how can I tactfully point out to coworkers that a miscommunication error is theirs?

A reader writes:

I’ve had several situations lately where a colleague has claimed I didn’t tell them something when I did, or that I was supposed to do something when in fact they were supposed to do it. How do I tactfully point this out? In the past, I’ve forwarded emails or tagged them in old chat posts, proving that I had done my part, but I worry that this may come across as defensive. However, while I’ll gladly admit when I’m in error, I’m concerned about being blamed for things that aren’t my error could damage me long-term.

For example, one colleague asked me where an agenda was for a meeting. I said “Oh, I thought you were coming up with the agenda” and the colleague responded that no, I was supposed to. I found an email where I specifically had asked the colleague to create the agenda.

In another example, a different colleague didn’t do something, claiming that I hadn’t asked them to do it. I found a chat between us where I had asked the person to do so. They had responded to the chat about another question I had, so, presumably, they saw it.

It’s not uncommon for people to make this kind of mistake without any ill intent. They just forget or they misunderstood something originally. All you really need to do is to correct the record while still being kind about it. For example:

* “Ahhh, we’d actually decided when we talked last week that you would call Bob. I’ll forward you the email so you have it!”

* “Nope, I did take care of it! I sent around an email updating everyone afterwards, but you might have missed it. I’ll forward it on to you.”

The tone you want there is cheerful and matter-of-fact. You’re forwarding the original email to be helpful — because maybe they missed or accidentally deleted it or so forth — not to be defensive.

You can even take this approach when you don’t think the person made an innocent mistake. In fact, in the face of sketchy behavior, it can be remarkably effective to be cheerful and matter-of-fact. You’re remaining upbeat, but the subtext is “I am on top of my shit and you can’t pull this on me because I will cheerfully call you out on it, and I will do it in a way that no one watching could ever fault me for my tone.” It’s pretty formidable, actually.

{ 250 comments… read them below }

  1. Wannabe Disney Princess

    I always tell people to email me, or follow up with an email, for this very reason. I had a coworker push back on me until I told him, “This covers both you AND me, if something changes down the road.” (He’s also extremely guilty of not remembering stuff so it’s doubly important with him.)

    1. Curious Cat

      Yep, exactly. I know sometimes there’s a debate on here whether to send a follow-up “Sounds good” or “will do” because it can come across as an annoying small task to do, but they’re so necessary so you know if someone definitely got your message and will (presumably) then do what you asked them to do.

      1. Lilo

        I wish there was some kind of email setting where you can check an ‘acknowledged’ box and the email would change color or something so you know they got the message. That way your inbox doesn’t get clogged and you don’t have to resort to turning your read receipts on

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          Back in the day, we had an email system that would tell you when an (internal) email was opened, and if it was forwarded or deleted. It was awesome for CYA purposes.

          1. SC

            I can see how it would be helpful to have an “acknowledged” system vs. just an alert that an email was opened. I used to check my email while waiting for the elevator on the way up to work. It was great for deleting junk mail before my day started, but it turns out, I’d also forget task-related items. Just opening an email (on a phone) does not mean that I have absorbed an email and processed the fact that I need to do something about it.

            Now I just check social media while waiting for the elevator, and I wait to check email until I am sitting at my desk ready to work.

            1. Rusty Shackelford

              Actually, my favorite use of it was “Looks like you accidentally deleted this unread the day I sent it, so I’ll re-send,” when we both knew it wasn’t an accident at all. ;-)

              1. Logan

                My response is often similar. “This must have got lost in the ether, so I am resending” or “Spam filters are so picky these days, so hopefully you receive this second attempt to contact you” types of emails.

            2. media monkey

              same – i only open emails on my commute that i can see are junk/ all staffers/ newsletters/ mailers/ FYI-type ccs where someone else is on top of the actual task. i leave the ones where someone is asking me personally to do something as unread until i get to my desk and can make a note and reply properly.

        2. Amethystmoon

          There is such a thing as a read receipt in Outlook. I’m not sure if there is on other systems. However, it just guarantees that your coworker opened the e-mail. It doesn’t guarantee that they read it in detail, instead of just maybe glancing at it, and also it doesn’t guarantee that they comprehend all of it in detail.

          1. Akcipitrokulo

            True… but does give you paper trail that they did receive and were aware of it. How well they read it is then up to then, but you’re covered.

          2. Akcipitrokulo

            (But you don’t have to send one… outlook can be set so it doesn’t or asks before sending.)

          3. Yorick

            It’s really annoying for the recipient though, because it asks them to check a box saying that they received it.

            Please don’t turn that on for all your emails. Just use it for those messages that you need it for. My coworker has it on for all her messages, including the many she sends to the whole team about maintenance issues with the printer.

          1. Still here

            And…. it wouldn’t work with emails sent to me as I have send read-recipts disabled.

            Really, knowing whether someone got an email isn’t the same as knowing if they read it, understood it, remembered it, and added the tasks to whatever task-tracking system they might use.

            If something is important I request a response by date X and set a follow up reminder for myself.

            1. Yorick

              Yes, especially since it pops up and asks you to send a read receipt when you first open the email.

        3. Mad Baggins

          At OldJob there was a “like” or “thumbs up” button on our email browser and this was often what it was used for. In a field that really requires shared understanding and cooperation of multiple parties, it was really useful.

    2. KarenK

      One of my fellows wants to make a change to the call schedule. He’s tried to tell me twice and I’ve asked him to please send it to me in an email. Seriously, it isn’t that hard.

      We have a confidential chat program (I work in healthcare) that is heavily used to exchange patient information (it is HIPAA-compliant) and contact people quickly. Every once in a while, someone will ask me to do something via chat. I respond to please email me.

      I need a paper trail, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, if it was ever very good.

      1. mark132

        +1000 for the “paper” trail. I work in IT, and we use a product called Jira (it’s pretty common in tech space). And if some wants an ad-hoc report etc. You need to create a task in Jira for me with what you want, and I’ll get to it. I need it for tracking purposes. And down the road I have evidence that I did what was asked or actually the opposite, that I screwed up. Either way it cuts down on misunderstandings.

        1. Jady

          Very true. My boss has implemented a policy of “If it isn’t in JIRA, it isn’t your problem.”

