Getting What You Need From Unresponsive Coworkers
> Slow and unresponsive co-workers can drive you nuts at the office
It’s Monday morning at 10am - ugh.
You just finished writing up a short email to Dave for a simple request and hit “send” and off it went down the hall to the other side of the building.
It’s the last tidbit you need to finish your project.
It’s Tuesday morning now - almost exactly 24 hours since sending the email.
No reply from Dave yet. It’s only been one full business day and you to think yourself, “maybe, he’s super busy.”
So, you give it ‘til the afternoon.
Now, it’s the end of the day and you scan your inbox again for Dave’s reply.
None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
Annoying, but you deal with it.
It’s Hump Day and two full days have passed since sending the email.
You need that last bit of info and confirmation to submit your project by the deadline this Friday.
“C’mon, Dave...WTF? It’s a short quick reply!” You mentally scream to yourself.
So, now you send a follow-up email.
Thursday morning rolls around. You can see him working at his desk. Yet, nothing.
This is ridiculous. It’s such a simple request. What’s the hold-up?!
Now, you’re contemplating your options of stopping by his desk, calling him, sending an instant message or text and even cc’ing his boss in a second follow-up email. Or, maybe doing all of it and hitting him from all angles.
The deadline is tomorrow and you need his reply today to finish up the rest of the presentation.
Why isn’t he responding?
You know this feeling. We all go through this every week.
It’s a constant and never-ending struggle of having to rely on others at work to get your projects done.
Everyone has a “Dave” in their office. The only time anyone ever consistently gets a quick reply from him is when his vacation auto-responder is turned on.
It’s these kinds of co-workers that make cartoon steam blasts from our ears.
Why does it seem so hard for some people to get back to us?
Not to mention we find ourselves obsessing over the fact that the message appears to be read, yet there is still no response days later.
Causing way more stress than you need right now.
Non-Responders Trigger Emotions of Self-Doubt
Most people seem to be pretty good at getting back to you, but there is always that one person.
We wonder, what’s the problem? Is it that hard to respond to an email?
Don’t they understand that to make an office work you need a team? Coordination? Interaction?
We know you’ve tried every trick in the book.
You feel like you’ve tried the follow-up, the slight “fuck-you” of cc’ing the manager, and you’ve even tried that whole in-person thing you’ve been trying to avoid most of your adult life.
As if work needed to be more stressful.
Now, you’re stuck trying to get their attention, which is majorly wasting your time and delaying your work.
You swear to God this time it’s different. If you miss your deadline this time, their head is going to be served on a platter at next month’s meeting.
There’s nothing worse than hearing nothing. It leaves you alone with too many of your own thoughts.
Was it something you said? Was it something you did? Was it something you didn’t say or do?
Is it your breath? Your hair? The way your lunches smell?
Did you make an ass of yourself at the Christmas party and you don’t remember it?
Who knew this whole ghosting thing in the office world is even worse than ghosting in the dating world.
You start to dwindle into a storm of “is it me?” thoughts.
However, all the stories you’re telling yourself are mostly just assumptions. You’re jumping to conclusions.
Put a plug in the bottom of that and listen up for a second!
It’s not you, or at least it is not all you.
Take into consideration that they are also an adult individual and therefore this is partially their responsibility.
Why Some Co-workers Are Unresponsive
It’s hard to truly judge whether your unresponsive-worker (since we can’t really call them a co-worker), has some sort of a personality conflict with you, whether they are just lazy or scatterbrained, or whether there is a completely different unrealized symptom at fault here.
There is a good chance they don’t see themselves as unresponsive. They probably didn’t even see your request at all.
In fact, here are a few things to consider before allowing yourself to jump to any conclusions.
What is their workload?
Could it be that they have some pressure on their shoulders from some departments or management that you don't know about?
Take a moment to get familiarized with what they are doing and what is expected of them as well.
It simply could be that your request is a lower level of importance to them considering they have a million other things on their plate. Just like you.
Which, you can’t really blame them for. You do think your problem currently is the most important. We all do.
They could even be waiting on someone themselves too and getting just as frustrated as you are.
How often are they in the office?
Is travel a prerequisite part of their position? Travel can be immensely stressful and make for a more difficult time accessing email while on the road or up in the sky.
WiFi on flights isn’t commonplace yet, but it seems like the airlines are slowly adding it in. Even when it’s available, it can be slow-n-spotty.
