My boss and I sit in different remote sites, several thousands of miles apart. We don't see each other often.

On several occasions in the last few months, I have sent him emails asking him for things like vacation or other resources. Typically, if I ask him to provide me with something, he doesn't respond.

How should I proceed when my boss does not respond when I ask him for something? Should I send him a reminder email? Or should I try to call him? I think everything would be easier if he sat in the same location so that I can ask him directly in person where not giving an answer is simply not an option.

I absolutely hate when people stonewall me or avoid answering a request they find inconvenient. I would much rather get a straight no. If I insist on revisiting the issue after his ignoring, will that be considered as "unwillingness to read unspoken communication", which is an "offense" I had been accused of in a previous job? In my case, it is not an inability but straight out unwillingness because I insist on straightforward communication and I refuse to take hints so I act as though I don't get them. Or will I come off as simply annoying?

I would like to institute a policy of getting clear communication, even if that means a no. I want him to say no rather than simply avoiding the question.

  • 19
    Is this a bigger issue than just this one email? Because if it's just the one, perhaps your boss is human and forgot - I'd suggest sending them a nudge, asking again if they've had a chance to think about your request Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 11:20
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    Can you call him on the phone. He might not have an answer for you yet also.
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 11:31
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    Has he intentionally not responded to other emails? If it only happens once, it might not be a pattern of intentional behaviour. I've worked with people who were very busy, and when they realized they'd missed an email, they'd respond. Also, I'm not sure there's anything "American" about this - I've had American managers who are usually quite good about responding to questions such as this. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 13:53
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    In the subject line, I usually add [Response Required] to the beginning, and sometimes even [URGENT] or [Low Priority], depending on the content. It worked everytime for me. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 15:25
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    I am a big fan of emails that say "I am going to do X unless I hear from you .... more details ... ". Partly it's "offer solutions, not problems" and partly it's a way of saying "something will happen anyway, better get onto it". The result is that I spend less time twiddling my thumbs waiting for replies.
    – Móż
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 23:34

17 Answers 17


When you are missing a response from your boss, the very worst thing you can do is exactly what you did last time. They say that insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results. So don't just send the same email or forward it with a meaningless intro like "still need an answer on this" or "any update?"

You need to figure out (by asking, or by observing) why your boss is not answering your emails and then fix that. It could be any of these:

  • your boss hates typing and thinks it would be quicker to talk (but then doesn't get around to it)
  • your boss doesn't want the response to be "on the record" with email
  • your boss sees no urgency or need for a response
  • your boss sees no question or anything that requires a reply
  • you had several questions in the email and the boss has answered one or more (but not all). The boss thinks of the email as "dealt with" while you're still waiting for an answer.
  • you had several questions in the email and while the boss could answer one or more of them, at least one is not-so-answerable and the boss is delaying replying to the email until a reply can be written to the entire email.
  • your boss hopes by not answering that you will stop asking without actually being refused
  • your boss has things to do that are genuinely more important than your stuff
  • your boss has things to do that appear more important than your stuff, because you haven't explained why your stuff is important
  • your boss is busy failing at this job and doesn't answer emails from anyone, and will be gone soon as a result

So, first of all, look at your email. A good one starts with a single sentence that summarizes everything, such as one of these:

I am booking Sept 2nd-10th off next Tuesday unless you tell me that's not possible.

I cannot proceed on the Smith project until you tell me whether we are including the file option or not.

I need a short meeting with you and Tony to settle some design issues and I can't move forward until they are settled.

After that, lay out the background that the boss might need, and close with a very clear call to action. It should also respect (or ask about) the communication style this boss wants - a formal meeting? just grab each other in the hall some day? a four-way email chain? - everyone has their own preferences and you mostly have to work with the preferences of the most important person in the conversation.

Whenever possible, set the defaults and tell your boss what they are. That way if you don't get an answer, you can go ahead. If you make the default "I won't book my vacation" then a boss who doesn't want you to go on vacation doesn't need to say no, just needs to stay quiet. If you make the default "I will book my vacation" then if you don't hear back, you go ahead and book it. That means the boss has to answer or you get your way. (Don't go overboard with this. Declaring that you will work from home, that from now on you work 30 hours a week for the same pay, or from now on you fly first class everywhere you go will likely lead to a lot of trouble. But for sensible requests, establish a default you will like, and one that minimizes the effort for your boss to give you what you want.) You and Tony disagreeing on how to do something? You could make the default that you'll do it your way, or that you'll stop working on it until a decision gets made. If the default is you'll do it Tony's way, why should the boss get involved?