        2. Dz

          I LOVE JIRA. I wish I had had it in every previous job. A task can only have one assignee and one due date. If I can’t complete a task because I’m waiting on someone else, I assign it to them with a clear note. If there are tasks that come out of my 1:1 meeting with my boss, I make tickets and assign them to her or myself. If she forgets, I can comment on the ticket (“Just making sure this is still on your radar!”). If slacker coworker closes a ticket without getting me what I need, I cheerfully reopen it. Things don’t get dropped and everything is transparent. Plus closing tickets is satisfying, and I have a record of what I did over the past year.

      2. BookishMiss

        Seriously. I was in charge of the supply order at Last Job, and people _could not_ figure out to just email me so that I would actually remember what they requested. Sorry co-workers, but when I’m eyeballs-deep in medical records due in an hour, I’m not going to remember the specific color post it you requested …

  2. Essess

    In both of those examples, you state where you told them to do it and assumed that they agreed. There’s no guarantee that they agreed to it or saw it if they didn’t actually respond to that request. I have responded to things in chat but missed other lines because the chat scrolled quickly and my window size is small or it was added to an existing chat when I had the window minimized and there was no alert letting me know a new message arrived. Shutting down the computer would cause the chat to be missed.
    In just an email where you tell them to do something without a confirmation back, that can easily get lost in a busy inbox and get missed without reading, especially if it is added to a continuous chain of emails with the same topic. My mobile phone stacks those messages without alerting me that some of the messages in the middle are unread.

    1. Hills to Die on

      This is why I never, ever delete any of my emails, even if one of them is just someone responding, ‘Thanks!’.

      I had a coworker who was really manipulative, so I was careful to always communicate over email and never over the phone so that she could lie about our discussion later. She would call 3-5 times and then IM, saying ‘why aren’t you picking up? Are you away from your desk? I’ll call your cell.’ I would lie (not sorry) and say I was in a meeting, and would be in back-to-back meetings all day, what does she need? It was very effective.

      I have gotten tired of people throwing me under the bus in meetings with this whole ‘you were supposed to do it’ nonsense, so I started pushing back publicly, not giving a flip about them saving face. It works to be cheerful and professional and I have no regrets.

      1. BeenThere

        I have a colleague who will IM or come see me in person. I always follow up with an email memorializing our conversation. He likes to push his work off on others. Fortunately, everyone knows it so if I say “he said he was doing that,” they tend to believe me over him. But I still cover myself.

      2. Engineer Girl

        You can always follow up via email.
        “This email is to document our 8/14 conversation on llama grooming. Please let me know if it is incorrect”
        Note the wording. A non-response on their part means that your documentation is correct. No plausible deniability.

        1. mark132

          I feel like there should be a class named “CYA101” for all new college students (actually really everyone) that teaches stuff like this.

          1. Marthooh

            And the follow-up email will not only CYA, it will also prove helpful to merely forgetful or clueless people who have no intention of damaging your A.

          2. Engineer Girl

            I actually learned this from a on-line training called “working with difficult people”. It had all sorts of techniques for handling the dishonest and flaky.

        2. Jill

          Good one! Some wording I like to use is, “If I don’t hear back from you by DATE, I will assume X.”

          If the edict from the superiors is to read your emails and you fail to read and respond to my assumption, it’s on you, and not me.

      3. Naptime Enthusiast

        This. I’m working with someone now that claims to be well-meaning, but he has called me out during my weekly meeting multiple times saying I haven’t sent him the schedule. Last time, I replied back “yes I did, I forwarded it to you again last week when you said you didn’t have it. I’ll send it to you again after this meeting is over.” And then sent him the whole chain of emails that I had forwarded him starting 3 weeks before.

        It helps that he does not play well with others and everyone knows it, but I’m still frustrated every time he tries to blame me for his shortfalls.

        1. AdAgencyChick

          I’ll often say “I sent it at 12:37 PM on Tuesday.” Depending on who I am dealing with, this is either an attempt to help a well-meaning but forgetful person find the relevant email in her inbox, or a quiet “I totally sent that, liar” masquerading as “let me help you find that in your inbox.”

      4. Amber T

        (There’s a difference when there’s an honest mistake or a miscommunication, but) can we point out for a second how wonderful of a feeling it is when you’re working with someone really snotty or condescending and you can point out that they’re in the wrong, so they’re forced to back track? I had a vendor send me a long snarky email about how I never updated my account information (“you need to be diligent and get updated informaiton to me in a timely manner when requested…”) after I asked why things were being sent to the wrong address, so I attached our previous email conversation from six months before, where I updated our account information. It was all rainbows and butterflies after.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago

        Oh man, this reminded me of a story I’d forgotten.

        When I was at ToxicOldCompany (in the position I held before the super ToxicJob I have talked about extensively), we had received emails from the Senior Director that Teapot Assemblers were no longer permitted to paint teapots. All painting needed to be done by the Teapot Painting team and it might take up to 24 hours for them to get the teapot painted.

        We worked laterally with the Teapot Shipping department and the Teapot Shipping Manager (TSM) was trying to get me to paint a teapot. I said no, that I had emails instructing me not to do that. She went to my manager, who came to my desk and told me to go ahead and paint the teapot. I said “If you want me to paint the teapot, I will, but I want an email from you first telling me to do it so that I can cover myself.”

        My manager went to his desk and sent me the email. Apparently TSM went and told him that she couldn’t believe how insubordinate I was and that she would support him if he wanted to write me up. My boss said no, that he was fine with me asking for documentation.

        The next day, my boss got in trouble because I painted that teapot and there was yet another email from the Senior Director that the assemblers should NOT be painting teapots under any circumstances.

        So, yes, always protect yourself.

        1. sofar

          Ah yes, this was a lesson I learned the hard way. People on other teams coming to me in desperation asking me to paint teapots, that I’d been expressly told NOT to paint. Our teapot-painting team tends to go home by 4, you see, and I have a background in teapot painting and work til 6.

          I finally had to learn to respond, “Here’s an email telling me NOT to paint teapots. If you want to reach out to the leader of the teapot painting team and see if he’s cool with adjusting that policy, I’m happy to jump in and help in emergencies!”

          1. media monkey

            oh yes, pass on the responsibility for getting approval for you to do the Totally Forbidden Thing to the person who wants you to do it! never take that on yourself!

