Chasing someone via email

In the world of communication, chasing someone means reminding this person about something you have asked them to do, checking whether they have done it, and if they haven’t done it, encouraging them to do it as soon as possible. (p.s.: with regard to the email, we’ll call this person your ‘recipient’)

1) Remember that you made the request, not your recipient

Because you made the request, you need to be as diplomatic and friendly as possible. You need to put yourself in your recipient’s shoes, i.e., in their position by thinking about how they might react to your email. So you need to avoid showing your frustration and anger, otherwise your recipient will be less motivated to fulfill your request.

2) Be empathetic

Sorry to bother/chase you, but is there any update on …?

A good tactic is to show empathy to the recipient by demonstrating that you understand that they are probably very busy:

Example 1

I know you must be very busy, but if you could find the time to do this …

Example 2

I know this is a lot to ask, but I really need an answer by the end of today.

Showing empathy also means making the task easier for your recipient. Instead of saying “Did you get a chance to look at the document I sent you?”, attach the document again and say:

I just wanted to check that you got the attached document and whether you have found time to give me some feedback. Unfortunately, my boss has brought the deadline forward to tomorrow afternoon. I know this is asking a lot, but if you could give your feedback by the end of today, that would be great. It honestly shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to read it.

The above example also:

i) motivates the recipient by mentioning the boss,

ii) provides a clear deadline,

iii) tells the recipient how long the task will take.

3) Inform your recipient how long it will take to complete the requested task

The third point is very important. Often, when we receive a request task, we have little idea of how long it will take us to do that task. As the person making the request, you should have a clear idea of the workload involved, so it is a good idea to inform your recipient of the time involved to complete the task. However, your time estimation must be realistic, and if possible, a little longer than it will actually take. This means: i) your recipient will be happy it has taken them less time than you predicted, and ii) you gain a reputation as being someone who is reliable and realistic, which means people will be more likely to fulfill your requests in the future. And the consequence of that will be that you will have to do less chasing!

Summary of how to chase someone via email:

  • explain that you understand that he/she is a busy person who probably has a lot of important things other than completing the task you have assigned them
  • emphasize why he/she is important to you and your work
  • find a benefit to them fulfilling your request
  • provide a brief explanation of why you need a reply so urgently
  • estimate how long it will take to fulfill your request – people tend to overestimate the time that it will take them to complete a task that has been forced on them
  • if the deadline has become very close, reduce your original request to the absolute essential for you (if you originally asked someone to read a whole report, now just ask them to focus on just one section)
  • give the recipient a clear deadline 

(^ image credit: “punctuation” is licensed under CC0 1.0)

Ending the email

If you think it is appropriate, you can end your email by repeating your appreciation: 

Example 1

Once again, sorry to have had to bother you with this. Thanks in advance.

Example 2

Thanks very much for understanding my situation.

Example 3

Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Chasing suppliers

(img credit: “youth” is licensed under CC0 1.0)

So far, we’ve looked at internal emails, but sometimes you may need to chase your suppliers. The strategy is the same – no anger, maximum empathy. Also, remember that when you write in English (rather than in your own language), you have less command over the language you use, and more importantly, you may not be able to judge the tone of what you write. This means that in your attempt to write clear simple English, you might be too direct and thus rude (impolite). 

When chasing a supplier, quote the order number and date. If this is the first time you are chasing this particular order, you can say:

I wonder if you could help me with a problem.

On May 29, we ordered 100 PPEs (order no. 9876 / 29 May).

We were expecting delivery yesterday. Could you provide me with an update on your latest estimated delivery time?

As I hope you can appreciate, we need the PPEs urgently, and as such, I would be very grateful for anything you can do to speed the process up.

Thank you in advance.

The recipient of the above email is more likely to be motivated to act on it than if you had used an aggressive and sarcastic tone. However, if your first email fails, feel free to adopt a stronger tone in the second attempt:

On May 29, we ordered 100 PPEs (order no. 9876 / 29 May) with an expected delivery date of June 14. On June 14, I contacted you for an update (see email below). It is now June 21 and there is still no sign of the order.

As I am sure you can imagine, we are now in very great need of the PPEs. Therefore, I would kindly ask you to contact me by the end of today with a firm delivery date.

Be firm but avoid being aggressive

The above email makes it direct but does not resort to anger and insults. To make it stronger, you could explain what the consequences might be – for example, that you will have to cancel the order, or that you will suspend payment of any other deliveries you have already received but not paid for. However, you need to be tactful as threats rarely work. Often, a better solution is to resolve the issue by telephone.

What if you’re the one being chased?

(img credit: “response” is licensed under CC0 1.0)

Let’s end this post by looking at the other side: what you can do if you are chased, i.e., when someone has asked you to do something, but you haven’t done it yet. Here are a few examples of phrases you could use:

Sorry, everything is rather hectic so I have not had the chance to look into it. I apologize, but I will probably not be able to get back to you before Wednesday of next week.


Don’t worry. I’m on it. I will send it back to you by tomorrow lunchtime at the latest.

(Note: hectic = very busy; look into something = investigate, find out; get back to someone = provide the requested information; to be on it = to be aware of the problem and possibly already working on it.)

It can be awkward and uncomfortable when you’re the one being chased, but be honest with your reasons and in your response at all times. Also, if you are honest, you are more likely to gain a reputation of being a trustworthy colleague/supplier/friend.

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