Smart emails get responses. Even smarter ones let you still move forward without a response.

If you absolutely cannot move forward without a response, and you made that clear but still got no answer, when you re-send the email you can re-emphasize that.

I stopped working on the report section on Thursday and I've been doing some other things, but will run out of tasks on this project tomorrow. At that point the schedule will start to slip. I would really like to settle these design issues today. Details in my email from last week, below. Can we meet this afternoon for 30 minutes? Tony should probably be there too.

Now you're not doing the same thing - you are adding details, you are providing consequences to not answering, and you are being super clear about what you need and why you need it.

  • 3
    Your answer is better than the one I was working on, which was mostly saying to communicate in the way the boss prefers, which may not be email. You say that too, as part of your more comprehensive and better reply. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 22:31
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    Excellent, the only other thing I would add is that it is often useful to have a scheduled, regular, informal meeting (or phone appointment) with the boss. That way one can address things that need a response but which might require some nuance or tact or which might otherwise get ignored.
    – teego1967
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 0:19
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    +1 " set the defaults and tell your boss what they are. That way if you don't get an answer, you can go ahead"...simply genius. I have the same problem once in a while and I can't believe I didn't see this. Why can't we vote +10 on the same answer? Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:47
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    Hi Kate, I don't have a business but I'd start one to hire you.
    – DaveDev
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 14:32
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    My boss is fine, but I have to remind other departments about deadlines or get input from them. My general method is to remind and ask in the first email. If I get no response, I call. If that doesn't work or if too many calls would be required, I send a second email with, "If I don't hear back by X, then I am going to proceed by doing Y." Then (usually within half an hour) I get panicked emails and phone calls, and I can watch as tasks get completed. Some people just don't consider it important until their inaction has consequences. It's still important to start out courteous, though.
    – Bacon Bits
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 17:45

At my last job, I inherited a relationship between my company and a large number of Ukrainian outsourcers that was suffering from this issue. Our people would lay out a general message of what we want to do in an email or ticket. The Ukrainians would read it and ask questions. Some of those questions would get answered, others would go unanswered, others would get ambiguous answers from members of the staff arguing about it. The outsourcers, having good initiative, would eventually give up on the questions and implement something, which then members of the team would gripe about because it "wasn't what they wanted." When I came on, my boss told me "Take a look at these guys, they're not delivering, I think maybe we just need to get rid of them, up to you." Once I investigated I replied "There's nothing wrong here that isn't our fault." Then I worked on turning that relationship around via communication and it was very successful. But many people don't know how to manage an outsourcing relationship of this sort.

Here are some reasons you may not be getting an answer, I hope they provide some insight into what an American tech company may be doing internally that seems odd to you.

  1. The manager may simply be overwhelmed with email. I know I got to the point in that position (managing 4 teams, 30 outsourcers on top of American staff, a critical position with support and sales touchpoints) where I was getting about 300 emails a day (not counting automated stuff like ticket updates and alerts, then it was more like 800), and if a quick look at an email indicated to me that the right thing would probably happen without my intervention - it might not get answered. Prioritization has to be ruthless sometimes. He may not even see it, or he may see it and think "he'll figure it out" and is under the gun to do something else right then. Or, he has to go get more information or permission from somewhere else, causing a delay (and when there's a delay like that it incurs more risk that the chain will get broken somewhere and the email forgotten).

  2. The manager may think they already gave an answer - in another email, or to a teammate of yours, or verbally on the standup call that morning, or to your management - and assumes that the matter is settled. I know that when I felt a question couldn't be answered with a yes/no but needed its frame discussed, especially with someone with not so great English skills, I'd sometimes talk to the outsourcer manager or tech lead and have them talk to the person. Or they were asking an overly technical question and I'd point at a local tech lead and say "You! Follow up with Anton and answer this question." As a manager, once you have passed "the ball" to anyone it's easy to see your plate as cleared of that issue even when that might not quite be the case.

  3. They may be trying to get you to show initiative. It's hard being an outsourcer - some companies want to treat you like a field slave and you shouldn't do anything someone didn't explicitly ask you to and write a big spec up for. Others want you to be working alongside their American engineers and be free to innovate and full of initiative and all that. We were one of the latter, and we had to work with the engineers and their management a lot to say "hey, please don't tell them what to do, and don't assign tasks. We want them to pull tasks from the scrum of their own volition and we want to leverage their smarts by letting them make decisions." So we tried to discourage "Mother May I" questions in the interest of empowerment.

  4. Pure communication issues - I'm not even going to call it language barrier, because it's happened between me and my local bosses too. They skim an email and assume it's just me telling them what's going on. Or the email was to multiple people and they're not assuming that an answer should come from them. Unless there's a big red blinking line saying "ANSWER REQUIRED FROM YOU - YES YOU, MR. SMITH" they may just be overlooking the call to action in the email. Assume for each level up in management above you that their reading level has regressed to a much lower level - middle school for front line managers, elementary school for upper managers, kindergarten for a CEO. Sad but true. Also remember they are working at a higher level - if you put a question in as say a comment on a ticket, something that all the technical folks would see, the manager may not be as hip deep in the tactical execution and not see it. (I know sometimes people would say "I put in a JIRA comment asking for your thoughts" and I'd say "I filter all that out to a folder because I get hundreds of ticket updates a day, reach out to me specifically if you need something")

Ways you can try to mitigate it.

  1. Bypass Asking When Appropriate. Understand the degree to which they expect initiative and individual decisionmaking of you given their corporate culture, then execute under that line and don't ask questions if you don't really need to. Also, ask local tech leads/American tech leads etc/your local management questions that should probably go to them. In the B vs A case you cite, I would personally give guidance "Do the right thing, and just send an email saying 'I am doing B first because it's a prereq for A and A will get done on time' without asking it as a question." If they don't want you to make that change, they'll speak up, and you've removed a blocker for yourself and a task for them (mandatory answer). That's a win-win from a manager's point of view.

  2. Use Non-Email Communication. Use chat, phone, etc. to follow up - I know it's a little intimidating because of the time zone and language barrier but a phone call can cut to the chase on a week-long email tennis match. Email is actually a terrible communication method to get unambiguous and timely answers to questions, despite its convenience. If you have regular calls or standups, surface your questions there as blockers. If you don't, suggest having one! A 9 AM CT Webex/G+ standup works well for most American/Ukrainian teams (except sometimes West Coasters).

  3. Use Clear Email Communication. Make questions and to-dos clear in emails - the question and who you expect to answer it should be prominent. Put one question in an email - if you put multiple ones, or the questions are embedded in other explanatory text, they are likely to be overlooked. If you have to fit multiple thoughts in an email, use bullet points. Use colors/bold to make questions or people's names with to-dos stand out. Use subject lines that are clear, a [RESPONSE REQUIRED] or other similar designator in the subject will grab attention. Make answering easy for the manager and you're more likely to get an answer immediately. Follow up on unanswered questions (every 24 hours is fine); it's not rude to do so.

Here's an example of an email a manager's going to likely not see/ignore (pulled from my email archive).

To: 12 Team Members Including Manager A

Subject: Re: Search Alert: More than 0 results found for "Dev NPE or OOM

I noticed an issue of this message in the logs:


and I think it means the app servers are restarting every four hours, maybe there is a bug or something. I think it could be a memory leak, last time we saw this on this other app it was blah blah please don't read this anymore... Maybe we should look at this instead of some other planned work.

Engineer X

From the manager's point of view it's a) not just to me, b) has some arcane subject line that's probably the techies nattering on about something. 50% chance to not read the email. If I have 5 spare seconds I read the email and, if I make it through the details, don't see a clear question and certainly not one addressed to me, and I move on. Now let's look at an email that will likely get me to read and respond.

To: Manager A

Cc: The Team

Subject: [RESPONSE REQUIRED] Stop work to address app server restarts

I discovered that the app servers are crashing and restarting about every four hours from our log alerts. This is a severe issue that affects customers intermittently.

Manager A, I propose I stop work on my sprint tasks to address this as an urgent incident. I spoke with Engineer Y and he agrees that is the right course of action, so both of us plan to work on this immediately. Is that acceptable?