        2. Gen

          We had a situation where a client went through 30+ design changes to their spouts because they were going to be used with a new tea but their quality manager decided he was sick of tracking changes and went back to design one. Unbenknownst to us he took everyone else at his company out of the CC field when he confirmed the change. Design one wasn’t viable, hundreds of tea pots cracked or exploded, tea went everywhere, other equipment got ruined. The quality manager tried to pin it on us and the client tried to take us to court for damages. Apparently he didn’t expect us to keep all our emails. Unsurprisingly he doesn’t work there any more.

      6. T

        I find this so slimy and calculating when people refuse to state anything in an email, and only communicate in person or on the phone. It’s so you can’t throw anything back at them in writting. I worked with one manager so slimy we joked he never even used Outlook. You’re only as good as your word, and he used these tactics to squirrel any situation to his benefit.

          1. Anonymous Unicorn

            Our legal department operates like this. It’s impossible to get a straight answer from them about anything, which sucks because I do a lot of work that is regulated under certain laws in my country and that I need guidance from them about. They REFUSE to give you a straight answer. Method of communication – phone, email, even in person – does not matter.

            1. Sarcastic Fringehead

              I joke that the two most important things I’ve learned working for lawyers are “always write everything down” and “never write anything down”

      7. MJLurver

        OMG I just had flashbacks to an attorney I worked with who was strangely adamant about refusing to email instructions, revisions, or requests to me when everyone else at the firm had no issues with my system (that had been in place for over 4 years) of always sending me emails so I’d have a record of it. My job entailed being the liaison between everyone in my company and 40-50 different lenders/banks/mortgage companies and the only way I’d be able to keep track of everything was an email system – I needed everything easily accessible and in writing. Email was one of two systems in place that allowed me to do my job without going insane.

        This new young hot shot wanna-be attorney started and even though I explained how to proceed when X, W, Z and ZV occurred, would call my office extension non-stop, blowing up my number. I’d be on my phone with a client and I’d see him trying to ring through. He would call back 4-5 times, over and over again. I’d instant message him (while still on phone) saying “Hey! I’m sorry – I’m on the phone with client and it will be a while – can you please email me with whatever it is you need?” and he would LITERALLY call me immediately- as soon as I finished sending the instant message – despite just telling him that I was on the phone with a client.

        I became convinced that he was just a very slow and poor typist and just didn’t want to be bothered, even though the point of having things in writing meant our butts were covered in the event of any problems. Everyone else seemed totally fine with email – I never heard a single complaint or problem, then he came in and tried making me revise my almost foolproof system. He even complained to the president of the company about it – no joke – he claimed emails were a waste of time and wanted the “personal connection” a phone call created. I laughed when the president spoke to me about it – and he (the president) told me in a “I know this is ridiculous but I just wanted to give you a heads up that the conversation occurred” way. The president was the best part of that job – best boss ever. When he left, it went downhill FAST.

        The email thing was a battle that was never really smoothed over – he would put up a stink practically every time. What a nightmare – it only stopped when I escaped that place.

        1. Jill

          Our attorney’s are the same. But my gosh, aren’t our conversations protected as work product/client priviledged? So frustrating.

    2. Lil Fidget

      Yeah, I noticed the same thing – if you are senior to someone, you can just tell them to do something and assume it will be done, often without confirming that – but if you’re equal, or especially if you’re junior, I’d expect you to get confirmation that you’ve both mutually agreed that the other person will do something, unfortunately. Which makes it extra annoying.

      1. Washi

        For at least one of the examples, the person was saying that the OP never even asked them to do it, which was not true. But for the other one, where they asked in the chat and then the person followed up with another question, I agree that ideally the OP would have confirmed that the person was going to do the task, if they were anything but the OP’s direct report. (For a direct report, I would obviously not want to have to follow up on every request to confirm we were on the same page, but with a peer or someone senior, you don’t really have that level of authority.)

        1. Lauren19

          Completely agree. Without more information or knowing the relationship between OP and the colleague, the colleague’s stance may be “my peer is assigning me work which I don’t agree to, then surprised when I don’t do it.”

      1. topscallop

        True, but if it’s happening a lot and not just a couple of missed emails, the recipients should at least reply to say “no, I can’t do that”. Don’t just ignore the email and then act like you never got it. OP should probably request confirmation, but her colleagues should also check that they’re on top of things. If OP is asking them to do things outside their job description, that’s a whole other issue.

    3. anoniaa

      That’s a good consideration. ‘ In both of those examples, you state where you told them to do it and assumed that they agreed.” I couldn’t put my finger on how this reminded me of a past manager until you wrote what you did. She’d say, ‘See I told you to do DEF.” I’d say no, but ‘I could do ABC or NO I can’t do that’. The back and forth would go on and on sometimes. She said she had proof that she told me to do DEF. I had proof otherwise but wasn’t able to get to showing it all before I was eventually let go. It seems telling the person to do something and them agreeing can have a lot to do with any situation like this one.

    4. Jane

      This stood out to me, too.

      In those cases, I’d treat it not like a “I’m right, you’re wrong,” kind of thing, but more like, “I mentioned this in our chat on Tuesday. I realize now that you didn’t reply, but I had been assuming you would do it, which is why I didn’t have it on my to-do list.”

    5. MCMonkeyBean

      Yeah, to be honest if they are colleagues on the same level I don’t think it’s necessarily okay to send them an email telling them to do something and then assume that’s the end of it. First of all, I would expect requests from my colleagues on the same level to come in the form of a question–asking me if I would be able to do something, not telling me that you expect me to. So then you should expect to get some sort of response back confirming, and if they never said “yes I will do this” then there wasn’t really clear communication IMO.

  3. Stayc

    If you find this is happening often, it may help if you 1. Only use 1 communication channel (like email) to make requests/confirm assignments, and 2. make sure to close the loop on requests. I dislike chat for these sorts of things because it isn’t as easy or automatic to go back and reference or flag tasks. Also, you mention making a request via chat and they responded to another question so PRESUMABLY they saw that request, but if they didn’t confirm/ acknowledge that specific request, I don’t think you can just assume that it’s taken care of. If you don’t get acknowledgement, then follow back up.