If your contact travels a lot for business, give them a bit more leeway than someone who doesn’t. They’ll thank you.
Are they scatterbrained and/or unfocused?
Could it be that their office desk is a mess? Piles of notes scattered about with no rhyme or reason.
Being unorganized isn’t a crime, however it does make for a difficult co-worker.
Give them a few tips and tricks to organizing and prioritizing. Then, send them this article about decluttering their cubicle. They’ll either appreciate it or just reply with a passive-aggressive thanks.
Do they want to be there?
There is also the possibility that he or she may just be lazy. They may not want to to be at work.
This is definitely harder to deal with.
And if the problem is an on-going one that’s impacting not only you but others in the office as well, it could be something that needs to be brought to the attention of your supervisor and/or manager.
Is it a personal issue?
This is a very rare case, however, it can happen. Even more so than them just being lazy, this is definitely a time you want to go talk to your manager.
We’d like to think that everyone keeps things at a professional level at work, but in some small cases, there are personality conflicts that can negatively impact working relationships.
However, before we go on to upper management, let’s see if we can sort this out ourselves between coworkers.
How To Win-Over Unresponsive Co-workers
Don’t despair, luckily, winning over unresponders is easier than you think.
Simply put, it’s all about the relationship. And like any relationship, it doesn’t happen instantly. It takes a bit of time to develop and requires ongoing maintenance.
You gotta get on their good side as much as possible and become a person they enjoy helping out.
Now, we all know that you’re awesome, but you’re not gonna win-over every single person in the office - that’s unrealistic. There’s always going to be a few that you just can’t connect with and that’s okay.
Okay, let’s get into this now. Here are a few ways that you can do this.
This is quite literally the easiest thing we can do. Change the things we are in control of within ourselves.
Firstly, be the change you want to see. Make sure you are taking the time to respond to your co-workers. All of them.
It doesn’t have to be instant responses - nobody’s got the mental capacity to do that.
But, do try to provide a reply within a couple of business days or at the very least, an acknowledgement that you’ve got their request and that you’ll get to it.
Next, try a few of the following when you run into the unresponder in the office:
- Call them by name
- Ask them about something they are interested in
- Genuinely listen to what they are saying
- Make them feel important by reiterating something they stated
Make It About Them
Over some time, you’ll have a bit more of their attention, and when they start to realize that you are interested in them, you end up with their full attention.
No one likes just talking about work, and they sure as hell don’t like being asked to do more of it. So make sure you always start without the mention of it.
But please don’t talk about the weather! It’s way too cliche.
When you’re ready, keep in mind a few of the following when you shift the conversation from the aforementioned to work.
What’s In It For Them?
Since you are asking them to take some time out of their day, we need to sweeten the deal somehow to make sure they feel they are getting something out of it.
Perhaps they have a bunch of filing to do, which is the worst office task, am I right? Maybe offer to help them take care of some of that, in your free time.
Don’t make it a transaction though, because then they will always want something in return. Instead, when you notice they need something simple, and you have 5 spare minutes, offer your help.
When you do chat about that particular task you’ve been inquiring about, use this time to reiterate the importance, and ask if there is anything that you can do to help them help you.
Make Them Feel Important And Appreciated
When you give someone credit where credit is due, you are not only being a nice person, you are also mentally rewiring your unresponsive-worker.
In a good way, don’t worry.
The power of gratitude and it’s “magical powers” is actually backed by science to show the improvement of the environment and people around us.
That sincere "thank you" may just be words to you, but if your co-worker is having a shitty day, it can be the highlight for them.
Send Better Emails
You know those days when our inboxes just gets absolutely bombarded?
We cringe at the idea of even opening the inbox. But, inevitably, we do.
Usually, we do a priority scan of our inbox for the important emails from our boss, major critical projects, quick-n-small requests and maybe even a funny meme or two to sneak in a micro-moment of laughs.
We need to craft our emails to be included in that priority scan of others.
A lot of small request emails have the same type subject line of:
“Hey, can you do me a quick favor?”
You definitely know it’s not going to be quick when they ask that way.
So, how can you up the ante and ensure that your email is one of the few that make it through the priority scan?
Let’s start out by watching this short 2 minute clip that hits the high points.
