's outside my control. Lots of people have empathy, and are more receptive to requests when they realise you're not just arbitrarily demanding stuff from them. – Player One Nov 21 at 13:21
10

As a golden rule, inter-company communication should not show a hint of remonstrance.

Your emails are absolutely polite, but they both contain what's essentially a:

You did not respond to my last email on my expected schedule.

Most people will ignore this, but some will not.

Depending on the urgency of the matter, I would modify your emails to one of two answers:

Dear Counter-party

I will appreciate hearing from you on the subject matter of "last email contents". Please let me know if you require more time.

or

Hello. Your reply will be greatly appreciated about this last email. Please let me know if you require more time. Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully

Pamela

The only difference is that there is no mention of their mistake, and the request is ultimately the same.

If there is an urgency/importance to the email, I think you can keep the current form of it, but it is capital to explain why and how their answer is necessary for whatever process you are undertaking.

I do not believe any decent professional will brush you off or talk back when you provide solid reasoning as to why their answer is needed and its absence is bringing delays.

  • Quite agree. I would further emphasize that the apology is unneeded, and it may cause someone to feel you are blaming them (by apologizing on their behalf, which is a standard customer service technique). – employee-X Nov 20 at 19:29
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    "I will appreciate" is not good. It's a statement of fact about the future, and has the connotation of a command by acting as though the desired thing is certain. "I would appreciate" is the polite way to say it. – CodeSeeker Nov 20 at 20:05
  • @CodeSeeker Interesting. I chose "will" instead of "would" because I was afraid that "would" would be taken as sarcasm. "I would like an answer" can be taken wrongly. – QuiteNotSerious Nov 21 at 14:32
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    @QuiteNotSerious unfortunately, that runs into a bigger pit. The idiomatic way is to say “I would appreciate a response.” The other phrase “I would like an answer” somehow shifts it to sound like a demand, like a parent demanding his child answer after being silent. Agree with that. “I will” is just much worse all around. – CodeSeeker Nov 21 at 14:40
6

The issue may not be with your followup email. It might be with the original email.

If you want to get a response then make sure you politely let them know that you are looking for a response, and that you will follow up to receive confirmation or an answer.

This lets them know their obligation, and that they can expect another request if they delay.

If their delay prevents you from moving forward, let them know in the original email that the next phase/step can't happen until they answer/confirm.

  • 4
    How do you know that the other party is under any obligation to reply? I think that this might be the very source of the problem: the OP's e-mails read as if there is such an obligation, but the recipient doesn't see it that way. – TonyK Nov 20 at 19:06
  • That is why the issue may be with the first email. If it isn't clear they are expected to reply, the second email can appear to be unexpected. – mhoran_psprep Nov 20 at 19:34
  • 1
    @mhoran_psprep it's not about whether the first email indicates that the sender wants a reply, it's whether the surrounding relationship is such that the reply is required according to the relationship, or the relationship inherently is such that other party will reply when (and if!) it's convenient to them, and it would be inappropriate to demand a prompt reply, because the sender does not necessarily deserve one - no matter what they write in their first email. It's very insulting to "let them know their obligation" if they don't actually have any obligation towards you or your message. – Peteris Nov 20 at 20:44
4

While it's clear that you meant only to be polite and effective, it seems to me that there are some subtle issues with the emails you sent that could cause someone to respond negatively.

Critique

I apologize for emailing again ...

This seems a little odd. If it is your job or natural action to email again, then apologizing is a claim that your action is an imposition. Unless you are going to do a full "accusation audit" along the lines of "you're probably going to think I'm being totally unreasonable for asking this. [Message]" then I recommend leaving this out.

... but ...

Any apology that is followed by "but" is greatly weakened or even no longer treated as an apology. This single word is likely to remove any softening that the apology itself may have achieved. Consider that an apology acknowledges wrong done. Saying "but" after that lessens that acknowledgment because it justifies the very actions that one is apologizing for. If your actions are truly just, do not apologize for them. Saying, "I'm sorry, but [strong statement]" in certain tones is in fact a colloquialism to emphatically express that one is not personally sorry at all except in the sense of being sorry that the other person is wrong. Email has no tone of voice, and it is very easy for someone to get this alternate meaning.

... I have not received a reply ...

This statement that you haven't received an email communicates the subtext that the person has failed to meet your expectations. It is not a request, nor a call to action. It is not a neutral statement of fact—a more neutral statement would be "I haven't seen an email come through on this." While those may sound identical in meaning, they are very different in their connotations. "Seeing an email" allows for the possibility that you missed one that did, in fact, get sent. "Have not received a reply" is to call someone to task as if you were the boss of that person and you are discussing performance expectations.

... to my email beneath.

While this may seem to be neutrally stating the location of the email content, by using "my email" it makes it more demanding through self-focus, along the lines of "YOU didn't reply to MY email." This is a very different communication from "I'm following up on the below email." It is also more common to say "below" for referring to the location of content in an email. "Beneath" is fine, but to me potentially risks sounding like more formal speech, and formal speech is considered less warm.

I will appreciate hearing from you.

