Let me know.
November 17, 2021 9:03 PM   Subscribe

There is a trend I've noticed in my email that I'm finding irritating: when someone writes asking for something and ends by saying "Let me know."

When I read this little sentence, it sounds bossy and entitled to me, especially because it's usually from people asking me to do something for them, meet with them about my expertise, or answer a question for them.

This is never from a friend saying "let me know what time you want to meet for drinks." It's always like the one I got today: "Hello. My name is Fred. I am interested in becoming a lawyer. You recently became a lawyer and I know your brother. I would like to have an informational interview with you before I apply to law school. Are you available to speak in the next week? Let me know."

I never get this sentence"let me know" from my actual superiors at work who need me to do something. It seems to be only from people asking a favor.

I realize they aren't trying to be rude. I answer politely but it makes me not want to even answer the email. Since I would rather not feel irritated by this maybe it would be helpful to hear what people think the tone is intended to be when they write "Let me know" (or a similar command).
posted by Tim Bucktooth to Writing & Language (76 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: tone in email is hard.

I would find that note very annoying, because, as you say, it sounds bossy and entitled. BUT, I think it would take an unusually sophisticated writer to be able to make that request without sounding entitled. (It IS very entitled - people tend not to understand that any time a lawyer spends not billing during the working day is time that needs to be made up.)

I guess what I'm saying is consider the request independently of the email wording, because most folks don't know how to word that request gratefully.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:09 PM on November 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I use it to politely request a reply in either case. If the answer is no, please say so and I won't bother you again. If I get no answer at all, I don't know if you have forgotten the email or just can't right now, but would be free later.
posted by soelo at 9:10 PM on November 17, 2021 [60 favorites]

Best answer: It's a way to soften their request and make it feel less abrupt (which is probably why your work superiors don't use it with people who report to them). They're trying to make their request more polite.

FWIW, it doesn't come off as bossy or entitled to me at all, unless the favor itself is something only a bossy or entitled would ask for.
posted by wintersweet at 9:12 PM on November 17, 2021 [65 favorites]

Best answer: I see/use "let me know" as a way to make asking a favor seem less entitled. It acknowledges that you don't just take it for granted that the person will fulfill your request. The subtext is not "Let me know [how you will make this happen]" but "Let me know [whether this is a reasonable ask / works for you]".
posted by dusty potato at 9:34 PM on November 17, 2021 [87 favorites]

I don't like this sentence either because it's already implicit when someone emails me that they would like me to let them know. When they explicitly write "let me know" it feels like they're demanding I reply to their email, so I get OP's feeling. I prefer "I look forward to hearing from you" or a similarly less direct command. But as fingersandtoes said above, email tone is hard.
posted by nantucket at 9:37 PM on November 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

I don't get bossy or entitled from that at all, if I did, then saying "no" seems like the best path since they just wanna know and you don't wanna. "Let me know" strikes me as a really casual and common kind of thing, like, it even has its own net/texting acronym "lmk."

I'm getting a kind of "no problem" vibe where to some folks it seems rude but for others it's the standard polite response called for and "you're welcome" that usually sounds rude or sarcastic. "Let me know" translates to me into "get back to me whenevers good for you" explicitly not setting a demand or deadline.

E-mail is just a mediocre form of communication, bound to misinterpret one another all the time.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:43 PM on November 17, 2021 [20 favorites]

I totally use it the way dusty potato does. It never occurred to me it could be read as bossy or entitled!
posted by Threeve at 9:50 PM on November 17, 2021 [28 favorites]

“Let me know” is supremely irritating to me too. Doesn’t “thank you for considering” or “please let me know if you need more information” accomplish the same thing in a less demanding way?

As much as I try to talk myself down, “let me know” absolutely feels like the writer feels entitled to my time and response. I may or may not have shouted “I don’t work for you!!” to my laptop as I compose my polite response. I’ll be reading other responses with interest as I do not wish to feel and be so extremely irritated by this ever-increasing sign-off!
posted by stellaluna at 10:07 PM on November 17, 2021 [10 favorites]

I'm shocked that folks read so much into this. I use "Let me know" routinely with both friends and business associates. To me, it means: "Please remember to respond."
posted by Puppetry for Privacy at 10:24 PM on November 17, 2021 [55 favorites]

I guess I'd read it as adding some words trying to not be abrupt. Or as a terse, monotone version of "Please let me know if you can!" Which to me would imply that if you can't, there is no need to let me know, i.e. I don't feel entitled to a reply.

Though reading the words rather than glossing over them and letting my brain fill in the intent, I can see how they could come across as blunt and demanding.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:38 PM on November 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I’m with you. Entitled. Or attempting to be received as sophisticated or not needy by erring on the side of business-y brevity over warmth or gratitude that genuinely is there. I don’t hold it against them.