VIDEO: Writing an Effective Business Email
> Business email isn’t social messaging, so don't treat it that way
> Make it direct, clear and easy to read for the other person
> Keep it professional and on point
Now, let’s go a little deeper with this.
Short-N-Sweet Subject Line
The subject line is like your profile pic on your Tinder page. You need to make sure it is attractive or interesting enough to warrant an individual to want to open up your email and learn more.
It should communicate exactly what the email is about so your coworker can prioritize their emails efficiently.
Hit the main point in less than 5 words, if possible.
Whatever you do, don’t let it be “can I just get a quick hand” or “could you do me a favor’’ type of subject lines.
Instead, use short and accurate wording.
They’ll be much more responsive, considering you just saved a few minutes of their time.
Clear and Concise Body
A big reason that people don’t respond is that everyone seems to be buried in a virtual pile of messages.
This is why, after having a solid pick up line, you need to make sure that your email is short, simple and to the point.
- Bullet points are awesome!
- It’s much easier to read a list of items
- Plus, it’s less visually intimidating
Writing long big blocks of heavy paragraphs won’t get you quick progress with anyone. Have you noticed how easy it is to scan and read our stuff?
People don’t want to read a novel in an email.
Keep it short and to the point.
Include your ideal timeline in your body.
If this particular co-worker is known for forgetting emails, you can always send a calendar reminder with your email. That way it pops up for them on the due date.
Another way you can do this is by asking for a confirmation request. Simply ask them to confirm they received the email so you know they got it, even if they aren't ready to respond or decide.
Get the right tone.
As a wise person once said, never send an email when you’re angry. The same applies here.
If you are having a particularly frustrating day, or the person hasn’t responded and it's irking you to no end, do not send an angry email. Anger will only backfire.
Instead, kill ‘em with kindness.
Acknowledge that they are busy and that you understand that. Empathize with them and let them know that they are truly appreciated.
And don’t forget to say thank you.
Try something like this:
Subject Line: May Meeting Minutes - Please advise today.
Great job last week on bagging that client!
When you get a moment, can you please look over the meeting notes for May and get back to me with your thoughts before Friday?
Do you think we should add to the new budget chart this month? If yes, can you let me know by the end of today so I can add it to the itinerary?
Thanks for your help during this busy time. I really appreciate it.
Now that you’ve done that. Combine it with the 10-second skim rule.
Start a timer, and give yourself 10 seconds. Can you read your subject line, open your email and know exactly what it is you want?
Find The Right Timing
Believe it or not, there are good times and bad times to send emails to people if you are looking for a response.
Much like Instagram, if you don’t post at the right time, no one sees it.
Unlike Instagram though, there is no exact hour in the day to send your email. This is based more on your co-worker's personality.
Are they a morning person? Do they take a few coffees to wake up? Or do you find them getting most of their work done about an hour before clocking out?
Once you have observed what kind of a person they are, choose their most energetic time to send an email.
Find that ideal wavelength or block of the day when you know that the chances of a reply are much higher.
Don’t limit yourself in sending those emails only in that timing, but use the timing to send the quicker and/or smaller requests and save the bigger ones for later.
Send Follow Up Emails
So you’ve sent your email, and it’s now two to three business days later, and you need to know if you are adding in the budget report and hand the final minutes to your supervisor before you go home Friday.
This is a great time to send a follow-up email if they haven’t responded. There is nothing wrong with a little reminder.
And since now you have fewer days, you can flag it as urgent and put it in your subject line.
Subject Line: Urgent - Budget chart due today.
Have you had a chance to review the budget chart I sent earlier this week?
It needs to be submitted today. Any input or feedback would be appreciated.
Thanks for all your help.
Now, after maybe two follow-ups with no response, you’ll need to take a few different paths to make progress. Let’s look at those now.
Email is pretty much the defacto standard for communication now.
However, there are new methods of communication that are being incorporated into our daily office lives.
Some are more accepted than others and it varies from industry to industry and even from department to department within a company.
You don’t have to directly discuss business on the alternative platforms, you can always just send them a heads up message, letting them know you sent an important email.
If you open up communication to multiple platforms, your coworkers are more likely to respond. Just don’t hit them from all channels at once.
Don’t be like this girl.
VIDEO: Did You Get My Email? | Hardly Working
YOUTUBE: College Humor
Did you know that the device we use for texting can also call someone? And you can use your voice to speak to them?