"I will" is not idiomatic in English. "I would" is the correct way to say it. By stating "I will", it comes across as a statement of fact about the future, that indeed the recipient WILL send you an email (and thus you WILL hear from them), and you intend for them to know you require this outcome. By saying "I would", you communicate the extra softening to it, "If you are able to respond to my request, that will result in me feeling appreciation." It is conditional. This is very different from the communicated subtext, "When you respond to my demand, I will feel satisfied."

Please let me know if you require more time.

Even with the "please" there, this feels like calling the recipient to task instead of simply asking for what you need. A manager speaking to his employee might reasonably define exact parameters of acceptable behavior. In this case, you probably don't have that kind of relationship with the counterparty. Is hearing about a timeline for a proper response really that much more useful to you than simply getting the proper response itself? Someone who is professional will communicate this to you on their own, and I would be hesitant to expect anyone to respond to this positively unless there is an implicit agreement and understanding that you possess the authority to demand compliance.

Suggestion

Here's what I would suggest instead. It's hard to get specific because I'm not seeing much detail about what the relationship between you and the counterparty actually is, or what task you are asking them to perform. But here are a couple of samples:

When you are working on project X and your own success derives from their tardy deliverable Z

Dear Counterparty,

My manager is asking me for an estimated completion date for my project X. The project is now waiting for the Z information from you. Is there anything stopping you from sharing an estimated timeline for completion of Z so I can let my boss know what to expect?

This removes all blame, all "calling to task" or strong criticism, and simply drives home the stark business details: you need Z so you can complete X. By using third-party authority (your boss), you are asking for help with a personal problem. This arouses sympathy, and makes the request easier to not take personally. By asking if anything is stopping the recipient from sharing a timeline, you invite him to say "no", which people like to do. You also are implicitly asking him to explain himself if there is a reason he cannot complete the task or cannot give you an estimate, but doing it in a very polite and non-confrontational way.

When you have the right to expect the other person to perform the task, such as to complete work you ordered

Dear Counterparty,

Just checking in on the status of the below request. Maybe I've missed a reply or something has come up on your end.

If you could share where things are, I'd appreciate it!

Sincerely,

Pamela

Why Be Soft

This may seem very non-formal, but that is quite intentional. One thing an email like this will rescue you from is your own human error or lack of information. Here are a bunch of possibilities where a soft email like this results in you looking just fine, instead of looking like a jerk:

  • The recipient did reply but your email system is broken. Or the reply-to address was wrong. Or you accidentally deleted the email. Or the email is waiting in your in-box but your email client is silently not communicating with the server and needs to be restarted.

  • The recipient doesn't work for the company any more.

  • The recipient believes correctly that the thing you're asking for is not his responsibility, and it is your company's records that are inaccurate in some way.

  • The recipient replied back to someone else at your company and the issue is already taken care of.

  • The recipient had a death in the family and has just returned to work.

  • The recipient's email server crashed and lost days of email with no way to recover it or even know that you sent the email the first time.

  • Your boss made a special exception for that recipient, without telling you.

... and so on and so forth.

In my opinion, it's always wisest to approach these things from the perspective of "hmmm, could you help me understand more about this situation" than it is to call people to task—even if one is the boss and ostensibly has the authority to do so.

One More Idea

Dear Counterparty,

It seems like the below email from a few weeks ago may have gotten missed. Would you mind taking a look?

Regards,

Pamela

In my opinion, if the issue is truly one where the counterparty owes you and is failing, this is one of the most professional and effective ways to address it.

  • 3
    "Won't you please respond?" sounds very weird to me as someone that doesn't have English as my first language. Please make sure the other party understands it the way you mean it. – Caroline Nov 21 at 8:17
  • "Won't you please respond" sounds convoluted and awkward to my (native English speaker) ears as well. – JRE Nov 21 at 9:44
  • Your first suggestion also uses the extremely irritating "statement with a question mark" formulation. – JRE Nov 21 at 9:49
  • "Won't you please respond?" comes across as very wheedling and pleading and desperate. There's no sense of authority or importance to it and the implication is that it's purely the reader's good-will that gives them any reason to do anything. Your second to last suggestion is significantly better IMO. It has dignity and strength without being demanding and pushy. – Ruadhan2300 Nov 21 at 11:50
  • Thanks for all the feedback. I’ll update in response to it as soon as possible. I like hearing your thoughts. – CodeSeeker Nov 21 at 13:52
3

I wouldn't respond as strongly as your counter-party did but you can easily remove two things from your email to make it sound more polite

appreciate hearing from you.

While you say you appreciate, mostly I have seen this phrase being used when the other person really has no other option (So the "appreciation" may sound basically like an order). Although it largely depends on person to person but hwy take a chance. Some related discussion on this is here

Secondly,

Please let me know if you require more time.

They do not "require" anything. You do. You may have made it sound to them like they are falling back on a timeline and they require more time.

If you want to follow up, why not keep it short and simple

This is just a gentle follow up on my last email. Looking forward to your feedback/experience. [You may also add a line or two on some standard stuff as "Your time/business" is valuable to us, etc.]