Engineer X

First, you checked to confirm technical details with someone else before lighting me up. The [RESPONSE REQUIRED] and clear subject line draw me in, the bolded name and call to action lets me know what is required of me. And, there's a default course of action described, so if still I am unable to reply for some reason (caught in manager offsite where they yell at you if you're emailing!) I know what's going to happen.

To: Engineer X

Cc: Team

Subject: Re: [RESPONSE REQUIRED] Stop work to address app server restarts

go as you propose

(or) have Engineer Y work on that, you finish out your sprint task

(or) i do not understand, let's have a call to discuss

(or) no, Engineer Z told me about that and it's been going on for months, finish what you're on and we'll get that in the next sprint

Sent from my iPhone

Hope that helps some. Not all managers are used to working with outsourcers, and even those that are fall victim to time pressure and expectations. He certainly does not have any personal problem with you, just one (or more) of these factors is causing him to not answer sometimes.

P.S. Slava Ukraini!

  • 4
    Excellent answer, which covers most bases for why this might be occurring!
    – Brian S
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 15:12
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    Thanks a lot kind Sir! Most of answers to this question have valuable advices, but your answer is an Encyclopedia for every day usage by outsourcer like me. P.S. Re: Glory to heroes! :)
    – Nulldevice
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:26
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    It works! I used one of proposed strategies by writing a very short question with yes or no options and got a required answer in 5 minutes!
    – Nulldevice
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:49
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    fantastic answer which deserves to be seen by more ! Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 8:27
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    As an American national, born and raised, I learned how to better manage my own personal email correspondence with managers and team from your answer! +1!
    – BrianH
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 13:13

So I would like to ask American nationals to advise how to interpret such behavior or even better, advise me what action to take.

I know of nothing generally in "American corporate culture" that would guide a manager of overseas staff to intentionally ignore one email and respond to another, unless there was a lot more to the situation than you have written.

Most likely you are over-analyzing this, and its just a case of a busy manager missing a response to an email. Its also possible that your manager is working on changing the schedule, and is just holding off with a response until the change is completed.

If you don't have anyone locally who could help, simply send the email again and indicate that you need some help with the schedule in order to proceed.

If you haven't gotten a response within a day or so, call.

Try not to ascribe a few missed responses to a sinister behavior pattern.

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    "Try not to ascribe a single missed response to a sinister behavior pattern." I don't think it's a single missed response in the OP's situation. He only gives one example, but the title says emails and he mentions that other employees encountered the same problem.
    – Dennis
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 13:25

Admittedly, as an American manager, my first thought was "I wonder if that poor manager is as deluged with email as I am?" I may be inferring based on my own often overwhelmed state, but I can bet that you can research this a bit:

  • Get a sense of how much email the staff who is local to you sends him and multiply accordingly for any other remote staff - figure that those who have a serious time zone offset are more likely to send email than folks who are colocated with the manager

  • Check out his calendar for his normal work day - even if he hasn't shared it, you can try booking a meeeting with him to see his free/busy time.

If this guy is getting 100 or more meaningful emails (written to him, for his feedback) and/or he's booked more than 6 hours most days - he is simply overwhelmed.

My bet would be that between the overload of being a busy manager and the time delay imposed by Ukraine/US communication - he's simply doing the best he can to answer the emails where he feels he can have the most impact, and ignoring what he can't get done in a day. Sadly, he may also be saying to himself "I'll handle that tomorrow" - with the problem that tomorrow is equally busy.

Things you can do:

  • Do find some one on one time to talk to the guy - even if you are oversees. Ask whether there are some areas you can take additional initiative w/out needing to send email.

  • When a decision is obvious and action is needed, it's OK to send an email with a timer - "If I don't hear from you by tomorrow, I'll assume this is OK and do XYZ accordingly" - that would be viable in this case - you know the order you must take to get the work done, you aren't jeopardizing the schedule, you are just fixing a problem in a reasonable way - saying "I'll start B and finish A when B is done" is pretty reasonable. Then he has the info, but he doesn't HAVE to respond for you to take action.

  • Keep emails short and sweet. When an action really is needed, make the action clear and keep the details as short as possible.

Americans can be terse to the point of bluntness in the eyes of other cultures, and we often have less formality in how we do business - including seeing our team members who report to us as nearly our equals. So any buffering or care in terms of laying out a palatable way of saying things is not as important as getting to the point.


For most minor requests not replying to an email is just annoying, and I'd resend the email then follow up a day later with a phone call. The advantage of the phone call is that once your boss picks up the phone they can't "forget" to answer your question. You also get a bit more information from their manner and tone of voice about why they're reluctant to answer.

(edit) It sounds as though you often find yourself not comfortable accepting hints rather than a straight answer. What I do there is push for an explicit response a couple of times, then let it go when I can. For minor stuff I will often say "it sounds as though you're ok with that so I'm going to go ahead", putting the other person in the position of having to explicitly disagree with me if they don't want me doing whatever it is. But you need to pick your battles on this, and be a little careful that you don't end up pushing past their boundaries too much.

The things to be really careful of are where your boss is trying to give you leeway that isn't officially there. If you ask "can I start early and finish early most days" when your company has an policy of 9-5, then your boss might say "oh, as long as you get your work done and don't annoy people, you know". What that means is "if I have to answer I have to say no, but I think it's a silly rule so I'm going to avoid enforcing it unless you make me". (/edit)

With leave requests it's a more formal thing. You can't take the leave unless you get a reply. So it's perfectly reasonable to contact HR (or whoever deals with leave if you don't have HR) if you don't get a response to your second email. Sure, you're escalating, but that's the appropriate thing to do.

The first time you go past your boss I suggest making it something important, like a leave request (rather than, say, a new stapler), just so it's really obvious that you need an answer.

It gets tricky if there's no HR department and no-one obvious to talk to about your leave. In that case you have to go over your boss's head to his direct boss, and that's not normally a good thing to do. So you need to have it organised and documented. What's the problem, what have you done to fix it, what do you want your boss's boss to do?

There's two related issues you want to present, first the general problem:

  • Problem: my boss ignores my requests for leave and resources.
  • my actions: example of leave request email, example of resource request email. Each sent twice, followed up with phone call. No useful result either time.
  • Desired outcome: procedure for me to follow when an email request is not responded to.

The second issue is the more specific one:

  • Problem: I want to take leave but my request has been ignored.
  • My actions: emailed request twice, rang twice, no result.
  • Desired outcome: super-boss approves my leave request

It might be necessary to explain that there are two issues, and the leave is an example of the general issue. Some people are not good with this kind of meta-problem, and will address the immediate issue only. In that case you might be better off asking "what do I do if this happens again", rather than trying to go through the first problem/action/outcome series again.


Managers generally tend to like employees who take action and are proactive and avoid giving them more work. So next time, try rephrasing the letter. Instead of asking what you should do, tell them what you do and explain why. In this case; The only real alternative is to switch tasks, so just do it but make sure to inform everyone concerned and explain why.

There's a saying I've heard repeated a lot;It's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. To me that means it's better to make a decision, that may be wrong, than to sit around and wait for someone else to make decisions for you.

This will of course depend on your company culture, some are more strict than others and may frown upon this kind of behaviour. If they do, I'd say that is an indication that you should start to look for another job.


There are lots of answers to this question already, but I felt rather strongly about this question and have created an account on this Stack site just to provide my own opinion on it.

You never actually state how big your workplace actually is.

I work for a global telecommunications company, which operates out of 170 countries. My manager is on the other side of the world to me (I'm in Northern Ireland, he's in India). When I email him, I frequently don't get responses.

But here's the thing. He is receiving hundreds of emails an hour. He has over 15,000 unread emails in his Inbox. It's not a simple case of saying he's not doing his job properly. Given the size of the company, his seniority within the company and the complexity of the role he has, he is simply inundated with information on a constant basis. Whilst it can be a frustrating situation, it's the nature of the beast with such a large company.

Therefore, this is how I handle it. If I want time off for something, I send him a meeting request for a week, simply stating that's my holiday time. As his Calendar, like many senior managers, dictates his life, he will notice it. For almost any other urgent enquiry, I'll ping him on MS Lync or call him. But all other actions which aren't urgent I can either wait for a response and if I don't receive one, I can casually bring it up on our weekly/biweekly team knowledge calls (which should be taking place if you're that far apart, just to touch in with what has been happening).

If I'm completely stuck with an issue and he hasn't responded by email, I don't get frustrated and wonder what to do next. I escalate it! I wouldn't go straight to HR to complain or fret about how I've worded my email - not because those things aren't important, but because I could be making an absolute mountain out of a molehill.

I'll simply try a different approach to get in touch with my manager (i.e. Lync/calling), discuss what I want to discuss and find out if there's a different form of communication he prefers or would be quicker to respond to. I always find this is the best way to approach a situation rather than panicking unnecessarily first.

If you still can't get in touch, try and figure out why. Is he deliberately avoiding you, in which case I would say go to HR. Is he too busy? If so, what are the standard policies in the workplace for escalation? Find them out and follow them. Also bear in mind the size of the company and your manager's workload. In my case, it's unreasonable to expect a response to anything but an absolute priority (i.e. a major system failure) within a few hours. So if I want to email him about, for example, time off - I wouldn't do it the day before I wanted it. It would be completely unreasonable to expect a response in that timeframe.

The key thing in any workplace is to know the rules and simply follow them. If you do that, you're doing nothing wrong. Rest assured in that fact.

One final point:

I insist on straightforward communication and I refuse to take hints so I act as though I don't get them.

If this is your attitude, confirm any communication you have. If you feel you are being hinted something, simply repeat back what you think you're being asked to do and ask for confirmation.


Call him.

It is easy to ignore an email but it's much harder to evade a question when asked over the phone.

  • 3
    Why the downvote? Just because my answer is concise? Do I really need to add three paragraphs of meaningless chit-chat?
    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 8:44
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    I assume, the down vote comes from the fact, that your answer does not really address at least those parts of the question that are about policy and about reading unspoken communication. And what you're suggesting has been suggested in a more elaborate way that covers all aspects of the question already. The down voter may assume you haven't read past the title of the question and thus reacted with that vote. These are just guesses as to the reason though - I don't actually know the reason.
    – CMW
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 9:04

It has nothing to do with American corporate culture, where we expect managers to provide their subordinates with the support that the subordinates need to do their jobs. It has everything to do with your manager's failure as an individual to work with you and give you the answer that you are entitled to, be his answer a "yes" or a "no"

To be fair, the deadlines in question may have been set by others above him and he may not have the authority to change them by himself. And if he wants to change them, he may have to work through others to change them. As you may know, in any corporate culture - American or otherwise - it usually takes only one person to say "no" but it takes several people to say "yes". And getting several people to say "yes" takes time and follow up :) And any request to say "yes" must be supported with good justification :)

For the time being, do what's rational, which is to complete task B because you do task A, unless you can do task A while treating task B like a black box that you can mock up. And follow up with him with a renewed request for an answer.


If you need a response on something, forward your previously-sent email and ask if your boss has seen said email. If it's important, use the Important flag.

If you don't get a timely response, send your boss a fresh email asking what the best way to contact him/her is. Tell your boss you want to be effective in your communications and use the most convenient method for him/her.

Still no response? Forward all emails to HR and ask them what you should do to help with communication with your boss.

  • this is exactly what i wanted to do. i just resent him one of the emails as per your suggestion in the first sentence. however, i am very reluctant to resort to HR as that may cause antagonism and drama
    – amphibient
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 21:45
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    If you can't get a response from your boss, it is your boss causing the drama. You are trying to do your job, and your boss is being passive aggressive at best, and negligent at worst. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 21:54
  • yeah, i wanted to use the term "passive aggressive" in OP but i've been accused of ranting on this site before for using similarly descriptive terms
    – amphibient
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 22:10

You should reply to your original email and ask the question again. Also specify when you need the answer, and what you will do if you don't get an answer.

You probably need to have a regular meeting with your boss. It could be as simple as a half-hour every two weeks. This gives you a regular touchpoint so that you can discuss things like this. It also gives you an opportunity to discuss the overall problem of the best way to get answers from him when you need them. If email isn't the best way to communicate with him, then what is? You should present it as how you can be more effective in communicating with him, and brainstorm ideas that both you and he can do to address this issue.

Don't bring in baggage from previous positions, at least not explicitly. You can use this issue with your boss to try to address the overall problem of not always doing a great job of reading between the lines. It's part of your boss's job to help you be effective at your job, which is both about the skills associated with your job as well as the skills associated in working with other people.


