9

Rather than going to a colleague impromptu, I prefer to write an email to them as I do not wish to disturb their workflow. However, often I do not hear from them even after two weeks. I am thinking of adding the following sentence at the end of my emails in the future:

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenient time. If you prefer me coming to you in person instead, please ping me and I will be at your doorstep right away.

Would the above be appropriate?

Note that I am an introvert, probably a strong one.

7

If you haven't already, you should probably confirm with your supervisor and/or the team in general regarding how people are expected to communicate such requests. Don't assume e-mail is the proper way just because it's the one that makes sense to you.

Expectations on this sort of thing can vary from industry to industry and even from company to company. If you aren't getting answers in reasonable time, it's probably because your medium for communication (e-mail, in this case) is not what most people you work with are expecting for requests of this nature.

It will probably be much easier to adjust your own behaviour to match what they already do than to try and change everyone else to do it your way. You may feel that walking over and poking someone is rude or disruptive, but if this is what everyone else does, then clearly it's not a big deal to them.

(For reference, I've worked in companies where all work-related communication was expected to go through the company's chosen IM program. I've also worked at places where walking over and saying "Hey dumbarse!" was the usual approach.)

(Okay, maybe not "the usual" but the point is people didn't object to copious amounts of swearing in the workplace. Not even management!)

  • what does swearing have to do with the OP's question? – Mister Positive Apr 20 '17 at 14:11
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    Nothing directly. My point was simply that different companies can have widely varying expectations on what constitutes appropriate communication. – Steve-O Apr 20 '17 at 14:16
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    I see, removed my down vote. – Mister Positive Apr 20 '17 at 14:18
  • Thank you for the answer. I suspect that the underlying problem is psychological. I find it hard to believe that I am not a disturbance to others. – adipro Apr 20 '17 at 22:11
34

However, often I do not hear from them even after two weeks

If what you are asking needs a response, talk to them. Many people won't read an email in depth to see there is something they need to do, or will have "conveniently" missed that part of the mail.

In consultancy people are usually taught to discuss with the person they are asking, then if necessary send an email to document the ask, and this is a good way to work. Just requesting and sitting back is not a good way of proceeding (if the person is remote from you you may need to email, but try and have the conversation by phone/skype etc).

If the matter isn't urgent, wait until your next standup/progress/status meeting and ask the person if they can give you a couple of minutes at the end to cover something, so as not to interupt their work.

Would the above be appropriate?

This is a passive-aggressive way of saying you expect them to jump at your request, just ask them. If they are too busy, agree when would be appropriate to discuss.

As a developer of 20+ years (and a bit of an introvert myself) I understand, but as someone who primarily coaches teams on improving development (usually Agile), I can say it's a major mistake, and the reason why so many projects fail to deliver. It's always the hardest thing for teams, but face to face is by far the best way to communicate. With Agile teams I push whiteboards and stickys rather than Jira etc for the same reason, we get teams to collaborate, and that's 90% of the issues with teams, always.

  • 4
    +1 for the approach of "Talk, then email". The information is passed and you have a record after the fact of the communication. This is important so you can show that you've talked to and written the comms. I'd start with a "As per our conversation" or some similar. – SliderBlackrose Apr 20 '17 at 15:48
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    I feel there is an underlying message in this answer: there are two levels of communication, factual and relational. The factual level is about exchanging information. Email is very good for that. The relational level is about establishing rapport, trust, urgency, a mutual understanding; this determines whether the parties are willing to communicate in the first place. This is largely nonverbal and email is notoriously good at helping to screw this up. – reinierpost Apr 20 '17 at 20:51
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    As a developer, I hate the idea of "talk, then email". I'd much rather be emailed, and given a chance to deal with it without getting distracted from other stuff, and then talked to if/when it becomes clear an email didn't work. If you're already talking at a meeting, fine, but please don't come to me at random times to tell me stuff that could have been put in an email. (The exception is if it's urgent, in which case distracting me is presumably worth whatever you want me to do) – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Apr 21 '17 at 2:58
12

If it's a constant issue and if it's important and work related, cc the manager of you both if you need action. Then follow up with the same method. This puts the manager in the loop. Follow up is pretty simple.

"Hello XYX, is there any update on this?" etc,.

I do this all the time, I'm not going to chase people around, I'm not their manager. But I now have a paper trail if their bad communication skills are holding me up and not only do I have a paper trail on them, I have a paper trail on the manager if I ever need to escalate.

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    This is exactly what I do. – Mister Positive Apr 20 '17 at 17:33
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    You should only do this with colleagues where this is a constant issue (as stated). Keep in mind, this is passive aggressive and might not increase your colleagues willingness to cooperate. Perhaps start off without CC and only after some period of time start CC. – hardmooth Apr 20 '17 at 19:44
  • @hardmooth yes I agree, although I don't see it as passive aggressive so much. It's normal for many people. – Kilisi Apr 20 '17 at 19:46
5

If you want a response, ask a question.

Actually, more specifically, end with a question. For instance, never end an E-Mail this way:

Would the above be appropriate?

Note that I am an introvert, probably a strong one.

If you have a question, then do NOT add another thought, or even more information about an existing thought. If you need to add information about a thought, then add that information, but then re-arrange your E-Mail (re-writing parts as needed) so that you end with a question.

If you have a lengthier E-Mail that has 2 or 3 questions throughout the E-Mail, that may be fine. However, at the end, recap. For example, the end of your E-Mail may say:

Summary:
How ....?