I’ve noticed that many people who use this phrasing in the situation you describe also use “Best” as a signoff.
posted by sunrise kingdom at 10:52 PM on November 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I say "Please let me know what you think." Or, if I need to kiss ass, "I would really appreciate your thoughts on this." I hope I'm not bossy or entitled, and I really do want their thoughts on my request -- I don't want someone to do what I'm asking if they're going to hate me for it, and I'm open to some other way of solving my problem. I don't think "let me know" is so bad in itself, but a "please" would make it better.

Haha I do say, "All the best" as a signoff. I like it because it doesn't mean anything. All the best what? People who say "Kindest regards" to business colleagues are phonies.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:15 PM on November 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

My guess is that "Let me know" most irritates people who are diligent in replying to requests, making it feel like an unnecessary and rude demand, but as many people aren't actually very diligent about responding to inquires they don't absolutely have to answer, the request is as much a plea for response, whether positive or negative, so the sender can make plans accordingly.

I think it's complicated by the desire for brevity, making "let me know" seem like an adequate stand in for a longer concept, like please let me know if this would work for you/what you think one way or the other.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:44 PM on November 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This is fascinating to me!

I use “let me know” (or “let me know either way”) all the time and I’ve always intended it to mean “by the way, you can say no if you want to”. I guess what I am trying to convey is “if you email back saying no I’m not going to be upset or start arguing with you”.

I’m definitely trying to be polite! It didn’t really occur to me that it was demanding but I think I might stop using it!

I’m a millennial female from the UK, if that’s an interesting data point on this.
posted by mmmmmmm at 12:14 AM on November 18, 2021 [30 favorites]

I use “let me know” (or “let me know either way”) all the time and I’ve always intended it to mean “by the way, you can say no if you want to”. I guess what I am trying to convey is “if you email back saying no I’m not going to be upset or start arguing with you”.

This is how I've always used it, too. It's like, I'm not trying to persuade you one way or the other; I just want to know if you're interested.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:24 AM on November 18, 2021 [15 favorites]

It sounds like you are in a senior, successful position in a particular profession and the kinds of people using this vernacular are, well, not. People younger and less successful than you are used to a completely different email culture. They’re not trying to be rude! This phrase as well as using “best” are normal parts of my emails, and the ones I receive from colleagues and students. Try and remember that people usually have good intentions, aren’t trying to piss you off (particularly when asking a favour! Isn’t it more likely that this is a younger person’s clumsy attempt at politeness than an entitled command?) and may well be coming from a way more casual email culture. Particularly academia, where the “rules” of email (in my experience) are extremely loosey goosey and are more about speed and function than dancing a delicate courtly dance with the correspondent. How are younger people supposed to know that certain phrases are verboten? Everyone’s just doing their best.
posted by Balthamos at 12:29 AM on November 18, 2021 [34 favorites]

it could be worse. it could be LMK. (which, i must admit, i use a fair bit).
posted by iboxifoo at 12:49 AM on November 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I definitely:

- use "best" as a sign-off

- understand "let me know" as a non-invitation equivalent of "rsvp", iow a response either way is appreciated

- find "looking forward to hearing from you" incredibly presumptuous so i only use it for consultants I'm overseeing and even then when they're late. Unless i know for a fact the person is old-fashioned and formal.

Basically, the politer I am the more likely it is I am steaming mad. I do notice this is a very visible anglophone divide tho.
posted by cendawanita at 1:21 AM on November 18, 2021 [28 favorites]

Huh. I get emails like this all the time and would never have considered "let me know" as entitled. A little redundant, maybe, but I read it as a polite attempt to say "please don't blow me off." Whereas the same email without "let me know" (ending "Are you free to meet next week?") feels kind of abrupt/rude coming from anyone other than my chief.

As someone who gets hundreds of messages a day, I actually kind of appreciate the "needs response" flag.
posted by basalganglia at 3:17 AM on November 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

Interesting. I definitely use "Please let me know." Always please! Because I know I'm asking a favor, but I really would like a reply - just so I know they actually got the email and I'm not sitting there agonizing over whether to send a "hey did you get my previous note" follow-up email which is definitely obnoxious if they did get it.

Do the people whom "let me know" bothers feel the same way if there is a "please" in front?

And I personally dislike the presumptuousness of "thanks in advance" and "I look forward to hearing from you." Not enough to be mad about it, though.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:41 AM on November 18, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm with mmmmmmm, and use it in exactly the same way with "either way" usually tacked on to the end. I think I find myself doing that so that folks who are more guess have an out, because if the answer is no I'd rather just know that outright and no hard feelings.

But very interesting question and i might need to reconsider my regular use of this phrase.

