7

With the current state of the workplace, many companies now run things from a 'work from home' perspective. My current workplace is similar, with everyone working from home, so there is no way to ask questions in person.

I have read the responses to a similar question, about asking for responses from coworkers for responses to emails, but our company uses Instant Messaging (IM), and many answers on the post also focus on asking in person. Thus, I have decided to post a question here.

I have been primarily using the common Slack-like IM tool of our company, but several times where I message colleagues about some questions regarding job-related concerns, they read it and either ignore it to talk about an unrelated issue, or don't answer completely. Edit: this occasionally happens in one on one direct messages as well.

I was somewhat offended by the lack of response to my questions, but I understand that this is common in workplace messaging. They are also ultimately very helpful colleagues in general. As such, I hold no hard feelings.

I am, however, asking these questions in a work environment, so I want to ask, what is a good way to bring up the question again in a polite and professional manner? I don't want to risk re-asking the question in a way that seems aggressive, but I do desire their input for these questions.

Of note, I realize that if people are ignoring my questions, a potential issue is certainly with how I phrase them. I will look into online resources on digital communication and question phrasing on my own time. However, the current question is more specifically looking for a way to re-ask them about an initial question in a polite way.

  • Do you have any way of either reaching these people by phone or video/audio chat? – AsheraH Mar 19 at 10:06
  • 1
    This is one of the reasons that the infinite page of conversation frequently found in webaps does not work for real discussions. You essentially cannot have multiple topics. This was solved for Usenet with having multiple threads shown in a tree like fashion. You might consider asking those developing the Slack-like IM tool in your company to add it as Slack is missing it too. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 19 at 11:32
  • Noticing some downvotes on the question. I just want to say that if you wish to downvote, could you please provide feedback of some sort? I wish to learn how to make sure my questions are relevant, as this is my first time posting on The Workplace. I am also always open to suggestions on how to improve my question. Thanks! – Enthus3d Mar 19 at 19:44
  • @AsheraH I do, is opting for a phone/video chat a viable way to re-ask a question? Perhaps, by calling them to ask for clarification after arranging a time by messaging? – Enthus3d Mar 19 at 19:48
  • 1
    what is the the problem apart from "I was somewhat offended by the lack of response"? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Mar 20 at 4:09
13

Reply directly to the question with "could I get an answer to this?" enter image description here

This is Facebook, but Teams and Slack and most other messaging apps have the capability as well. Not many people would be offended by being this direct as it just got missed (as tends to happen when there are as many messages as there are in a group chat). It wasn't ignored deliberately.

Group chats are terrible for questions which don't follow the immediate group chain of thought simply because nobody can interject right away and stop everyone else in their thought processes.

EDIT: this is going to be a very culturally dependent answer.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    This is true, I guess directly asking them about it is good. Is there a specific way to phrase it to be neutral and not confrontational, or is "Could I get an answer to this" neutral enough already? We use a Slack-like IM to message each other. And thank you for the image, it is quite helpful :P – Enthus3d Mar 18 at 20:59
  • 7
    @Enthus3d the most neutral I can think of is "Do we have an answer to this yet?" In my in person meetings, questions get repeated all the time, so I don't think it is a big deal what you say as long as you don't accuse anyone. – Matthew Gaiser Mar 18 at 21:08
  • 5
    Just for the record, "Can I get an answer to this?" sounds a bit confrontational to my ears. – Gregory Currie Mar 19 at 5:11
  • 5
    You could also, depending on the geekyness of the crowd, use the technical term "Bump!" on it. – Stian Yttervik Mar 19 at 11:40
  • 1
    I will accept this as the answer, in cases like mine where I just geniunely wish to know about a simpler question, directly and honestly asking seems to be the best way. – Enthus3d Mar 20 at 0:51
8

This is a case where the rule "never assume ill will where forgetfulness explains behavior" is important. They're not refusing to answer, they're forgetting to answer.

So remind them. Just ask the question again, maybe with a word or two about why you need them to respond promptly.

Everybody is learning how to work without being face to face. It takes time to learn these things, and we all need an extra dose of patience.

| improve this answer | |
  • Good point, thank you for your answer. I especially like the quote you provided. – Enthus3d Mar 19 at 12:21
  • I always liked that saying better as "attribute not malice, when incompetence suffices" – Stian Yttervik Mar 19 at 20:46
  • Agreed. But incompetence overstates the problem faced by this questioner. The last thing we need in these dark days is to overstate small problems. – O. Jones Mar 19 at 21:44
  • I like this answer, especially as someone who can get sidetracked themselves and forget the original question. I like to just say something like "circling back around to my original question X, did you have any thoughts on this?". And I'll also try to indicate urgency, "It's not urgent if you need time to look into it, I can check back tomorrow" or "Sorry to press, but it's blocking the current release", so they can prioritise. – delinear Mar 20 at 15:57
4

My first thought is just be patient, especially if you're asking for a complex response. People will often postpone long responses to the beginning or end of the day, or until just before lunch, or until that awkward half hour they have between meetings later. If you bump a thread, try to aim for those times. Also, people don't check chat continually. They might not even see the message for a half hour or more.

It feels more polite if you give a reason for being pushy. "I need to start this shortly if I'm going to be able to merge it today. Does anyone know the answer to my question?"

Another idea is to narrow your audience. If your message got lost among a larger group, try asking again in a specific team's room. "Did you see my question here?" If your message got missed in a smaller team's room, try @ing a specific person. "@joe do you know?" or "@jennifer, do you have a preference?"

If you're pretty sure your message has been read and there has been ample time to respond, sometimes you just need to give people something to hang a thumbs up on. "I'm assuming since no one commented, either option is acceptable. I'm going to proceed with option A unless I hear any objections."

I keep hearing the word "over-communicate" being used to describe remote work communication, and I think if you're doing it right, it will occasionally feel like you're talking to yourself. Sometimes not getting a response is the response.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    +1 for adding a specific name. Often the reason for a non-answer is that you ask the group but no one feels they are best placed to answer. Possibly two people are both waiting for the other to answer. – Robin Bennett Mar 19 at 11:49
  • I should have mentioned, these are situations of direct messages, but regardless, this is a useful answer. Thank you :) – Enthus3d Mar 19 at 12:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .