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Is it polite to ask an executive the following:

I understand that you're extremely busy - taking that into account, would it be better for me to email XXX in regards to this?

Would this be considered rude?

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  • 5
    Who is the person who can resolve it for you? Ask the question about what you need of that person, and they will direct you to the appropriate person if they can't. – Jane S Aug 3 '16 at 7:22
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What answer are you trying to get from that person?

Look, it happened to me several time. I am busy doing project Z. The deadline is tight and I am fully stressed. Someone approaches me asking:

I understand that you're extremely busy - taking that into account, would it be better for me to email XXX in regards to this?

Guess what answer you will get? Yes, contact that person, leave me alone. (90% probability of getting this answer. My own experience)

I do not want to be rude for that person, but if I am in stress, and there is more work which I can easily avoid, I will avoid it.

But I guess that person you are contacting is the only one able doing task C. Or at least you perceive them to be it so. So, what you should you do?

Checklist for contacting terribly busy person:

  • Is this person the only one being able to solve this issue?
  • How blocking this issue actually is? Is it "I cannot do my work" or "This part can be block me soon"?
  • Have you tried to solve it by yourself?
  • Have you searched for solutions online?
  • Does it need to be solved right now?
  • Can you plan a meeting with that person, or give them time to prepare?

Ok, lets assume you went through this checklist. That busy person is the only one to be able to solve your issue and it has to be done right now. (Hint: In most work environments it means either "top level project is falling down and only you can solve it" or "the building is on fire and you have to get out." Almost anything else can wait)

When contacting busy person, remember:

  • That person is already in stress, and your question will make them even more stressed. Expect that their answer may be emotional
  • Make sure you did your homework (I cannot stress this enough) and you really have to contact them
  • Present them steps what you tried
  • Present them what solution do you expect to be the best outcome
  • Expect that they will point you to other person or to some online help, expecting you to go through it
  • Expect that it will be stressful experience for you, because that person may want you to do steps as fast as possible
  • Aim your communication to be as factual as possible. Stressed person does not want to hear about your dog/cat/whatever when dealing with your problem
  • If being helped by them, make notes
  • Make sure you put your notes to others, so that person does not need to be contacted that often
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Pavel makes excellent points, follow his advice.
That said there is one thing he did not mention: there is no use prefacing with "I know you are busy...". Either you ask that person or you don't.

If you do really want to ask that busy person (you better have a good reason and like Pavel says you better have done your homework), then go straight to the point and keep it as short and sweet as possible. If you want outcome A (e.g. get an answer from them), aim for outcome A, not for B, C or D.

If you have done your homework correctly, the busy person will tell you who else to ask if they think this will be more effective for them or the organisation, or they will answer your question.

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I would follow up in person first. If they say they are too busy, then mention that you will email XX instead. You gave them the benefit of the doubt by asking if they saw your email. You have spent energy in confirming that by showing professionalism, and you have fully disclosed your intention to email someone else and that shows you are sensitive (in a good way) to their schedule but also standing up for your own schedule and being proactive.

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