    1. Hills to Die on

      I had a drunken mess of a boss that I needed to send an email confirming every single thing because he refused to have anything in writing but couldn’t remember anything. I would summarize the conversation and then add ‘Please let me know if you understood our discussion differently; otherwise I will proceed accordingly.’ He just stopped answering emails. I started attaching read recipts to everything. He just stopped reading any emails. I quit and he got fired shortly thereafter. Still really dislike that guy.

      1. Bea

        What a nightmare! I personally hit the “lol no” option for read receipts, thank you for giving me a reason to why some folks use them.

        1. Teapot librarian

          I use them because one of my direct reports has a “habit” of “not seeing” my emails. I don’t use them all the time (mostly because I forget) and I know he might hit the “lol no” option for letting me know he’s read the email, but I feel as if I’ve at least communicated in some small way that I care if he’s reading my emails. More important to me is the delivery receipt, so if he says he “didn’t get” an email I have proof that he did.

          1. Bea

            I have never gotten them from a coworker or boss, it’s always random vendors who seem to use them or assorted 3rd parties. I assume it’s something they have on at all times. It makes sense to use selectively to me!

            I’m a fast responder. So I have a bratty “you obviously don’t know me” response to them.

          2. Anonymeece

            Yup. I also use it for direct reports where there might be a problem in the future – so if I send out an, “As per our discussion on X, you agree to do Y and Z going forward” and put a read receipt so that if it ever happens, I can pull it out for documentation.

            It feels very passive-aggressive, but it has come in handy once or twice where someone tried to claim a conversation never happened or that they misunderstood something.

            1. Canadian Public Servant

              Job had Groupwise email until last year (which, what?). The functionality was generally terrible, but I did love that it tracked if another Groupwise client had received, opened or deleted your email, automatically for all messages. Much better than a separate delivery and read receipt, in my opinion!

          3. Lisa

            At OldJob I declined them by default, I found that most coworkers who used them were either focused on CYA or were the lateral-micromanaging types. And Outlook would send one just because you opened the email which didn’t mean you had really read the full email (and thread) so it was misleading in any case.

            Also, agree that if someone doesn’t respond and agree to a task (unless they are a subordinate) then that doesn’t really make it their action item. At same OldJob some coworkers would make unreasonable over-reaching requests where, in some cases, ignoring worked better than pushing back directly, because they knew they didn’t really have the standing to insist and the request would just sort of quietly go away. In hindsight this may be super weird but it sure seemed normal at the time!

            1. Fin Shepard

              I have worked in government for decades. Everyone should CYA and I see nothing wrong with doing so. To me read receipt dodgers are responsibility dodgers.

              1. Lisa

                I think it’s probably cultural. This was a company where <5% of people tried to set read receipts, and many of the ones who did were also guilty of other controlling or scrutinizing behaviors. But my biggest objection was that "read" doesn't really mean "read" it means opened, and when you are skimming through 100 unread emails in your inbox there can be a very big difference. If I scroll through your request for a copy of last months' TPS report on my way to an email from my boss's boss with an urgent request that just came down from the VP… that automated "read receipt" is no assurance that I have even registered what you sent.

              2. Julia

                Maybe. But I also had a co-worker who automatically put read-receipts on every email, even ones like “wanna go out for dinner after work?”, which got pretty annoying after a while.
                Although knowing her boss, I understood why she enabled that function permanently…

        2. Amber T

          I always wished there was a way to send multiple confirmations of read receipts so that I could check mundane emails with read receipts on unread/read multiple times to annoy a specific coworker into turning them off. (One of those things I probably wouldn’t have gone through with, but, you know, wishful thinking.)

    2. Anon today

      Yeah, getting acknowledgement is key here. In both examples, the OP asked someone else to do something but did not receive a response. This makes it seem very likely that they either did not see the request or did not agree to it.

  4. Holly

    Indirectly related, but I am also a big fan of the follow up. If I asked someone to make an agenda for a meeting, the meeting was tomorrow and I hadn’t heard anything, I’d reply from my prior e-mail asking them to do it and say “hi, just want to check in on this!” It may feel annoying (and hey, sometimes it is) but sometimes you have to be a little annoying to make sure something is done because everyone is just so dang busy and has different priorities.

    1. Hills to Die on

      Yes, and give yoruself calendar appointments to follow up by X date and time to confirm. In the email, type ‘please let me know if there are any issues. Otherwise I will assume that you are presenting the llama brushing techniques deck in tomorrow’s meeting at 3pm.’ Bonus if you have justification to copy the meeting attendees and/or bosses in it. Amazing how quickly people respond when others are copied on the email.

      1. Anonymeece

        You can also use Outlook to send *them* reminders. The little “follow-up” flag has become my best friend tag for direct reports. I use it to send out reminders the day before, as well as to myself to follow up.

        I also use it for my boss, but that’s a different story….

      2. Cassie the First

        I have a running paper list where I keep track of outgoing emails/requests – and if I don’t hear back in a week (or earlier, if there’s a deadline), I’ll ping them again, and write down the follow-up date on the list. It helps me not let things drop through the cracks.

        There was one time someone emailed a request to me, and I responded asking for info that was required for me to process the request. I sent a follow-up email about 10 days later. Nothing. A few months went by and I wrote off the request as obsolete. And then about 6 months after the initial request, the person emailed a professor asking about the status, so the professor asked me. I was able to reference back to my two emails (the professor was cc’d on both of them), and could tell the prof. that I had not heard back from the requester for 6 months. Still haven’t heard back so I assume the person doesn’t care anymore.

    2. Tiny Orchid

      As someone who gets a lot of random requests and sometimes they fall through the cracks, I so very much appreciate these kind emails when I’m having busy weeks and might not have gotten everything transferred to my to do list.

      1. fposte

        Seconding this. I *love* a followup. It’s also nice in setting an ongoing relationship–you know this is a person you can give a followup reminder to as well.

      2. Anonymous Unicorn

        Me too! It’s not annoying to me, it’s a lifesaver. I have too much stuff in my head. In fact, I explicitly tell people to follow-up if I haven’t responded by X date because I’ll probably forget.

    3. Teapot librarian

      Yep, I will email something along the lines of “got it, I’m aiming to be done by Friday, but if you don’t hear from me, please follow up.” That way the person hopefully won’t worry that I’ll be resentful of them sending me a reminder.

    4. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

      I kind of hate the ‘nagminder’ technique, because people in my world tend to wait until they get a second warning before they do anything. It’s like they don’t think it’s a real request until you nag them about it.

      We are all adults here, if I ask you to do something once, once should be sufficient — I’m not your mom!

      1. Julia

        I think one reminder on something important if you don’t hear back is fine, but I do agree that reminding people to do every single task can become tedious really fast.

      2. Holly

        I agree with you but that line of thinking – if you’re the person that needs it done – can really screw you! It’s more of a cover your butt thing.

  5. Just Another Attorney

    I really like to use the phrase, “I’ll bring it up in your inbox.” when dealing with these situations. I think the tone is fairly neutral and implies that we are all capable of having an important e-mail or two become buried in our inboxes.

    1. Specialk9

      Meaning bringing up a topic (if so why not just say I’ll email you), or raising it from a depth? I would be kinda confused with that phrasing.

      1. Jillociraptor

        No, like bringing it back up to the top of your inbox, i.e. by re-sending it to you. I’ve heard this a lot too.

    2. Basia, also a Fed

      I have never heard this phrase before: “I’ll bring it up in your inbox.” Do you mean that someone outside your Outlook account has the power to bring something back up to the top of the list? So, if you sent me an email last week, you can pull it back up to the top somehow today? If not, I would have no idea what the what the person who said this meant.

      1. Sylvan

        I don’t know about Outlook, but don’t conversations with the most recent responses move to the top of the list in most email services?

        OTOH, I thought it was just another way to say “I’ll email you about this thing again.”

      2. Lavender Menace

        I think this commenter is referring to the fact that usually, inboxes are organized so that the most recent responses are at the top of the inbox. So by responding to a thread, you are bringing it back up to the top. I use this language too sometimes as an acknowledgement that sometimes, important emails get buried in the deluge of mail we get every day.

        1. Basia, also a Fed

          Thanks, Sylvan and Lavender Menace (and also Jillociraptor, whose comment I didn’t see before I posted). I get it now!

          1. Basia, also a Fed

            And I guess there is a magical way to move your email back up to the top – by responding to it or resending it! :)

  6. Midlife Tattoos

    This is why I don’t put things in chat, because it’s so easily lost. When there is a takeaway from a meeting, I generally summarize those things in an e-mail so everyone knows who is doing what. I assume everyone is as busy as I am and needs an e-mail to keep on top of things like I do. Particularly if it’s a task for a future date.

    1. Hills to Die on

      I save separate copies of every chat, and I take notes on every meeting, complete with dates, times, attendees, action items and owners. Sadly, that’s what it takes but I don’t get a lot of pushback on my version of events.

    2. BadWolf

      Our chat program keeps a local history. It’s very handy. In my case, it’s usually because I remember asking Fergus where to find teapot reports, but I still don’t remember the answer.

  7. CaliCali

    I think one thing I’m not seeing — and it could just be that it’s not communicated in the letter — was the confirmation that the delegation was agreed upon. It’s one thing to ask, but another to, in business-speak terms, close the loop and verify that the recipient did take on the assignment, see the request, etc. It may seem pester-y, but I think it’s important, particularly when you do get this kind of pushback. “You said you would do it” is a lot stronger of a statement than “I asked you to do it.”

  8. Engineer Girl

    I had one manager that was always publicly chastising me for not sending him something. I always “replied all” back and included the email while asking “if this wasn’t what you wanted could you please let me know?”
    It got to be a joke – one time I stated “Fergus doesn’t read his emails” and upper management started to snicker. So they realized what was happening, at least.

    Another way to do it is to ask them (via email) if formatting it a different way would help.

  9. Zona the Great

    I’ve had a colleague who clearly deliberately ignored me each time I told him that a task had been assigned to him and not me.
    Him: “Hey did you get that done yet?”
    Me: “No. That was assigned to you”.
    Him: “Hey when will you finish that thing?”
    Me: “I won’t. That was your task. When will you finish it?”
    Him: “Hey, I’m still waiting on that thing.”
    Me: “here’s all the emails showing you agreed to do the thing”
    Him: “Okay so when do you think you’ll be done?”

    Where can one go from here?

    1. ArtK

      Time to ring in the boss. Document everything — no verbal conversations without a “As we discussed…” follow-up e-mail. This is someone who would be very happy throwing you under the bus.

  10. Bea

    So many people selectively read correspondence for various reasons, only one of them being they’re malicious slacker jerkwads. So I completely agree with Alison about being cheerful while forwarding the information to them.

    I now trust nobody and will make sure to close all loops to watch my own butt as stated above.

    We get limited emails here and it’s curious how mine get ignored by certain people. Turns out they utterly suck at written communication. So I email for ac receipt and call them as a heads up that they should check. I only do it selectively with those who taught me they can’t be trusted.

    1. Ama

      I had a coworker who was just terrible about staying on top of his email. If it was something important or time-sensitive, the best approach was to talk to him about it either in person or on the phone and then send a follow up email confirming his response. Unfortunately he was not aware that this was a problem for him so he was always telling coworkers to send him and email that he would then not read or read and forget about. Our working relationship got a lot better once his admin advised me to just pop into his office anytime I really needed an answer.

      1. Bea

        Yep. I’m more than happy to use whatever communication device a person responds best to. I’ve tried to clue in people at how to best get a response from The Boss frequently in my career. The dimwits who refuse to take my advice end up rarely getting in touch with The Boss…who would have guessed?!

  11. BeenThere

    One thing to add… If you have a task for someone, put it at the beginning of the email. People don’t read their emails thoroughly. In the military, they called that the BLUF (bottom line up front). I always lead with the BLUF and then fill in the details below that. Saves some headaches!

    1. Hills to Die on

      I also type and bold: ‘action item: Fergus Fontelroy; due Friday 8/24/18 in Llama brushing meeting 3pm’ on emailed meeting minutes I send out (I am a Project Manager). There are never any questions about who is doing what, or when.

      1. Chinookwind

        I go one step further and put in the Subject Line “Action Required: Llama brushing by 8/24/18.” I had bosses with often overflowing inboxes and have been told that they appreciated being able to see this without even opening it. It also helped it show up easily on phone inboxes.

        1. BeenThere

          Yes! I do this too. People really have no reason to not know I need something from them, but they try!!! Oh how they try!

