What to Do When They Won’t Email Back

Still, we have many options for communicating but, really, no consensus about the best way to do so. Some find email burdensome and prefer a call (or text); others evidently detest the phone, keeping a fastidious inbox even as they can’t be bothered to listen to a voice mail message. So sometimes it can be helpful to just ask a new contact point blank: What’s the best way for me to follow up?

When it’s too late for that, your follow-up strategies are right: nonconfrontational, offering your laggard correspondent a face-saving excuse, but also signaling that you’re not going away. You may also try adding some new tidbit that may inspire a response, as a form of bait: “By the way, I came across an article about X that seemed relevant to your new project; let me know if you want me to pass that along.”

The real problem with electronic communication, despite its conveniences, is that lack of context makes it easy to project the worst interpretations onto someone else’s words — or silence. Maybe this person is carefully compiling the information he promised. Maybe he’s since realized it’s useless, and is embarrassed. Maybe you’ve mistyped his email address. The point is, it’s important to remain polite even when you’re annoyed.

Possibly the one thing worse than being badgered by an indignant emailer is hounding somebody only to receive a note weeks later apologizing for being out of touch because of an unexpected stint in the hospital.

With all that in mind, it can make sense to try another communication medium. But make sure you can keep your tone friendly. Remember that the most important thing isn’t being right about someone else’s manners — it’s getting what you want.

Making Amends

Recently I was let go from a job that I hated. It was a harsh environment — the boss would scream at me and my colleagues, every day. For a while I stuck it out and worked harder. But after a year, a promised raise and benefits didn’t materialize, and I felt unmotivated. I was a great employee most of my time there but underperformed that last month. Ultimately I left on bad terms with my boss, and I’m not proud of how I acted.

Earlier I had asked a co-worker if she could give me a reference, and she enthusiastically agreed. More recently she said she would still do so — but also gave me honest feedback that makes me think she will do the bare minimum (confirm employment dates, etc.).

This is the first time I’ve been fired. I don’t know what to do. Should I email my old boss back to make amends? I wasn’t going to ask him for a reference anyway.


As a strategic matter, trying to mend fences with the old boss doesn’t seem promising. He doesn’t sound particularly forgiving, and if using him as a reference isn’t on the table, it’s hard to see the…

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