I found the tidbit about people who are bad at responding to things using it interesting, because I am bad at responding to things occasionally.
posted by theRussian at 3:44 AM on November 18, 2021

I think the tone intended is to sound both straightforward and modern. It says “softening words” (could, would, please) are unnecessary, perhaps old fashioned or silly. I agree it seems tacky to me too - or at the best, more “in group “ than is appropriate to send to someone you don’t know.
posted by acantha at 4:01 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wow, I use both “let me know” and “best” (usually “all the best” unless it’s someone I know/correspond with frequently) and it seems like totally neutral language to me. Sorry you’re irritated! It’s not personal!
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:11 AM on November 18, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I admit to being irritated by student emails that say "Let me know" or even worse "Please let me know as soon as possible". They definitely come across to me as demanding and impatient, especially given that it is my job to respond to student emails so of course I will respond, but I also consider it my job not to respond to non-urgent requests outside of work hours so that I maintain a modicum of sanity and model decent boundaries and work practices for my students.

I have always just put the rudeness I perceive down to students being students and not having great email etiquette. Seeing so many people say they think of these phrases as "softeners" is really interesting to me. It almost makes me wonder if someone else in trying to teach students email etiquette actually told them to use these phrases for the reasons y'all are giving.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:13 AM on November 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I use “let me know” on occasions when I explicitly need a response and it doesn’t seem rude to say so. For example, I might use it if asking someone if they can reschedule a meeting to a certain time. But I wouldn’t use it if emailing a stranger asking them a random question, or for a favour.

It can be hard to be clear in email because (as we see here) people read and write meanings in different ways. There have been occasions in previous Asks where someone asks about why their emails aren’t having the intended effect, and the response is often that, while the asker thinks they’re being clear about what they expect, they are actually being a bit vague.

So, on occasions when I do need an answer to something, and it’s not unreasonable to expect one, I’ll say something like “let me know” so that I’m less ambiguous.
posted by fabius at 5:20 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think, for me, this would be a contextual thing - if it was from a colleague I communicated with regularly, in a context where a timely response is needed, that’s fine.

However, I also see it a lot in cold emails from, e.g., recruiters, where the context is more like “I have a role I think you would be interested in, let me know when would be a good time to speak” - which, to me, is incredibly presumptuous and gets your email immediately deleted.

(Also, this kind of phrasing is so consistently used by recruiters and salespeople I assume they must be coached in it, and I guess it must work for them on some level?)
posted by parm at 5:32 AM on November 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

I use let me know constantly in my work emails. Do we need to continue talking? Do I have to reach out again? Let me know.

If you don't let me know then I can cross you off the list of people I have to gaf about today, and my day is made better.

Do you want to have a conversation about this? Let me know. I would prefer if you didn't but the option is there. So let me know (please don't).
posted by phunniemee at 5:36 AM on November 18, 2021 [10 favorites]

In my world of academic science "let me know" and sometimes "let me know what you think" are standard polite phrases between peers, as well as in many other contexts (I would sometimes get it from superiors too).

Also about half of us sign off with "best [wishes]". I suppose lawyers email rather differently because they certainly don't write anything else like scientists do.

The thing about culture is it's all made up, including finding it annoying. So just care less, is my advice.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:43 AM on November 18, 2021 [13 favorites]

I strongly agree with the consensus that this formal way of softening a request, indicating that the ball is in your court to say yes or no.

If you find you get hung-up on the formal qualities of people's email (their sign-off, etc.), I'd encourage you to try to work on not doing that - most people send several emails a day, and to save time, they rely on various established forms. Like, I always sign-off with "all best" not because I always wish the person "all best" but because it's been drilled into me that this is an appropriate sign off. I use "let me know" all the time when I need someone to indicate to me their preference or willingness to do something.

This is a long-way of saying, much of the routine language in the email is not personal, it's formulaic. Focus on the content. And as for "Fred," think of this as a favor you're doing for your brother, not Fred. And keep it as short as you need to.
posted by coffeecat at 5:43 AM on November 18, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in agreement with those finding this to be an attempt, generally, at softening. But the writer who received emails from students with the phrase seemed justified in reacting with some pique. So maybe its non-offensiveness depends on some prior familiarity of the correspondents and, maybe, that they are in at least a horizontal status relationship.
posted by bullatony at 5:53 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I use this phrase, but always preceeded with a "just" or a "please." What I'm trying to communicate is that a yes or no to what I'm requesting are both fine, but I need closure one way or another. So, I'm saying "please just give me an answer one way or another so I can get this issue off my table, but I'm not leaning on you to give me any particular answer- just AN answer. "
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:02 AM on November 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

Much like how "Do you understand me?" would have made that email sound way more aggressive, "Let me know" is a way of softening the request. It's also entirely not necessary to include because you, the recipient of the email, know how dialogue works. There was no need for the sender to include what's basically the equivalent of "Now it's your turn!"
posted by emelenjr at 6:02 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

“Please let me know.” is a request, and does soften the overall tone of the email. “Let me know.” is a command, and while it doesn’t feel demanding enough to me that I’d spend a lot of time thinking about it, if I received a lot of emails like that from people requesting I do them a favour, I probably would start to notice the pattern and find it more annoying. (Side note: if you switch the punctuation to “Let me know?” it becomes a request again, though that would be more informal in tone.)

