Framing a late email response
August 11, 2018 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I received a touching-base message from a work connection/ friend and intermittent correspondent. Initially flaked on responding, then got anxious/guilty and flaked some more (for... ok, about 2 months). I'm on a summers-off schedule, and I'd like to take advantage of the renewed start of work to actually get back in touch with this person. How can I frame that email with maximum tact?

I'm usually in contact with this person 2-3 times per year, and have had a warm, cordial relationship to date, with some mentorship on their part that I'm grateful for. (What made me flake in the first place was their proposing to buy me lunch, which added a whole level of uncertainty about when/where, who should pay, etc.-- indecision is a big procrastination factor for me).

As far as I can see, now that the work year is starting again, I have a few options: I can
--Write back and apologize profusely for the delay, making some excuse
--Write back and not apologize at all, breezily chalking it up to normal summer out-of-email-contact stuff
--Write back and white-lie as though I hadn't received the original message (spamfilter?)

What I do need to do is formulate a plan, because this is a great person I'd like to continue to have a relationship with. Any concrete suggestions you can provide would be much appreciated, Metafilter. Thanks!
posted by Sockinian to Work & Money (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You're overthinking, just say "Hey, I'm so sorry for the late response, I marked this to come back to when I had a minute and then I never quite made it back around. So, blah blah blah, indeed let's do lunch soon, how's the week of the 20th looking for you?"

(Also, if someone offers to "buy you lunch" they are saying they will pay for it, and the person paying chooses unless they turn it over to you like "what's good in your neighborhood where we're meeting" and then you give them 2-3 options and they pick.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:01 AM on August 11, 2018 [17 favorites]

Write back and barely mention the delay - something like "Hi! Just catching up on my backlog of summer emails. Would be great to see you..."

I once got a reply to a three year old email where the dude didn't even mention or apologise for the delay, which was a bit bizarre, but a couple of months when the email wasn't time sensitive to begin with barely even registers.
posted by lollusc at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I do this a lot. There is a lot of churn with the top 60% of my email inbox and then very little movement in the bottom 40% but every so often I get a bug up my butt and answer them all. Usually I say something like "Hey sorry for the late reply, summer got away from me. So good to hear from you, let's do lunch, here are some times I'm available" If you're really feeling like you need to somehow "make it right" (even though I feel that is uneccessary) you could offer to take them out for coffee/lunch.
posted by jessamyn at 8:17 AM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I agree with the others, this happens all the time with busy people and, at least in my circle, nobody takes it personally. I'd reply along the lines of "sorry I didn't get back to you, your message got buried in the pre-summer departure rush. It would be great to get together for lunch, here are some times that would work for me."

If you feel really bad, you could add "and let's do this one on me to make up for the late reply," but I don't think it's necessary.
posted by rpfields at 8:29 AM on August 11, 2018

Only one person ever wrote me back a late email response (and then they stopped writing back altogether). It's so rare that they will be amazed if you write back at all. Just apologize and move on.

On a related note, at my volunteer job the new managers were checking their mailboxes and finding all kinds of messages from around 2013 and nobody had ever replied to them. Yeesh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:15 AM on August 11, 2018

You're overthinking your response. Just apologize for the late response and move on with your reply.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2018

This is pretty common for me, too. Sometimes I'll see an email on my phone, and want to reply from an actual computer because it's easier to type. Then, piles of new emails come in, sending that one to the "bottom of the pile" so to speak. Out of sight, out of mind.

So, I just explain that. "Sorry, I was waiting to give a proper reply, then time and emails got away from me. Anyway..."
posted by The Deej at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2018

One tip I've recently started using is to use "Thanks for your patience in my late reply" instead of "Sorry for the late reply."

This is great because, as others have said, replying late to an email is very common and it can get depressing to start Every Single Email with "Sorry for the late reply," and it can be a downer for the recipient too.

Second tip - Get to the answer as quickly as your conscience allows; that's the kindest thing you can do for the recipient. (1) The whole thing should be at most one sentence unless there are special circumstances or you're replying to the Queen of England. (2) You can explain why, but you don't have to. Nobody cares, and it sounds like an excuse. (3) You can even start with the answer and put the "Sorry/Thanks" at the bottom instead of the top.

Third tip - Never lie. People can tell.

(I might have gotten these tips here? If so, thanks!)
posted by troyer at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

this is a great person I'd like to continue to have a relationship with

Others speak well here, but I'll just add that the above quote, to me, rules out options two and three. Be honest.
posted by WCityMike at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2018

One tip I've recently started using is to use "Thanks for your patience in my late reply" instead of "Sorry for the late reply."

To be honest, I think the reaction to this plan of attack is really gonna vary by recipient -- I know there's been a recent trend in thanking people instead of apologizing to them, but I personally find this presumptive because, well, how did you know I was patiently waiting? I might have been silently steamed. It also puts me in the position of saying, "you're welcome," when you might NOT have been welcome, or having to awkwardly say, "actually I was a bit irked that you did XYZ" and then you have to apologize anyway. Given that this person is a potential mentor who was offering to buy you lunch, I think you need to apologize properly for your tardiness in responding. It doesn't have to be flowery or long-winded -- I think Lyn Never's script is perfect; this isn't a huge deal! People fall behind on their email all the time! -- but I do think you need to use the words, "I'm sorry."
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:42 PM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

So, I'm gonna hafta slightly disagree with the general advice that it's no big deal and you shouldn't even mention it, or barely.

This person is a mentor. The last time they wrote to you, they included an offer to buy you lunch. That deserves a response in some time frame less than months.

Do make it short, but also do acknowledge that you goofed by not responding sooner. Make it clear that you value your relationship. Don't just blow it off like it was nothing.

If I were a mentor to someone and they acted like my email meant nothing (which IS the message you're sending by not responding for months), I'd quite possibly feel less mentory.

The thing is, if this person is part of the "who cares how long a response takes", you won't lose anything by apologizing. If they are, like me, a bit miffed that an offer for lunch isn't responded to for months, then you have gained something by not acting like it's nothing.

"Thanks for your patience" is passive aggressive. Please don't add to the pile of people who apparently think telling others how they feel or should feel is ok.
posted by nirblegee at 2:27 PM on August 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

Strongly agree with nirblegee. Apologize, move on and continue the relationship but don't pretend like you didn't goof. And certainly don't thank them for their patience; that's flat out disrespectful. It's on the "I am sorry you feel that way" level of apologies. No need to grovel but genuinely acknowledge that *you* delayed -- not the summer, your email client or sun spots but you are responsible for the delay.

People respect honest apologies and probably won't hold it against you. Do it right, meet for lunch and next time, try to do better.
posted by bsdfish at 3:28 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m with nirblegee. I understand how it happens but you basically blew your mentor off and their kind offer of lunch and you’re getting responses telling you to gloss over it with a hey, sorry about that. This is a professional contact and a friend. You need to mend a bridge because even if they understand, they may be less likely to help you in the future because you of how you acted last time.

So. Not only would I follow nirblegee’s response, I’d ask them to lunch instead. And to prove it’s not a vague open ended offer, ask them how next week (pick a week) works for them and for them to suggest a day they’re free and you were thinking of X or X cafe, does that venue suit? This doesn’t have to be a big deal but the ball is in your court to repair this with a genuine action, not a wishywashy email. And once you do that, you should be fine.
posted by Jubey at 3:30 PM on August 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

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