      2. SarahKay

        Oh, yes, strong agree to putting the deadline in the email – preferably in the subject line, or at least near the top of the email.
        I have auto-preview set, so I can see the top three lines of an email and triage my tasks that way. It’s infuriating when something looks like a non-urgent request but then turns out to be something where the sender wants a response within the next couple of hours.

        1. Guacamole Bob

          My org just started adding a notice to external emails right at the top to warn us they’re external (because of phishing, I think?), and now I can’t see any of the actual message in preview. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now it’s super annoying.

          1. ThursdaysGeek

            It’s also an easy way to filter and move all external emails to another folder automatically. That way you can be a bit more careful with them and not fall for the periodic phishing test (or worse yet, a real phishing attempt).

    2. Ali G

      I like the BLUF method!
      Something else that has worked for me is to put people that have action items in the “To” line of the email, and then anyone else that just needs to be informed/track progress in the “CC” line.
      Then the first line of the email is “If your name is the “To” line, you have action items from the last meeting…”

    3. BadWolf

      Sometimes when I find myself writing a long email, I go back to the top and literally type, “Short version” and then put 1 sentence there. If appropriate, I leave the rest labeled, “Long version.”

      1. Mad Baggins

        I’ve done something like this too.
        “Dear Fergus,
        I have a couple clarifying questions:
        1. Teapot spouts are too short
        2. Can flower design be changed?
        3. Confirming final deadline

        1. Teapot spouts
        Usually our teapot spouts are 4 inches, but these are only 3. We are concerned this will impact XYZ. Has this change been approved by Boss?

        2. Flower design
        Is this design set in stone or do you have flexibility to go with, say, watermelon instead? etc. etc.”

        1. Birch

          Oh this would drive me up the wall… if I wasn’t used to this I would definitely think you were asking me 6 unique things and not just giving more detail. But I can see how it would work with people who get lost reading long emails. My question though–if the information in the long version is relevant, do people actually read the long version or do they respond to the short version without bothering? E.g. response to 1. “then make them 3.5 inches” which doesn’t actually respond to the point of the question.

    4. Sylvan

      +1! Glad you mentioned this!

      I’ve had managers and coworkers who were drowning in emails, and I’ve been there myself (spent a few years in a job where I started every day with >100 new messages in my inbox). It’s really helpful when people do this.

    5. Lavender Menace

      Me too. And I put [Action Requested] or [Please Review] or whatever in the subject line. And I bold the request or the due date.

  12. CM

    Sometimes it works to just accept that there’s a miscommunication and move forward, rather than trying to correct it or prove that you’re right. So when they say, “Did you call Bob yet?” you could say, “I thought we agreed last week that you would call Bob,” and then one of the following: “Could you call him today?” or “But I have time to call him today,” or “I guess there’s been a miscommunication. Who should call him?”

  13. Workfromhome

    Great advice. I had a reputation as an “email hoarder” at old job. I was there over 12 years so I had 10 year old emails archived on an external drive.
    I lost track of how many times I’d get6 snarky emails saying “2nd request this is overdue and you haven’t given me what I needed” only to matter of factly flip back an email saying please see the copy of the email where I provided you what you asked for a week ago the promised date”.

    Despite the temptation to add snarky remarks it should not be dine (and I always managed to restrain myself) but I did picture in my mind who stupid someone should feel that they didn’t read their emails. On the odd occasion when it became a really bad case of someone accusing me over and over of not doing something I had done I’d copy their manger on my responses and had the please from the manger getting annoyed at all the emails and scolding the offender when they realized what they were doing. Everyone makes mistakes and if you miss something once in a while it should be no big deal to receive a forwarded copy of an old email. It happens to me and I’d respond sorry I missed that one when I searched. I appreciate you sending it again.

    1. Hills to Die on

      The company automatically deleting old emails is the bane of my existence. I occasionally am asked for notes on things that happened 3 years ago and can produce them (usually).

          1. MCMonkeyBean

            My company deletes things older than 6 months, but keeps them in an archive. It would be a disaster if we didn’t have that option! I have an excel file with broken macros and I wanted to go in and fix some but they are locked and no one knew the password. Someone was finally able to track down emails from *9 years ago* with the contractor who set the file up.

      1. Annie Moose

        OldJob had an auto-cleanup job that was something ridiculous like six months, but if we moved emails to folders they would stay for 2 years.

        Obviously, I immediately set up a rule to forward all of my emails to a folder and just used that as my inbox!

      2. Adjuncts Anonymous

        Perk of working for a state-run community college: EVERYTHING is saved, even “deleted” emails. Any work email is public record. I give my students one of my personal accounts to contact me with so that their emails to me don’t become publicly available.

    2. Bea

      Years of emails save my ass too frequently to be bothered if other, less organized, people want to have an opinion. They’re just mad you have all your receipts to shut them down with.

      I do a lot of projects that include “that thing we bought for that old AF machine in maybe 2012?” and until I’m here long enough and it just seers into my mind (I have stories of remembering someone’s order from 4 or 5 years ago), I’ll keep all emails until they pry them out of my cold dead hands.

      I’ll take over a job and be given access to the last person’s emails. Those are how I train myself.

  14. Dovahkiin

    There are few things as satisfying as replying to someone’s email with a screencap of their own words. Cheerfully, like Allison said, but still.

    It’s like a delicious sip of premium bourbon. Such a delectable cherry to put on a workplace interaction.

    1. Sarah

      I so rarely “per my last email” people, but ohhhhh when it’s deserved it’s like a little slice of heaven.

      1. Jadelyn

        Yes! I try not to get to that point with people, but especially with your repeat offenders things like “per this email/conversation” or “as I’m sure you recall from the last time we dealt with a situation like this” become wildly satisfying.

        1. Sarah

          My normal approach is very friendly and matter-of-fact – we all forget things! We all misunderstand things! It happens! But you get snarky with me or you repeatedly forget/misunderstand/whatever and it feels like you’re just ignoring your responsibilities? I’m almost OVERLY nice with my “per my last email”. It’s the most cheerfully passive-aggressive move I can muster, where I’m just very nicely calling them out – especially when paired with, “I’m confused, last time we spoke…” and “Can you help me understand?”