My default formal closing is “Regards”. “Best” just all on its own, post-Trump, reminds me of Melania’s “Be Best” campaign. But the small change to “Best Wishes” removes that connection.
posted by eviemath at 6:15 AM on November 18, 2021 [7 favorites]

Possibly some folks read “Let me know” as having a question mark at the end regardless of the actual punctuation?
posted by eviemath at 6:17 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I also use "Let me know (what you think about x)" routinely with friends and work colleagues.

I am ambivalent about the phrase -- not because it seems bossy, but the opposite. To me, it is less direct than just "Tell me blah", but I have some concern that "Tell me" might seem too direct for many people.

But in the example the OP uses, the note as a whole could be more gracious.
posted by NotLost at 6:54 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm on team entitled. To me, it reads like RSVP but without the SVP.
posted by The Half Language Plant at 7:09 AM on November 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

However, I also see it a lot in cold emails from, e.g., recruiters, where the context is more like “I have a role I think you would be interested in, let me know when would be a good time to speak” - which, to me, is incredibly presumptuous and gets your email immediately deleted.

This is interesting. People who use it as a softener are saying "let me know if," not "let me know when." I think of it as email shorthand for "Please let me know if . . ." It's also the drift of text-speak (lmk) into more formal means of communication. As an Old, I've intentionally downgraded my email formality over the years.

I find "I look forward to hearing from you" presumptuous and I only use it passive aggressively with people I do not, in fact, expect to hear from.
posted by Mavri at 7:11 AM on November 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

When I say "let me know" in a context like that it generally means "either way is fine, please just let me know." But I also tend to phrase it that way: "Hey, can you help me out? I understand you're busy; if you can do Tuesday or Thursday, that would be great. Just let me know." What I mean by it is "if that works, let me know; if not, let me know that so I can stop bothering you."

I mean, of course you have the option of not answering at all, but I mean it to be obsequious--whatever you want from me you will get it if you let me know.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:13 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think it's a little colloquial and I can see how it would be annoying in some contexts.

However, it does strike me that some of this status discussion (how dare this person/student make a demand on me to let them know/presume I won't let them know) comes from a sort of privileged place over the sender. I think it's good to keep in mind that a lot of people emailing come from different backgrounds where that kind of convention or language might be pretty standard in email to them. I'm not sure we can control what irritates us but I personally would definitely take a breath and try to be grounded in the examples given here (I also would answer on my own timeline, but I'd assume a "let me know as soon as possible" is because a student is panicking, not because they are being imperious or something.)

In two different fields/workplaces over the last 7 years "let me know" would have read as pretty standard - I read it as a kind of 'hey, just let me know so that we're on the same page" in shortened form. Also, I just noticed my teenager's teacher used it in email to the class.

I definitely wouldn't assume that anyone is teaching someone entering university email etiquette. I have gotten k txs in email from people new to the workforce. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:20 AM on November 18, 2021 [7 favorites]

This is fascinating, as I, too, would find "I look forward to hearing from you" to be irritatingly presumptuous, but wouldn't bat an eye at 'let me know'.
posted by Ausamor at 7:21 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Without a "Please" to soften it, it does come off as a direction or order. But the overall problem with this request is that its really blunt and presumptous all the way through. Had the author written in a more sensitive way (acknowledging that its a really kind and time consuming thing to provide an informational interview, and that you might be busy) it wouldn't come off so poorly; "Let me know" is just the icing on this email cake.

But recognizing just how shitty of a communication tool email is with always changing rules and etiquette that nonetheless ALWAYS results in irritation is good practice for all of us irritated by other people's emails.
posted by RajahKing at 7:28 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree that context is everything. With a respectful request "let me know" reads as a polite request for a closure on the topic. I've had people request information from me as "I want to pick your brain", and that phrase always really annoys me and makes me more withholding.
posted by effluvia at 7:34 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Let me know" is a totally innocuous phrase and you're reading all of this into it. That's your right but it's also your choice.
posted by bleep at 7:41 AM on November 18, 2021 [16 favorites]

To expand on the above I decided at the beginning of this year I'm only taking at offense at things that are openly disrespectful because playing detective about every single thing anyone said to me was getting to be too stressful. I recommend it!
posted by bleep at 7:59 AM on November 18, 2021 [21 favorites]

This post is fascinating me as I am a person who agonizes over whether to add "let me know" to emails. I often add and delete this sentence several times as I try to decide how the individual will feel reading it.

