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My niece works part time in medical office. Many clients make time-sensitive requests to her, and she of course requires urgent replies. But they don't reply promptly, and her boss requires paper record like emailing them again e.g. after 2-3 business days additional to follow-up calls. She thinks her writing is very polite.

Dear Patient

I am following up on your request [for a hospital referral, laboratory test, treatment, etc.]. If your signed form [or lab work, or updated Health Card, etc.] isn't received by DATE, then I unfortunately can't proceed with your request.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully

Niece

She doesn't understand why clients find her replies huffy! Two examples from two different clients.

I won't get a chance to come in again until tomorrow. Sorry for not getting back to you in time,. But saying "if your signed form isn't received by DATE, then we can't proceed with process your request" feels too passive aggressive. It's better if you say this politely.


It's inappropriate to assume that you wouldn't receive my lab test results by DATE. I know we talked about this and I was technically late, sorry, but can't you chase me professionally?

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    Why doesn't she ask her boss how it should be worded? – joeqwerty Dec 26 '19 at 3:48
  • @SolarMike The replies didn't come from patients. – gnasher729 Dec 26 '19 at 20:41
  • @gnasher729 according to the op the clients provided that feedback... – Solar Mike Dec 26 '19 at 21:27
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    Does this answer your question? What's the politest way of writing when you have not received a reply? – Solar Mike Dec 26 '19 at 23:20
  • @SolarMike No sry. i'm asking here about writing out that you'll do or not do something. i'm not chasing a reply here. – P L Dec 27 '19 at 7:55
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While I don't find this to be rude in general, given that this communication is happening in context of a medical appointment, some patients can find the tone of the email to be blunt. Especially, that Thank you for your attention at the end could be taken as pointing out that they have forgotten about their own request.

The usual term I’ve found useful in such situations to control the tone of message is gentle reminder. So you could try something along the lines of below

Dear Patient

I am following up on your request [for a hospital referral, laboratory test, treatment, etc.].

This is a gentle reminder that your signed form [or lab work, or updated Health Card, etc.] is still due. While you may be on track to send it to us within stipulated time, please note that not receiving this form by DATE will block us from proceeding any further with your request.

Yours faithfully

Niece

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Given this is not the first time you post about something like this, and the eerily similar circumstances of these issues, I'm inclined to believe we're missing information here.

Maybe the rudeness gets lost in translation from Chinese to English?

It could also be that in general, Chinese culture requires a certain tone and/or approach to these situations, maybe you can seek help on that specifically.

Otherwise, I'd be inclined to believe that it's simply the fact that people don't like to be pestered every 2/3 days about things they find tedious. It could be as simple as that, and unfortunately there's not much you can do about it.

Still, I find it odd that you've encountered these very similar circumstances in two separate ocassions.

For all intents and purposes, in both scenarios you described in these threads, both the emails you/your niece sent are very polite, and those replies are very uncalled for.

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  • Where does this "translation from Chinese to English" come from? – gnasher729 Dec 26 '19 at 20:30
  • yes. i'm from hong kong. but i don't think it's chinese to english issue? – P L Dec 27 '19 at 7:55
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If there is truly a deadline that "if you don't give me the form by the 12th, your request can never proceed any further and what you have sent me can go in the garbage" then you have to let your correspondents know that, because it's really unusual. If the message is more like "I can't move forward on your request until you give me the form" then say that. Why give them a deadline? They're the ones who are in a hurry to get the thing done. Or not. Why would you care?

Also, it's generally considered polite to express a wish to be able to help the person but alas unfortunately be unable to because Reason, rather than just acknowledge they asked and then say Reason.

I would reword the sample above as

Dear Patient

I have received your request [for a hospital referral, laboratory test, treatment, etc.]. Unfortunately the signed form [or lab work, or updated Health Card, etc.] was not included. As soon as I receive that, I can proceed with your request.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully

Niece

or, in the unlikely case the request will expire,

Dear Patient

I have received your request [for a hospital referral, laboratory test, treatment, etc.]. Unfortunately the signed form [or lab work, or updated Health Card, etc.] was not included. As soon as I receive that, I can proceed with your request.

