Everyone Secretly Hates Your “Friendly Reminder” Email
After starting out as a fun and hip medium of communication that gained popularity in the 1990s, email has grown one of the most reviled forms of communication.
While everyone hates email, it is still the most widely used form of communication at the workplace, and you can’t really avoid it in the modern world.
Over the more than two decades that email has become a natural part of the modern workplace, people have developed some basic rules of email etiquette to guide the use of the medium.
Still, some people have found ways to use email as a subtle tool for passive aggressiveness in certain situations.
One of the times when people commonly use email as a tool for passive aggression is in situations where they need to send email reminders.
Picture this scenario: You sent an email to a colleague a couple days ago requesting some information that you need to include in a report you are working on.
The report is due in a few days’ time, yet the colleague has not sent the information you requested.
They did not even acknowledge receiving your email. If they don’t send the information on time, you will miss the deadline for submitting the report, so you decide to write an email reminding them of your request.
At this point, you are probably very annoyed with your colleague, but because you want to maintain an air of professionalism, you send them an email with the following message:
“Just sending you a friendly reminder to please furnish me with the information about xyz.”
Admit it. You have done such a thing one or two times. I know I have.
Even if you haven’t, I am willing to bet that you have received such emails from a work colleague, and I can bet you weren’t exactly happy with this reminder.
There are several situations that might require you to send an email reminder.
Reminding a client about a late payment, reminding a colleague about something they haven’t done that can affect the whole project, reminding a vendor or supplier about a late shipment, reminding someone about an upcoming milestone, reminding someone about something they had promised or were supposed to do but haven’t done, the list is endless.
When most of us find ourselves in such a situation, our automatic reaction is to send a “friendly reminder.”
Even though we are angry at the recipient of reminder (why can’t they do what they were supposed to without having to be reminded about it?), we figure that sending the friendly reminder will disguise our annoyance and allow us to maintain an air of professionalism.
Put simply, the friendly reminder is an attempt at asking for something we should have already received in a polite, non-confrontational manner.
While the intention of sending the friendly reminder is to be polite and professional, it might be sending the wrong message.
The friendly reminder reeks of cowardice and insincerity, and most of the people you send the friendly reminders to might be secretly hating you for that.
They know you are displeased because of having to send a reminder, and therefore your thinly veiled polite reminder does not cut it.
Therefore, you need to stop sending these friendly reminders – from today.
Below are some reasons why the friendly reminder might be doing you more harm than good.
IT MAKES YOU LESS CREDIBLE
Your choice of words when communicating, whether in person or in writing, has a huge impact on how your message is perceived by the other party.
According to Georgetown University professor Deborah Tannen, who is also the author of Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work, the words you use in your communication can boost or deflate your credibility.
Some of the words that lessen your credibility include hedge words and apologetic words.
What comes into your mind when someone says something like, “I’m pretty certain about xyz” instead of “I am certain of xyz” or “I think we might want to do this” instead of “we need to do this.”
In both cases, using the word “pretty” and the phrase “think we might want to” takes away from the message being passed. It makes whoever is saying these words seem wishy-washy, like they are not sure of what they are saying.
Such words are an expression of self-doubt, which can make whatever you are saying seem less credible.
The same applies when you use overly apologetic words such as “I’m sorry.”
Consider someone saying something like “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that is the best approach” vis-à-vis saying “I don’t think that is the best approach.”
Using the phrase “I’m sorry” softens a person’s position and makes them feel less authoritative. Who are you more likely to listen to? Of course the one who gives their opinion without being apologetic about it.
Just like the above situations, using the words “just a friendly reminder” is a way of hedging your message and being apologetic about what you are trying to say.
It minimizes the impact of your message and makes it less credible, giving the recipient of your email a reason to disregard what you are saying. If you want to be taken seriously, drop the phrase.
Instead of “just sending a friendly reminder,” simply “send a reminder.”
Your message will be direct and clear, and the recipient of the email won’t have to deal with an insincere, thinly veiled attempt at politeness.
IT MAKES HIGHER-UPS VIEW YOU AS A PUSHOVER
Normally, when people are communicating with someone who outranks them in the organizational hierarchy, they tend to use more subordinate language.
If your boss forgot to send you something that you need to accomplish your work, you don’t want to sound like you are being bossy to them, so you decide to just send a friendly reminder to politely ask them for whatever it is they forgot to send.