In my company/client culture, people have a tendency to say "no" by just not responding at all, which involves sending more emails to follow up and is a big time waster, so sometimes I can't hold myself back from reminding them I do need a reply.

Good to know my anxieties on this are well-founded, I guess?
posted by assenav at 8:26 AM on November 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

I often end emails with "let me know" to mean "let me know either way" because I've noticed that otherwise I get left hanging a lot of the time. My email to them is like "do you want me to do X" or "here are a couple of options for how to do the thing you want to do" or "here is how to fix that urgent problem" and then I never hear back. Meanwhile, I'm holding open a calendar slot for their project or waiting to hear back if the problem is solved or whatever. "Let me know" tells them I expect a response.

I will generally use "please let me know" for upper management, or for anyone if I'm asking for a favor. But I tend to overuse "please" in my emails and I think it makes me sound unconfident, so I often edit it out a few places. So if I'm not asking them for a favor, but just giving a nudge that they need to reply, I'll leave off the please.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:41 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Me: Hastily searching the phrase "Let me know" in my Gmail
posted by olopua at 8:56 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Upon reading the thread, I realized that there is definitely an element of status that I think about when considering whether or how to add "let me know." I mentioned adding a "please" for upper management or even "I'd appreciate your thoughts on this" and I would say that actually applies to any person who is higher status like my professor, my priest, or whatever.

However, the people I deal with the most are the sales people at my company who tend to be both casual and direct in the way they speak to one another and to me. Even though I am not the boss of them, I do need them to take me seriously and perceive me as someone they need to pay attention to and take direction from, as the CRM administrator. And, I'm a woman in a male-dominated industry, so that is one more barrier to being respected. Thus I tend to be more casual, direct and confident when dealing with the sales department as I feel the need to hold my own with them so I don't get discounted.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:04 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am 50 and I know how to use email just fine, and I use "let me know" because it is frequently used in my company and industry and because people don't read emails, they just skim for action items, and particularly for women and other marginalized people we have to wrap that directive in a little fuzzy swaddling cloth so we don't hurt any feelings. "Let me know" (instruction) is basically a bullet point with an exclamation mark so the person can find what they need to do.

I am unsurprised that people have found ways to add layers of contempt to the words that people with less systemic power and control are forced to use, but consider that it shows to the people who have to navigate that contempt full-time.

Not everyone you work with has a degree in literature and creative writing. People are just trying to get stuff done, and yes sometimes it's going to rub you the wrong way. It may be generational or genderational or regional, you might even be dealing with someone whose English is not truly finely-honed for a number of reasons. On the other hand sometimes it's deliberately meant to piss you off! But mostly it's not and the perfection of someone's writing shouldn't be the deciding point for whether you will do your job or not.

Life is less stressful when you learn to let the little things go and don't take them so personally. Lots of business-speak kinda sucks but we do unfortunately have to communicate without telepathy and most people have to work, and there's lots of very unevenly-distributed conventions that are totally normal to those people over there and super-weird to you and vice versa and that's just how it is.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:05 AM on November 18, 2021 [32 favorites]

For a lot of people brevity is the highest form of politeness. Any words you use to soften a request will make it longer. Too many words, "I would be extremely grateful if you would be kind enough to get back to me and let me know..." makes it obsequious. We have been taught for more than half a century to aim for self-assured and confident when we make supplications. Fawning in a covering letter is considered appalling. Nobody ends a letter with "Your obedient servant, Jane Brown" anymore.

I think the issue is linguistic/cultural. This person is pinging your instinct to be offended by people who have the wrong accent or use the wrong idioms. I also think they would have done better to use the word please. It's more accent neutral.

It's not impossible that twenty-five years from now this same discussion will occur with someone complaining that the supplicant wrote LMK out in full - how rude!
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:26 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So I don't think the OP is really looking for an answer to the question "Let Me Know: Literally the worst or better than a hug from Grandma?"

Like this line right here, "Since I would rather not feel irritated by this maybe it would be helpful to hear what people think the tone is intended to be when they write 'Let me know'", seems to be a pretty clear indication that they are assuming the best of others but are, because of their initial reaction to the phrase, having problems coming up with something that's the best to assume. And I think we've all been there, I know I have phrases that aren't part of how I'm used to communicating that read way differently to me than intended, and I have to remind myself of that whenever I see or hear them.