Important: if the signed form is not received by DATE, [the sample will be too old or whatever] and you will have to start a new request.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully

Niece

To summarize: don't give them a deadline unless it's a real deadline ("my boss will make me remind you in two days" is not a real deadline) and try to imply that it's unusual for them to have left out whatever they've left out, to encourage them to include it next time.

Your samples are generic, so this may be "off" but I would encourage you to look for process changes that can prevent this. The concepts of someone mailing you "please do x" and you saying "I need form y" and then your boss coming and saying "hey did you get form y yet, you should remind them" strikes me as inefficient. Couldn't the signed form be what kicks off the whole process, and without it there is no request and nothing to follow up on? Or perhaps person A asks for x, but you need form y from person B. If you are reminding person A about it, be more explicit -- not "I need form y" but "I need you to get person B to send me form y". If you are reminding person B, include something like "Person A requested this 4 days ago and we still need form y from you."

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    I feel the latter example could be confusing. First it is stated we can proceed once we've received the form. Then after it states a deadline. Should someone skim the email they may miss the "important" part. You have to factor in stupidity, we are all susceptible to it. – Monstar Dec 26 '19 at 19:42
  • This answer is the best one. It doesn't just offer a solution, but it also explains very clearly why the customer thought the request was passive-aggressive. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 27 '19 at 1:45
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I don't find it rude, I just received this from Amazon and I found it completely fine, maybe she should write along those line and tell her boss that she copied from a template?

The best course of action here is asking a more senior co-worker, or boss, on how your email should be worded.

Here is what I received:

Hello,

We were unable to verify the "item" because "reason" .

Within the next 30 days, take either of the following actions:

  • "Action 1"
  • "Action 2"

You will need to "Action 1/2" before "Date"

If we do not hear from you or receive the required documents within the next 30 days, you may not be allowed to use "The Service".

To learn more about "Action 1", contact our "Office Info". To contact our "Action 2" Team, click the Get Support hyperlink at the bottom of "The Page", and select the option that better describes your inquiry.

We look forward to hearing from you soon,

"Mr. Amazon"

Amazon Team

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Well, if "clients" are people in a professional relationship with her medical office, then sending them what sounds like an ultimatum does indeed sound very rude. (And if the clients were patients, it might be even ruder, because patients are ill people, not in the best of shape physically and often mentally, and that needs to be taken into consideration in any communication).

And even if it was not objectively rude, these "clients" see it as rude, and that's who she and the medical office will be judged by these clients. Hint: The word "please" makes things sound a lot more polite. Using the passive voice sounds rude. You are setting a deadline where I would bet there is no actual deadline. Something like

"Please send the signed form, so I can proceed with your request as soon as possible. "

is shorter and sounds a lot better. The original message would definitely put me off. The problem is not that by sounding rude you hurt these people's feelings, the problem is that by them thinking you to be rude you destroy goodwill, and at some point they might make you and your medical office suffer for it.

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I don't think this is merely an issue of polite phrasing.

It is useful to consider what is preventing them from completing the form/paperwork. It could be that they don't understand the text, or perhaps it got lost in the pile of other paperwork. Medical care is a nightmarish complex bureaucracy in most countries and it often hits patients at a very vulnerable point in their lives.

The patient may not know what form you are talking about and may be too embarrassed to ask. Can they even reach the office by phone? Does the letter offer to answer any question and instructions on how to get the form? They might not have enough support from family to work these things out. Is it just a matter of signing something for the sake of petty bureaucracy?

You might have better luck having the patient make an appointment to sign the paperwork in person in front of you. That way you can have the exact form ready and signed in one sitting. Also, making an in-person appointment elevates the seriousness of the task. This way, it won't be yet another confusing medical letter on a pile on the kitchen table, it will be something that can be completed to everyone's satisfaction during the appointment.

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