1

Personally to me, the email content looks fine, it needs no change. I send emails along the same lines multiple times a day, till time never got a negative response. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but from a professional communication standpoint, I don't see any rudeness / impoliteness in this.

However, since you're receiving negative response for that email, instead of making the customer unhappy (about something which is a problem from their side, but can't help it) I'd suggest to change

but I have not received a reply to my email beneath

which can be perceived as a statement from a commanding / ordering position, to

Just chiming in / following up to see if I missed any update here.

where apparently the onus is on yourself.

Note: I still believe, your version of the email content is fine, but at times, you need to keep up with the expectation from others. If a change in words do the good, go for it. Pick a different hill to die on, war of words is just not worth it.

  • I'd use "following up" rather than "chiming in" – Robin Bennett Nov 20 at 11:11
  • 1
    @RobinBennett Does no harm ,added. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 20 at 11:13
0

The content of your messages by themselves are fine. However, these two sentences stand out to me:

I will appreciate hearing from you.

And this one:

Your reply will be greatly appreciated.

From my perspective, they're fine, since I can understand your intent, which is purely getting in touch.

However, depending on cultural differences, it can stand out as what I would call passive orders. It sounds like you're reminding them that they didn't reply and it would have been nice if they did.

Instead, you could try to phrase it as an actual question, rather than implying it.

Dear [Counter Party],

Please excuse me for contacting you again, but I haven't received any reply yet since the last time we discussed.

As such, I am writing to ask you [... the reason why you're writing again]?

Best regards,

[Your name]

0

I would say that your follow-up email (in both versions) is not rude or impolite in any way. The approach that I use for my follow-up emails is the following:

Dear x,

Did you get a chance to look over my previous email?

This way you're not accusing them of not replying to your previous email and you make it sound like it's a possibility that they simply haven't seen your email. It offers them a easy way out.

0

I'm surprised this isn't in somebody else's answer already. I prefer something like the following:

Dear Counterparty,

I understand you're very busy. I just wanted to bump this in your inbox so I can update my status on this issue.

And optionally:

I'd like to get a response by the 3rd. If you need more time, please let me know.

Thanks, Pamela

This does a few things:

  1. It assumes that they're not ignoring your email
  2. It puts them at a higher level than you (they're busy, and you're petitioning for their time)
  3. It assumes that they have had higher priority things to deal with.
0

You've got a few things going on that could contribute to bad reactions. That said, the responses you got were a little extreme.

  1. Both formulations are obviously "boiler plate" - a standard text that you use and reuse constantly.
  2. Your "boiler plate" is awkward - something that gets used constantly should be carefully formulated with proper grammar and written so as not to irritate the receiver.
  3. The most jarring parts of your texts imply a person whose native language is not English - but then you have a name that implies that you are a native English speaking person.

The text of your question is awkward, and also gives the impression of a non-native English speaker. That clashes with your almost stereotypical "English speaking person" name.

Striving for "most polite" is also not really useful. At some point, being overly polite comes across as a passive-aggressive way of telling the receiver that you are extremely aggravated by their lack of response - your own overly polite manner says "I am being really polite so as not to verbally assault this numpty who has already failed to give me the answer I need."

What's wrong with your text examples:

  1. Use of "beneath" instead of "below." "Below" is the typical word used to refer to a later part of a text. When I read "beneath," I think "What? Beneath the desk?" "Beneath" usually has some other object it refers to.
  2. Use of "will" instead of "would." One difference between the two words is the difference between "passive voice" and "active voice." The rest of your text seems to be trying for "passive voice," but then you slap in the active voice "will." It is jarring.
  3. "Greatly appreciated" seems exaggerated, and "appreciate" by itself comes across rather rudely - rather like "I'd appreciate it (if you got up off your lazy ass and) answered my questions."

That said, I probably wouldn't have written the responses you got. Those seem rather extreme. I think what's happened is that you encountered people who don't deal with non-native English speakers often. There are typical mistakes that native English speakers make, but the oddities in your texts are not typical things native English speakers would mess up. They are more typical of non-native English speakers where the standards (politeness) of the original culture are different, and where the language grammar is different (and bleeds though into the written English text.) That kind of thing is very jarring if you don't often encounter it.

Or, you just got really over the top responses from people having a bad day.

In any case, the standard text could be improved. Also consider writing a custom note for each reminder that you send. It is far less irritating (to me) to be asked a specific question about an earlier message than to get a standardized "you failed to respond" message.


I run into similar effects daily on the Stack Exchange sites, and I know that there are people here who are used to different levels of politeness and different grammar. Some formulations just rub people the wrong way, even when used without malice.

Every time some one writes "Would you kindly tell me how to do X," I want to smack somebody. Then I calm down and remember that phrasing like that is simply a thing that folks from India do in an attempt to be polite - not realizing that it comes across as "would you kindly please (finally get up off your ass and do this thing that you've already promised but failed to do) tell me how to do X?" Once I get past the "oh, damn, another polite Indian" shock, I edit the question and fix up any other grammar or spelling problems while I'm at it.

In your case, it is especially jarring because your user name says "native English speaker" while your use of the language says "non-native English speaker."

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