So, I'm going to answer as someone who over the course of a few jobs has dealt with e-mailing with people from lots of different background, some of who want stuff from me and some of who I want stuff from them. Here's when I would say "let me know", I need the information to make plans\decisions\finish up whatever interaction I'm having with the person on the other end. Especially if it's time sensitive. Like I don't ever assume that people know that a response is called for, or that I can't proceed without it. People are generally not equipped to know what all needs to happen for someone else's goals to be met. When I need or want a response, I make sure to indicate that. It's not that I'm demanding the information, it's that I don't assume you know I can't proceed without it.

So personally, if the phrase bugged me, I'd try to read it as a truncated version of "please let me know", a sincere request for a response and reminder that one is needed.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:29 AM on November 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the responses so far. This has been eye-opening! It's been very helpful to understand that some writers see this phrase as a "softener" and as a way to help the recipient know they can respond either way.

More baffling to me are the projections like this: particularly for women and other marginalized people we have to wrap that directive in a little fuzzy swaddling cloth so we don't hurt any feelings. "Let me know" (instruction) is basically a bullet point with an exclamation mark so the person can find what they need to do.

As my question history will reveal, I am a woman. I'm also a minority and the first generation to finish college. The person in my example telling me to "let me know" was a white male and I perceived his directive to let him know as a command.

Also as a reminder, I said I'm always polite and just trying to understand what people mean by the tone of this directive because, partly as a woman, I don't particularly like getting commands. I'm certainly not refusing to "do my job" or ignore anyone when I get this phrase.
posted by Tim Bucktooth at 9:36 AM on November 18, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I do notice that a lot of the examples folks have brought up are quite different contexts than the OP describes. I’m with other folks who note that how wording comes across is or can be very context-dependent.
posted by eviemath at 9:51 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I won’t address the usage, but I will note we all have our phrases that grate on us, and as we age and the common usage changes these seem to become more frequent. While I am aging gracefully into my curmudgeonhood, I try to assume people are not trying to be jerks in email and other media.

Sometimes it works for me, but I still feel bitter disappointment when someone writes “begs the question” when they mean “raises the question.” It is possible this is a similar language shift going on, and perhaps generous to assume that rather than ignorance or entitlement.

Of course, there are many manipulative entitled bastards in the workplace, so feel free to update your opinion in the light of additional evidence.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 10:31 AM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think that a random person emailing you to ask you a favor (okay, an aquaintance of a relative but still vaguely random) and including this phrase comes off as rude because, well, why should you owe him anything? The framing of his request should have erred toward overly-deferential because honestly, you would be getting very little in return for having this meeting with him. And yes, I'm sure he'd like an answer (either way!) but whether or not your respond is entirely up to your goodwill.

This is not at all the same as requesting info you need from a colleague (in which case I find the phrase unobjectionable).
posted by Jemstar at 10:32 AM on November 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm surprised I havent seen this response yet. I do use it whenever I need someone to get back to me. And I put it on it's own line by itself because people DO NOT carefully read emails in their entirety.

Having this phrase on its own line draws the eye when they're skimming and will signal to them that there is, in fact, and question somewhere above that they need to go back and read.

It works for me 95% of the time, where many of my coworkers complain about those same people not replying to them. If some people think it's rude or whatever, that's not really something I can control. No one has ever complained about my communication style so I'm thinking most people dont read into it all that much.
posted by ananci at 10:53 AM on November 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

So fascinating!

For me, I tend to use "let me know when you can/if you can" to 'soften' up the request. When others email/IM me saying "let me know" I don't find it rude nor entitled at all, and I consider myself a very sensitive person in general.

I think it's tough because you can't hear or see tone in emails for the most part; when we really think about it, emails are just lines of text and code. One line can be interpreted completely differently by different people; ie, "See you later" can be interpreted literally as "I'll see you later today", or interpreted as "See you later, as in never again", or "See you later (in 45 minutes)", or even interpreted as a brush off because it's not specific. In other words, anything one says in an email can be misinterpreted, despite their intentions. Contextual factors (such as knowing one another in person and knowing their writing style) helps, but yeah, email is tricky. I sometimes still struggle with email communications with my new supervisor; don't want to come across as pushy, demanding, or asking for too much, but I still want to make my needs and questions as clear as possible.

It helps me to remember that there are cultural, language, and personal factors at play here—everyone is different, and different things mean different things to different people.
posted by dubious_dude at 11:24 AM on November 18, 2021

I just went through my emails because I was kind of fascinated by this, and (I'm a woman of color) the only time I use this phrase is when I am emailing my manager (a white man) about taking PTO, and the only time he has used this phrase when emailing me is when he has moved a meeting that inconveniences him to a time that works for us both. It is not necessary to soften either of these things but I think we both find it more... polite or at least less abrupt.