However, this is the wrong approach, since it makes you seem like a pushover, like someone who cannot assertively stand up for themselves.
You don’t have to be a pushover just because you are dealing with someone senior to you. It is possible to be polite while still being assertive.
Remember, you are asking for something that you need in order to get your job done, not a favor.
Therefore, even if you are emailing your boss, drop the “just a friendly reminder” phrase. Dropping the phrase will make you look more professional.
IT INCREASES THE CHANCES OF YOUR MESSAGE BEING IGNORED
Sometimes, email can become overwhelming.
The average office worker receives 121 emails every single day, according to DMR reports.
When you add unread emails from the previous day, it becomes a very high number that need someone’s attention.
At the same time, there are only 8 hours in a workday.
Within these 8 hours, not only is a person supposed to read, work on the requests and reply to these emails, they also need to accomplish other work related tasks.
In order to get all the important tasks completed within the constraints of time, people resort to prioritization, working on the important and urgent stuff first and leaving other stuff for later.
When you email someone with “just a friendly reminder,” it trivializes your message, and if the recipient is busy, they are more likely to ignore your message and leave it for later after finishing the important stuff first.
If you want to get a quick response, you need to drop the phrase and directly ask for what you need.
Similarly, avoid using other apologetic phrases, such as “I hate to bother you with this again” or “sorry for pestering you with this, but…”
Simply state what you want, and if it is urgent, don’t be afraid to say so.
HOW TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE REMINDER EMAIL
We have seen some of the reasons why you need to stop just sending friendly reminders to your colleagues.
But then, how do you write and effective reminder email without trivializing your message or making yourself look like a pushover?
Below is a tutorial on how to do exactly this.
Email Subject Line
The subject line is one of the most important parts of a reminder email. While most people know not to skip the subject line, many don’t know the right thing to write here.
But think about this – you email’s subject line is the first thing your recipient will see once they receive your email.
If your recipient has a lot of emails in their inbox, the subject line is what determines whether they will open your email or not.
According to HubSpot, 35% of email recipients decide whether to open an email or not based on the subject line.
If you follow the normal route and use “Friendly Reminder” as your subject line, the recipient might easily decide that the message is not very important, even without opening your email.
If you want the recipient to act on your email with the seriousness it deserves, you need a subject line that grabs their attention and communicates the seriousness or urgency of your reminder.
For instance, you could write a subject line like “Response Required: Q2 Sales Reports” or “Urgent: Project ABC.”
Sometimes, if you don’t want to send a separate reminder email, you can add the word “Urgent” to the subject line of your original email and resend it to the recipient of the email.
After writing the subject line, most people do not care about the salutation of their email. They jump right into the email body.
However, if you want your reminder email to be received well, you need to use a proper salutation, addressing the recipient by their name if possible. If you are well acquainted to the recipient, you can salute them with a simple “Hello Martin.”
If you are well acquainted to the recipient but still know their name, you should use a more formal salutation, such as “Dear Martin.”
If you do not know the recipient’s name, you can address them by their position, for instance, “Dear Project ABC Team Leader.”
Having written a great, attention catching subject line and used a proper and appropriate salutation, you can now move on to the body of your email, which should cover your actual reason for sending the reminder.
The body of your reminder email can be broken down into several parts:
First sentence(s): While we said that you need to avoid the friendly reminder phrase, this does not mean that your message needs to be harsh. Therefore, it is always a great idea to start your email on a positive note.
Find something positive to say to the recipient as the opening line of your email. If you can’t think of something relevant, you can use a friendly statement such as “I hope you are doing well.”
Main Message: This is the part where you communicate the reason behind your message. You want this part to be as clear as possible. Don’t beat around the bush.
Explain what it is you are reminding the person about (a late payment, overdue work, a late shipment, requested information, etc.) and when it should have been delivered.
Call to Action: After explaining what you are reminding them about and when it was due, make it clear to the recipient what you’d like them to do. Of course, when you send a reminder, you expect them to take some action to remedy the situation.
If you are expecting the person to send you some work, make this clear and mention when you need the work. In the case of something like a late shipment, you might decide to ask to request a refund instead.
The clearer your expected action is, the easier it is for the recipient to actually do what you want.