          “Hey Darla!
          I’m sorry there seems to be so much miscommunication lately – I’m a little confused by it all and I was hoping you could help. Per the below, we’d agreed that you would shred the llama reports and I would arrange confetti delivery for the CEO’s end-0f-year bash. You know he loves to be showered with the remains of the evidence whenever we win a case! Now we have about 4 hours to go and I only see evidence boxes and no confetti – can you help me understand what happened here? I’ve also attached the email where you requested to be the one shredding the documents, just in case that helps! I’m happy to help shred, I’d just really love to avoid the paper cut risk next time so I want to make sure we’ve got a plan.

          Thanks,
          Sarah”

          1. A tester, not a developer

            One project team I work with uses “I’m confused” as a polite replacement for “what the he!! are you doing, you halfwit?”. Very polite and professional to outsiders, but hilarious for those of us who know what’s what.

            1. Sarah

              Haha, that’s exactly how I use it! And I’ve stolen “Help me understand…” as a sub for “Do you want to tell me what the f*** you were thinking?!?!” It’s pretty fantastic.

              1. Jadelyn

                At my org we use “Can you please clarify…?” , but yeah, it functionally means “what the f*** did you do?” or “what the f*** are you talking about?”.

          2. Washi

            Same! Or “I may have missed something but I think…” = “I missed nothing, you are a hot mess”

          3. Amber T

            “Please advise” – “you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”
            “Please advise on the status” – “why the f is this so late”

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt

          Yea – I was amused when I read this question because the thing that the OP dreads is the thing that can be the bright shining highlight of my day. I love being able to do this. Probably because old boss would insist I hadn’t sent him things a lot, and I would just forward him the thing I had in fact sent him on time. He wasn’t bothered at all that I did that and usually laughed at himself, but I was always annoyed to be accused of not doing a thing I did.

    2. Holly

      I had the satisfaction of someone reading their own email to me over the phone (assuming I had misunderstood it and did something horribly wrong) and then when they got to the last sentence interrupted themselves and said “Ohhhhh I apologize.” Because the last line of their own email said what I thought it did.

    3. Matilda Jefferies

      Oh, yes. If you’re going to send me a snarky email claiming I didn’t do Task B on a particular process, and demanding that I do it immediately – you had better believe that I’m going to produce a copy of your request for that process, wherein you clearly ask me to do Task A, and clearly do *not* ask me to do Task B, which is why I didn’t do it. It’s very satisfying.

      It’s also satisfying to note how quickly “immediately” becomes “when you can get to it” when it turns out that the person requested this process a year and a half ago, and didn’t notice the missing Task B until just now.

      Entirely hypothetically, of course.
      *coughs
      *sips bourbon

    4. Annie Moose

      The only thing that makes it better is when you get to CC their manager on it.

      No, I lied. The only thing better is when they CC your manager to demonstrate what an idiot you are, and then you respond back with their own words or the email you sent them three weeks ago. Leaving your manager CCed, of course.

      1. Sarah

        I love that SO much. SO much. Especially when the answer to their question is buried in the email chain they’re responding to acting like you didn’t do your job in front of your manager.

        My roommate had somebody try to call her out on something with several levels of management in copy – and she DIDN’T reply all. She just stewed about being made to look like an idiot. I was like “I will show this person what-for politely and cheerfully, lemme write the email for you. PLEASE.” But she didn’t. And now I’m mad all over again just thinking about it.

      2. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

        I had a situation once in which a colleague copied my boss on her post-hours request that I send some materials “as soon as possible” (since they were for a call taking place the next day). My boss replied before I could to attach the email I’d sent the day prior (i.e., two days before the call, as per our unofficial rule) noting that said requestor was clearly included on the original message, and that this was not the first time that she’d complained about not receiving information in a timely manner from me. As such, perhaps she should contact IT to determine why my emails were not making it to her mailbox at the same time they were seen by others.

  15. Curious Cat

    I think if you find that it’s happening with the same people again and again, it would be OK to send a follow-up email to double check they got it if they don’t follow back up with you. (“Hey Bob, just checking in that you’re going to do the meeting agenda since I didn’t hear back from you.”)

  16. Sandy

    I would really love tips for how to handle this when the person in question is your boss.

    I am facing this right now, and I am stumped for how to handle it. We went through a hugely busy time at the office recently, and my manager is getting really testy about things having fallen by the wayside. The problem is, going back through emails, they were things that HE let fall by the wayside, or forgot we had discussed, etc. and the assumption is that I am the one who dropped the ball. Not cool!

    1. Hills to Die on

      I just reply back and tell him. Show him the original email and soften it by saying, ‘should we push this back’ or ‘do you want me to take this task over?’ so he has some kind way out of doing it. I used to just take it but I”m done with that sh!t.

      1. Specialk9

        I’d be hugely proactive. Keep a standing spreadsheet of your tasks, status, and who currently has it in their court.

        Send it to your manager weekly with updates, either copied into the email body or (if massive) with the key info in the email and the full spreadsheet attached.

        It not only helps keep them on track (and you actually), but also makes them assume you’re too with-it to challenge.

    2. Bea

      I’ve always handled it the same way. Even my crankiest boss realized after a few pushbacks that I wasn’t jawing at them. But again, I lack a fear of authority and they’ve always were shown not only was I on top of things, I admitted if I did goof. They also know I’m ride or die with whoever I’m working for, so I’m not going to lie.

    3. Murphy

      I’d probably just forward him the email and say “My understanding from this discussion was that you were going to send the invitations. Did I read that wrong? How should we proceed?” or something like that.

    4. Jadelyn

      I might hedge my language a little more with a boss, and I think I’d put my focus on “how would you like me to handle it?” rather than “this is a You Problem” the way you can with a coworker.

      So instead of “Oh, we had agreed that you would do XYZ” I might say “From the attached email thread, I had understood you to be saying you would do XYZ – if that’s changed though, please let me know and I’m happy to jump on it!”

      1. Lil Fidget

        With a loopy past boss, I had to go to emailed summary of projects / assignments once a week (after our staff meeting) because he would bring up things he’d definitely never asked me to do, or forget that we had agreed I wouldn’t handle X. At least with a written record I had something to fall back on.