First and foremost you need to figure out why your boss is ignoring you. If it's as simple as a boss who is overwhelmed or not organized and is overlooking emails or not reading all their emails (like one of my previous bosses), and it's not personal against you, make it simple for them, i.e. "up-manage them". Instant message them. Call them. Text them. Email them again, but put the precise, concise request in the subject line, so they don't even have to even open the email. Call their secretary or admin assistant, if they have one. I'd be humble about it all though, with something along the lines of "I know you're extremely busy, so I'm trying to minimize the amount of time I need from you...".

If you can, put a read receipt on your emails—that way you know if they're being read. Use this with caution though, as some email programs alert the recipient there's a read receipt on the email and some company cultures frown upon this approach. If your boss is reading your emails, but not replying, don't automatically assume it's personal—they may genuinely be overwhelmed with work—but it gives you some information to ponder over at least.

I really would avoid escalating, if at all possible. However, if the ignoring is personal toward you, you may need to. Know though, this could have adverse effects on your career in that company and even in that industry, if it's an intimate enough industry.

Remote working is hard. I know, I've done it for the past 7 years. Everyone thinks it's a picnic, but generally those are the people who've never done it and sit in envy of those who have or those who are and are taking advantage of their employer's generosity.

Two of the key things for successful remote working are communication and relationship building. Preferably daily, but at least weekly, two-way communication between you and your boss (and your co-workers) is a must-have with remote working. It doesn't have to be formalized, but it does have to be understood and practiced by all and if it's not happening naturally, formal procedures need to be put in place to make it happen. Without it, the company suffers, but most importantly, you, the remote worker suffers.


I work 50 feet down the hall from my boss and he oftentimes doesn't reply to my emails so your remote work situation has little to do with it. I generally send an email stating what I am going to do and to let me know if this is an issue. So if he chooses to not respond, I have my self-assigned marching orders.

If I need some level of direction, I will mark the email as high priority and provide a more useful subject. Don't put "question" or something vague in the subject line. Instead, use something informative like "IMPORTANT: Project XYZ is blocked and need direction".

How about scheduling a meeting? I have done this to get on an inattentive boss's calendar.

Do you use any kind of chat software like Microsoft Teams? If so, check his status and ping him.

Lastly, just give me a call.


I've found that the easiest way to handle this is to word requesting e-mails with your default intentions (whatever you think is the best course of action). So, for instance when you need a choice between two alternatives made, say:

Boss, I need to know whether to do X or Y. If I don't hear back from you by Tuesday, I'll do X.

You can then safely assume that if he doesn't respond, he wants you to do X. If he does want X done, then he doesn't have to do anything, but if he wants Y done, then he has to get back to you, and he can't well say that he didn't know what you were doing.

I've found this to work well with an overloaded boss.


The manager is probably overwhelmed with mails and can't respond, nothing personal.

At the end of your mail, you could give him a short question and two links, so he only needs to click YES or NO. Will save a lot of time and your next salary negotiation is saved.


Many English speakers tend to (at workplace) ignore people if they think their opinion is stupid or doesn't make sense. They prefer providing no answer in opposed to creating to a potential conflict or offending you. They also might get offended in case you publicly disapprove of their proposed solution. I personally don't find it productive, but the trick was for me to learn to read between the lines.


The best email ever consists of one word. Use this when you re-send a previously unanswered email.

to: boss


Send this when you need to, and resend it when you need to, numerous times. No emotions, no ranting, no choice adjectives. Hint, probably not a good idea to send this more than once/day.

  • 3
    is this only your opinion or you can back it up somehow?
    – gnat
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 11:52
  • 8
    I have received emails like these. I detest them. Look, there's a reason the first one wasn't answered. If that reason is "I'm busy and occasionally absent minded" then this approach works. For any other reason (defects in your mail, other important stuff to do, your project isn't urgent yet) this approach is useless because it doesn't give the boss any reason to even read your first email, never mind answer it. Add information. Explicitly ask for the thing you want (decision, meeting, etc) again. Help the boss to answer you and motivate the boss to answer you. Not a generic reminder. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 12:34
  • Opinion, no. It's a concept first offered by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish on communication skills. The concept is simple. "Say it with a word" (a single word). That keeps emotion out of the conversation. Try it, this totally works. Now obviously the assumption is that in this case, the original sender is competent, uses their own initiative and can and does write a coherent and succinct email. (So yes, if an idiot sends me a followup email like this, I'd be miffed too...) And Kate, if you are receiving emails like these, what does that say, really?
    – zipzit
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 23:31

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