Since you are assuming that the recipient is already busy (probably why they didn’t respond to your initial message), you should try to keep the body of your reminder email as short as possible.
Closing Your Reminder Email
Finally, you need a final sentence and your email signature to close off your reminder email. Here, you want to once again end on a positive note.
Since you are assuming that the recipient is going to respond to your email and take the desired action, you can end by thanking them in advance for their action.
The closing part of your email should match the tone of the rest of the email.
If you are well acquainted to the recipient and therefore used an informal tone, your closing should be informal as well.
Similarly, if the rest of the email has a formal tone, keep your closing formal as well.
SAMPLE REMINDER EMAIL
If you stick to the above pointers when writing your reminder email, you will end up with an email like the one below.
To: Edgar Pierce
Subject: Response Required: Data For Q2 Report
I hope you are doing well.
I am working on the Q2 report which is due at the end of the month, and I wanted to remind you that I am still missing your data, which I need for the report. Below is what I still need from you:
- Q2 Sales Data
- Q2 Client Growth Data
Please send these by Friday, March 19th at the very latest.
Thanks in advance for your help.
As you can see, the above example uses a subject line meant to catch the attention of the recipient, uses an appropriate salutation, starts with a positive opening line and quickly moves on to the body of the email.
In the body, the sender is pretty clear on what they need from the recipient.
There is no room for misinterpretation.
Most importantly, the sender doesn’t use the phrase “just a friendly reminder,” which would have been insincere and probably made the message seem less important.
The sender remains polite and professional without watering down their message. The sender then mentions when they need the data and closes on a positive note by giving thanks for the anticipated cooperation.
WHEN TO TRY OTHER METHODS
Email is a great way of communicating at the workplace, mainly because of its ease of use and convenience.
When you need to remind someone of something, email is the easiest way to communicate your reminder to the person.
Sometimes, however, your email reminders might go unanswered. If you find that you have sent more than one reminder email and have not gotten any response, yet you urgently need something from the person, it might be time to try other methods of reaching out to the person.
In such situations, one of the best approaches is to pick up the phone and call the person. The phone is much harder to ignore compared to an email.
Calling the person also conveys the urgency of the matter. If you decide to call the person, there are some basic phone etiquette guidelines to keep in mind. These include:
- Call during business hours: The thing with email is that you can send a quick message at any time. If you just remembered something you need on your commute home after work, you can type up a message on your smartphone and send it. The recipient can then respond to it at their own convenience, either immediately they get it or when they get to work the following day. However, when it comes to phone calls, don’t do this, even if you have the person’s mobile number. That’s basically forcing someone to deal with work issues after work, and they aren’t likely to be thrilled about that. To avoid starting off on the wrong foot, only make such calls during business hours.
- Remain friendly and courteous: While you might be annoyed about your emails getting ignored and having to call the person, remain friendly and courteous during the call. Don’t show your anger, and don’t make any accusations or issue threats. You are more likely to get a positive response by maintaining a professional attitude.
- Keep it short: You are not calling to find out how the person’s day is going or how their weekend was. They are probably busy, and asking about irrelevant stuff is wasting their time. Get right to the point about what you need.
Aside from picking the call, there are other ways of reminding someone about something they need to do.
If you are in the same office, you can simply walk over to their office or desk and ask them about whatever it is you need.
Alternatively, you could send a calendar invite for a 10 minute meeting with the person.
The meeting invite will loom on their calendar unless they decide to click ignore on the meeting request. If they accept the meeting, you can then request whatever it is that you need.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to get the other person to respond, and despite trying different methods, some people will never give you the response you need.
At the same time, you need to accomplish something whose success hinges on their response, and you can’t just drop the project.
If you find yourself in such a situation, what you need to do is to send a final follow-up message requesting for whatever you need and explaining your next steps in case you get no response.
For instance, if Edgar Pierce fails to respond to our email example above, and other subsequent follow ups, Kelvin might send a final reminder with the following line added just before the closing line.
“If I don’t receive the data by deadline, I will have no other choice but to move forward and finalize the report with a note explaining that your contributions were never received.”
Next time you need to remind someone about something, avoid the natural impulse to “just send a friendly reminder.”
This only waters down your message, and your colleagues might be secretly resenting you for it.
Instead, follow the guidelines outlined in this article to send a polite yet assertive reminder email that will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.