Are you using the right words?
A colleague sent the following email, in which she’s circling back again with a higher-up who has not yet delivered feedback as promised. And she’s clearly uncomfortable having to do so.
It reads like this – I’ve altered only identifying details below:
Sorry to trouble you but I am just checking in with you to see if you’ve had a chance to review the proposal we presented at the last meeting. Having your input would be incredibly valuable before we take it to HR and we just wanted to see if you had everything you needed from us or if there is more we can do.
Again, sorry to bother you. We appreciate your support!
Sue and Team
Boy, we sound like a really needy-whiny-annoying bunch of proposal-makers!
Sue could be a lot more direct. How about this version, in which a more authentic Sue lets loose over a grilled chicken wrap and SmartWater at lunch when we talked about how Jim had not yet responded:
What the eff? We spent months working on that proposal we gave you and you promised you’d get back to us with your feedback. Weeks have gone by and we haven’t heard boo from you. And you know it’s a good proposal, you just don’t want us to get the credit for it, is that right, Jim?
Meanwhile, you’re totally holding us up from taking it to HR and forcing us chase you for an answer which is really shitty. So instead of making us jump through hoops, either give us notes we can address or just sign off on the damn thing, OK?
Sue and Team
I’ll admit to having drafted emails like this in my head. But calling out a higher-up, even in a much more pleasant way than this, can backfire. If the ball is in their court, you have to play the game.
But you don’t have to placate, as Sue did in her original attempt. It is possible to be both nice and competent.
Here’s a third option, one which conveys the original message while adding a sense of urgency and positivity to the necessary next steps.
We’re eager to move forward with the proposal from the September meeting, the benefits of which we presented at that time, and to address any revisions necessary to secure your support. Ideally we’d like to have your input by the end of the week so we can adjust and then take it to HR.
Let us know if there is more you need from us and thanks for your partnership in this important endeavor.
Sue and Team
This version clearly states with appropriate “corp-speak” and without blame or guilt, the necessary next steps with the requested timeline, one which gives a sense of beneficial urgency. Holding Jim accountable for what he promised while thanking him for the partnership rather than bestowing appreciation for his as-of-yet-undelivered “support” puts the parties on a more equal level. It avoids the unfocused and needy language of the first as well as the expressions of frustration and inappropriate language of the second.
Sue should read aloud what she writes and get comfortable with removing extraneous and passive words like “sorry” and “just” (Adjust Your “Just-ifying”) in favor of ones that are more positive, direct, and likely to get the desired response. Words matter.
Sorry. That’s Just my opinion.
Valerie Gordon is a former award-winning television producer who uses the power of words and stories to grow future leaders and stronger teams. The founder of career and communication strategy firm Commander-in-She, LLC, she also teachers career development for business students at the University of Connecticut School of Business regional campuses.