The phrase that I find bossy/entitled is "would you mind" because it is always someone asking me to set up a meeting which they could just as easily do but they have "assigned" me this task, and it never fails to put my teeth on edge a bit.
posted by sm1tten at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2021

The phrase that I find bossy/entitled is "would you mind" because it is always someone asking me to set up a meeting which they could just as easily do but they have "assigned" me this task, and it never fails to put my teeth on edge a bit.

It IS fascinating how differently people interpret various phrasings. The ones that really get me are requests that start with "I need you to" or worse yet "you need to" do X. I'd vastly prefer "would you mind" doing X or "please do X, thanks" or even "Can you do X? Let me know."
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It reads as a command because it is a command. "Let me know" is an imperative sentence. There is nothing "soft" about it. If a person wants to soften it, they turn it into something that resembles more of a request (without turning it into a direct question) by adding something the the beginning of the sentence: "Please let me know." The please conveys politeness. The "please" does the work to soften the command.

Now, that's not to say "please" doesn't come with its own pitfalls in email correspondence. As pointed up thread, it tends to be used more often by women than men, by people of colour and by people lower down the chain of command--all groups who feel like they can't get away with the brusque short-hand that white males in power use by default.
posted by sardonyx at 12:16 PM on November 18, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I work with attorneys, so YMMV. I absolutely use both 'Let me know' and 'Best' in emails.

My thought process behind using 'let me know' is to politely let the recipient know that I can't assume a 'no' from a non-response. [Actually, I usually write, "Let me know. Thanks!"] It's not that I'm entitled to their time or attention, it's that whatever I'm working on needs their involvement to move forward. I also use the sent email to remind me who I need to follow up with.

I hope it's received as polite because it's absolutely meant to be.

When I sign off with 'Best' it means, I'm doing the best I can, which always makes me feel better. I think I stole it from TikTok.

California native, working with an East Coast company, if that is of interest.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:04 PM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I use this phrase all the time in my work emails. That said, you are right to be bothered when its use is not earned or merited.

As sardonyx noted, "Let me know" is a command. But at work, I'm entitled to issue that command to co-workers when we all understand that their response is required for me to do my job.

But when someone with no entitlement my time or attention -- for example a salesperson -- writes "Let me know," that command relies on a false familiarity upon which all sales pitches are built. We give salespeople our time, attention, and credulity because that is what we give our friends. But salespeople are not our friends. They merely rely on their charm and our own sense of politeness so that we will treat them as if they were. But as anyone who's sat through a timeshare presentation will tell you, even if you don't buy anything, you feel cheated because you've given your time and polite attention to someone who didn't earn it. That's what's happening when someone with no right issue you a command does so by concluding an email with the command "Let me know."
posted by hhc5 at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2021 [10 favorites]

A big part of my job is asking people I work with for stuff, and I couldn't do my job without "let me know". I send about 10 emails a day with some variation of "let me know (if you have the data)" "let me know (if you are going to send the thing you said you would send and then didn't send)" "let me know (if there is someone else who could send me the data faster than you, since we are now two weeks past deadline)". "let me know (if you'll be at the weekly meeting you have now skipped 5 times running even though your input is business-critical")...

It's a way of softening the implied parenthetical. They always know what they're supposed to do; they rarely do it. Work life is like that. I try to be polite because I know that like me, they are in departments that are woefully over-extended and under-staffed, but I mean - I have to have the thing, so they have to get me the thing, it's a problem!

I also sign off with "Best," a lot! Because "Thanks" implies they're actually going to do the thing, and wow, people so rarely do the thing...
posted by invincible summer at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

Data point: I’m a CEO and I use “let me know” when I’m asking for a favor/request all the time. Maybe it’s because I’m a) female and b) an old millennial but I mean it as a polite way to say they don’t owe me jack and a no would be totally fine. I also say “best” when I’m being formal and “cheers” when I’m not.

I receive emails that end in “let me know” all the time and I’ve never read it as anything but a polite formality. The entitlement is is sending the email request AT ALL most times.
posted by lydhre at 2:09 PM on November 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

I just searched my email for this phrase because I am now curious. What I have found, I don't really use it (white, female, 50s) unless it's part of a sentence like "Let me know if you have any other questions" or "Let me know if you have this part in stock, thank you." kinds of things. And I have also noticed that when other people use it in kind of a sign off way as you described, I don't love it. Like it doesn't aggravate me but it somehow feels like a way of implying that I might not reply or that they are asking for a favor as you say in your original post.