Crazy, isn’t it?!
All jokes aside, we know phone calls seem a little like a thing of the past with the convenience of emails and text messaging.
However, it is still one of the fastest and most efficient ways to share information and ask questions of your coworkers.
Especially if you have some coworkers that do travel a lot or work remotely.
The greatest thing about a phone call is you have an immediate answer.
If you are in a workplace where email is the preferred method of communication due to the fact that it keeps a record of everything discussed, you can always send a follow-up email about your conversation.
Subject Line: Phone Call Meeting - Budget
Thanks for the quick chat earlier today!
I am so happy we had a few moments to discuss the addition of the budget chart to this months meeting minutes.
I will get the report in for us by the end of the day.
Thanks for all your help.
If you find you have to leave a voicemail, make sure to keep it short and to the point. Nobody likes listening to long and drawn out voice mail messages.
Send ‘Em A Text/Instant Message
Texting. The best thing since sliced bread.
We all do it, and we are all masters at it.
Being able to send a quick text or instant message is incredibly useful if you or your coworker work in a different office, travel lots, or work remotely.
It is always a good idea to keep the text messages short and not have them contain too much information about work. Unless, it is specifically a work phone.
Make sure to check with your company that you are allowed to use your cell phone at work.
That way you won’t get in trouble.
And never discuss private company information openly over a personal cell phone. Rather, use the text or instant message as a guide to get your coworkers to read the email or schedule a meeting with you.
Go See Them In Person
You know, there was a world before email, right? People actually had to walk over and meet in person to follow up.
If it’s possible, go up to them and just have a quick chat. If it’s a simple yes or no answer you’re seeking, this could be the best thing for you and your co-worker.
Again, it’s helpful to chat up some fun stuff briefly for a minute before following up on the request.
Schedule A Meeting
If you find you’re still not able to get their attention or answer out of them, send a meeting request. This works especially well because it is a more formal approach.
It’s best to limit the meeting time to just 15 to 30 minutes max for smaller requests.
Or, you could do a sneak-attack by approaching them in a common meeting that the both of you are attending and have a pre or post meeting side conversation.
Escalating To Upper Management
There is nothing more difficult than having to go to your boss or the manager and complain about a coworker.
You never know if this is going to backfire on you right?
If you find that the coworker is actively not responding to you and avoiding you, and you have tried every other way, this is when it is the right time to escalate things and get others involved.
Ask for a quick meeting with your supervisor, and instead of starting off by singling any one person out, ask for advice and guidance on how to approach the problem you are having.
If the resolutions are ones you have come up with, then proceed to tell them about the problem.
Suggest that you would like to cc them on the email, since they require the work to be done as well, and see how it goes from there.
One of the main responsibilities of a manager is to support their employees, remove roadblocks and help you get your work done.
Try something like this:
Subject Line: Urgent - Budget Meeting Due Today
I have cc’d Bill on this as we were just curious about an update on the budget chart and meeting minutes sent last week.
This is my third follow up with you. Could you get these reviewed and into me by the end of today, please?
I appreciate all your help on this and if there is anything I can do to help get this done quickly and smoothly let me know.
Be careful though, as this can come across as a bullying tact, and end in creating a stressful tension between you and the unresponder.
Escalating To Human Resources
Human resources was made for you. They are the neutral ground you can go to without fear or concern.
If you find yourself in a position where neither speaking with your coworker or upper management has resolved the issue, you can directly go to HR.
Not only can they intervene, but they may have some solutions you haven’t thought to try.
In any case, you don’t have to worry. It is not all on your shoulders. You have many avenues.
So rest assured.
Stay Focused And Keep Pluggin’ Away
Keep in mind that everyone is busy, and with a little persistence mixed with a good dose of understanding and help, everyone will be able to meet their deadlines.
For the times when you're waiting on others, make progress and get ahead on other things.
Oh and by the way, we finally did get a reply from Dave.
He was under pressure to deliver a critical request to the president of the company. So, he wasn’t just ignoring our email, he was ignoring pretty much everybody’s.
If we were in his shoes, we would’ve done the same. So, now we don’t feel as bad.
We got our answer in the nick of time, just barely making our deadline for Friday. It got done though. We stopped by his desk and personally thanked him for getting us what we needed.
Share and spread the gratitude. It'll come back around to you multiple times over.