Where ....?

What ....?

Make sure all of the information you're needing is in questions right at the bottom. The only thing you'll get away with placing after an important question is another important question. (Followed by your signature.)

I still don't get 100% of what I hope for, so follow-up (another E-Mail, or maybe an additional form of communication) can be necessary. But if I follow those rules, I get a much higher percentage of a response containing some answer(s).

2

Others have already explained how to deal with the issue (CC the manager, talk to them, ask whether emails are appropriate), but I would like to add that often emails are ignored simply because they are too long and difficult to read. Yes, seriously!

When you send an email, make sure that:

  • The subject is descriptive
  • The first line gives a short summary of the email ("I'm facing a new problem while updating the XYZ document, and I would like to get your help").
  • After the first line there's a line break. This clearly separates the summary from the body
  • The body itself is as short as possible. If you can keep it within 3 lines, it's better. Five is still ok. If you write 10, a lot of people will just see a wall of text and decide to read it "later" (which might never happen).

Some more tips:

  • If it makes sense, use numbered lists or bulleted lists.
  • If you can highlight some keywords or full sentences, making them bold, do it.
  • If you can split a long text in shorter paragraphs, do it.
  • If your email contains an implicit question, make it explicit instead.

No one wants to parse a long text and study it to make sure they've understood all the requests. Make it easy for them to know what you expect from them. If you want an answer to 3 questions, ask 3 questions, and use a numbered list, otherwise people will easily miss a piece.
For example, if you describe a problem and then write: "Should I still do it? How? Can it wait until next week or do I have to work on it immediately?", one might answer: "Sure, do it, but we're not in a hurry, finish what you are doing now first", which seems like an answer but actually misses the second question ("How?"). If you ask it as a separate question, with its own number, it's a lot more likely that they will address it.

In other words, try to make sure that your emails are short, simple and clear.

  • Give a summary in the first sentence isn't nearly specific enough. For instance, Summary: I ran into a problem with ... is completely worthless. Tell the reader what you want them to do, and when! This allows the reader to decide whether and when to continue reading the rest. By the way: the first line is the subject. – reinierpost Apr 20 '17 at 20:45
  • @reinierpost I disagree. Describing the problem is useful, and in my example I've also added what I want from the reader. Sure, it's generic, but it's enough to do exactly what you say: helping him understand whether he wants to continue reading or not. And no, the first line isn't the subject. In an email, the subject is a well-defined field, usually next to the "To", "Cc" and "Bcc" fields, independent from the first line. – Fabio says Reinstate Monica Apr 20 '17 at 22:01
  • "I'm facing a new problem...", though, is noise. Describe the problem (succinctly, of course). – cHao Apr 20 '17 at 22:37
  • @Fabio Turati: Yes, you need to describe the problem, after you've summarized what you want the recipient to do. People only scan the first paragraph when deciding whether to read on. And the subject line is the first line they read whether you agree or not - I skip emails without a clear subject line. – reinierpost Apr 21 '17 at 7:43
1

Would the above be appropriate?

Whether it's appropriate or not, it won't help at all if people aren't reading your message in the first place. Many people get so much ignorable e-mail that it's hard to notice messages that require or deserve attention.

It's great that you try to be considerate and avoid interrupting the work that your colleagues are doing, but your work is also important. Choosing a more immediate mode of communication when you need an answer would help. Many companies use chat systems like Slack or HipChat for this kind of thing; people are less likely to miss requests sent that way, but they can still defer the interaction until they have a break in their work.

  • If people don't respond, I can usually find other solution or work on something else, so it is not a big problem in this sense. But I am left wondering about whether I have done something wrong and this I think gives me a lot of stress. – adipro Apr 20 '17 at 22:32
1

Put a third person in the Cc: . Ideally, a relevant boss.

But beware, it can be considered also as a rude/threatening thing, while mentioning it (from the other side) would be also impolite. And creating grudges in your collegues while they can't really talk it with you, this is probably not what you want.

This danger is much lighter, if

  • the task to solve together is important for the boss, and he is a relevant part of it.
  • if your situation can be interpreted so that you have to Cc: this mail to this person. (For example, you are writing mail to a customer or to somebody in a different department, and this boss is the ordinary communication way to them.)
  • if there is any other circumstance which clearly shows for every party that it is not a threatening thing. The result is that you can put this threatening "flavor" into the picture safely.

Particularly in dangerous environment (if "but you wrote that..."-type debates often happen) can be useful to Cc: a third party as often as you only can.

If you get similarly Cc:-ed mails, see them as a possibility to show the Cc:-ed boss, how fast and good solution you can provide to the collegue.

How this type of Cc:-ing is viewed, greatly depends on the country and on the company culture. If you don't know it, it is better to not use it - first. There are countries and companies, where Cc: is used essentially as a strategical weapon. In other places, everybody always Cc: somebody and it is a custom, not a threat. Other simply never Cc: or every important thing is handled verbally in 2 or multipart meetings.

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    I think CC'ing your boss or another co-worker into every email would be a bad idea. I'm sure your boss doesn't want to waste time reading questions between workers that do not need his input. – ayrton clark Apr 21 '17 at 14:58
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    @ayrtonclark Not in all, only if there is a problem that the remote side won't react. Where it is common, bosses get a lot of similar mails and they are accustomed to it. – Gray Sheep Apr 22 '17 at 2:38

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