I'm fairly direct in my communication, sometimes too much, and so I go through my email to add "softeners" before I send them but usually it's more like opening phrases and more "thank yous" than I might otherwise put in to an email. They seem to be useful for people so I try to include them. "Let me know" is not one of those phrases in my lexicon.
posted by jessamyn at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

I mean it as a polite way to say they don’t owe me jack and a no would be totally fine

A lot of people responded with some variant of this idea. But the thing is, even a no requires a moment of the recipient's time, and you are not entitled to even that moment if you're a stranger and emailing them out of the blue to ask for a favor.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 3:40 PM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

“Let me know” and especially “I look forward to hearing from you” both sound extremely entitled and demanding to me, and have always annoyed me.

I actually appreciate the different perspectives on this thread as they are softening my annoyed reaction to those phrases.

“Thank you for considering it; I hope we can connect!” is my attempt to say “let me know” in a more respectful way, with an acknowledgement that they are not obligated to respond at all - but I hope they will.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:48 PM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd vastly prefer "would you mind" doing X or "please do X, thanks" or even "Can you do X? Let me know.

I think the problem is that I do mind because I think that if you want to have a meeting with me, then you should set up a meeting with me instead of "requesting" me to set up a meeting with you. [I fully admit that this is a minor but really "me" problem related to the people who tend to do this (peers/colleagues, not people above me) who are condescending in other ways. I am working on caring less about this.]

The other thing that I realized is that I never use "let me know" in the way that the OP described, it's more like "let me know if this causes any issues" or something like that, because if there is no issue, no response is required. I think it's the abruptness of "Let me know." as a full sentence that can feel off-putting in part because it implies some type of response is required.
posted by sm1tten at 3:54 PM on November 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: “Thank you for considering it; I hope we can connect!” is my attempt to say “let me know” in a more respectful way

When I see this, i definitely suspect this though it twinges my, "no , but ok," reflex lol. Oh to add to my response above: I'm an older millenial POC woman who is from and based outside of the OECD countries. British Commonwealth anglophone cultural upbringing but my business English is very American-trained unless stronger local/regional norms are present.
posted by cendawanita at 6:42 PM on November 18, 2021

"let me know" is way less entitled and irritating that something like "thank you for considering” to me.
posted by turkeyphant at 7:11 PM on November 18, 2021

Sorry to tangent but what do people mean when they say sign off with "best"? Like, what does that physically look like in an e-mail, never encountered it before but rarely have e-mail interactions with a sign-off, so much as treated as texts. Is this like saying "Best wishes, name" or are people just write "Best" the word at the end of their e-mails?
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:07 AM on November 19, 2021

Yes, for me it's just that.
Hi [person],

Please find attached the report with the revisions. Overall I'm okay with the main findings, but can we discuss on the flow of the report? I'm ok if you want to meet before Friday. Let me know? Thanks.


in my side of the world business emails are still formal in terms of the formatting in this sense, unless the person is using some kind of webmail like gmail. It's something to do with the threaded format I'm sure. per discussions elsewhere on the Blue, we're big Whatsapp users, so that's the bulk of the more text-like messages. Substantial use in business communications too, because you can attach documents etc (in part also because the older management is too used to personal assistants handling their emails to begin with, hierarchy being more evident and persistent here than the US, I imagine). /tangent
posted by cendawanita at 1:24 AM on November 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think it's definitely context-based.

I would only use the term for close colleagues, friends or family.

Someone above mentioned "Let me know, please", which goes further into the formal zone, BUT I would never use that because it's not actually specific enough for my taste. If I'm asking for an explicit response, I will write out the request.

In fact, I've probably written "Lemme know" to friends, in an attempt to make it seem even more conversational and informal.
posted by jeremias at 2:44 PM on November 19, 2021

I find “let me know” blunt/rude in your example but not always - it can be softened by a please or a question mark as indicated above, but both seem quite informal to me. Neither “thanks for considering” nor “I look forward to hearing from you” come across as anything other than semi-formal pleasantries to me, because neither is an imperative. Ditto “best” and “best wishes.”

These are all essentially meaningless formalities, but in the slew of half-composed, fired off the cuff emails I receive every day they at least usually indicate that someone *considered* the idea that I might have other things to do.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:15 PM on November 19, 2021

I also don't like "let me know" but that's because younger, more entitled me once used it while talking with a superior who absolutely had no obligation to let me know shit, and they actually told me that. This was in conversation, not email, but it stuck.

If I absolutely need a response, I'll phrase my request in such a way that I can end the email with "Thoughts?"
posted by rouftop at 7:11 AM on November 20, 2021

As context goes it does give air to a sort of condescending demand. The use of written correspondence since text messages and email have drastically reduced us all to groveling beggars and takers of peoples time with no regard to their expense. I too am disturbed by that short arrogant sentence as well as "Hey" in any form of correspondence. Id just not reply. It doesn't seem like a formal business or tutoring request where your time is being compemsates so ignore it as though it was not complete.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 11:48 AM on November 22, 2021

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