    5. Guacamole Bob

      I had something related happen recently, where I requested that my old boss in a different department do something and it didn’t get done. My request was buried down the email chain of the message where he claimed I hadn’t made the request when I said I had. The awkwardness of trying to call out my old boss for something that was part of an interaction where I was making a request of his department (with several other people copied) was too much for me and I let it go (we were past the relevant deadline anyway), but I was glad when someone else on the chain realized it and clarified for everyone that I hadn’t dropped the ball.

    6. AnonyAnony

      Does the boss have someone, such as an admin assistant, that could or should be helping to coordinate? In one of my earlier roles where I was just that type of support person, people knew to loop me in on tasks or projects my boss was responsible for. And then I kept lists and tickler files to help keep the boss on track. But sometimes people forgot to loop me in and then those tasks would fall through the cracks.

    7. topscallop

      Could you send him a weekly email listing your understanding of where things are with each task/project and ask him if he agrees/has a different understanding of who is supposed to do what and when? You could word it in a non-accusatory way, e.g. “Hi Fergus, wanted to touch base and update you on where X, Y, and Z stand as of the end of this week, and what I understand the next steps to be going into next week. Do you have anything you would add or change?” My boss gets slammed sometimes and appreciates having one email where I summarize where things are.

    8. Lucille2

      Keep in mind that shit rolls down hill. It’s possible Grandboss is coming down on boss asking for the status on X, when boss is juggling a pile of projects at the moment. Rather than sort through piles of emails for status of X, it’s probably easier to ask the person most likely to know the answer. If there is heat coming down from upper management, that might be the reason for the boss to get testy. Perhaps it’s not actually directed at you. If this is the case, just keep it matter of fact that you did complete your end of the bargain and ask how best to communicate going forward especially during hugely busy times. You might even offer to take on some of boss’ tasks that can be delegated.

  17. Jadelyn

    Never underestimate the power of a blithely cheerful response to stuff like that. CC people if you need to, forward or tag things if you need to, but you always accompany it with a tone that’s like “no problem, we all forget things sometimes, let me just remind you!” and it becomes really, really hard for people to call you out or argue about it. It’s about controlling the premise of the conversation, which is just a useful life skill in general too. If you treat it as a given that the underlying fact of the situation is that you did do the thing, or that they had agreed to do the thing, then you’re not correcting anyone – you’re just reminding them of the fundamental Truth that the conversation is based on. Which is surprisingly difficult to challenge when you’re on the receiving end of it.

    If they push it, or it’s someone who’s pulled this before, you can dial down the breezy tone a little and pull out the “per the attached email/this chat thread/our conversation on [date]” phrasing, which goes from “I’m assuming good faith and just helping remind you of what you already know but just forgot” to “I have the evidence on my side, and I suggest you not push back on this” but, you know, in a polite, professional way. And some people will always require the latter, while others will get the hint from the former.

  18. As Close As Breakfast

    The scripts Alison gave are great, if you know/remember in the moment when the task was assigned or decided on. But what do you do if you don’t remember exactly or you’re not sure or you have just enough doubt that you only know for sure when you go back and find that relevant email or chat? How do you address this after the fact, especially if its a reoccurring issue, in a way that isn’t defensive? The responses would sort of work in a follow up email or conversation I guess, but would they seem more defensive then?

    I often don’t trust my own memory (with a side of impostor syndrome) and end up a bit flustered and unable to stand my ground in the moment. Then later I’m all “Yes! See! I knew Fergus was supposed to do The Thing! Ah-ha! Vindication!”

    1. Jadelyn

      In the moment, a slightly troubled expression (if you’re in person or in a meeting) and “Huh, that doesn’t track with my recollection of it. Let me go look for my notes and get back to you.” Then, when you do find your documentation later, “Hey, I went back and checked on Thing and I found the attached – I wasn’t working on it because based on this email I had understood that you were taking care of it. Let me know if you need me to step in and help out now though!”

    2. Hills to Die on

      In that moment, I say ‘I believe that it was your action item, but I will double check and reply all in my response.’ Then I don’t seem snarky for cc’ing everyone in the meeting where I got called out for not completing another person’s task. :)

    3. Mad Baggins

      It me. I look at it as a good thing, because if it turns out we were wrong, at least we didn’t come out aggressively. It’s super embarrassing to say “No, it was YOUR job” and then be proved wrong, but it’s actually quite kind to say “oh, hm, I’ll double check then” because you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt and letting them save face.

  19. ChemistryChick

    Ooooh, I love this. Perfect timing, too, because I think I’m about to be in OP’s shoes myself here by the end of the week. Now I’ve got a way to deal with it!

  20. Phoenix Programmer

    I am surprised Alison did not address this but in both of your examples it’s very likely neither saw your request.

    In both examples I consider OP at fault … not that fault really matters.

    I would catch up with the coworkers you are needing to delegate work to and ask how you can best delgate these with them. In essence come up with a communication plan together.

    1. Nay

      I was thinking the same thing. You asked them to make an agenda for the meeting; cool…did they reply with an acknowledgement? I know if I was delegating something like that, I’d be sure to at least get an acknowledgement.

      1. Lavender Menace

        I don’t think that’s OP’s ‘fault’ per se…that also sounds like a way for potential slackers to weasel out of things.

    2. Sylvan

      Yep. If you need people to do something for you, make sure they’ve confirmed that they’ll do it.

  21. Nancy Drew

    It becomes difficult when you are managing a huge team and this happens frequently with different staff. The upbeat and cheery attitude goes sour. I tend to put on a more serious tone and advise when I sent the email and then hover over people’s computers for them to open it and acknowledge the info they missed. I then give the group a little reprimend in group meetings saying that my bosses expect me to be up to date with communications and I expect the same thing of them. I find staff who forget info in emails a really bothering and time wasting thing and wastes my time showing them info that has already been provided.

    1. Specialk9

      Hmm. I wouldn’t appreciate any of that, it would feel pretty infantilizing. It also seems like the opposite of what Alison usually recommends.

  22. HigherEdPerson

    I agree with the cheerful and factual technique. I recently communicated with someone from SUPER SNOBBY UNIVERSITY (SSU) where he told me he never received a message from me, and in fact DID NOT APPRECIATE my tone in insinuating he had made the mistake.
    I cheerfully forwarded on my original email, sent 6 weeks prior, with the note “I completely understand that messages can get lost in the shuffle! Here is the message I sent in early June. I look forward to your answer and to our continued partnership.”
    I liked to imagine that he sat there, in his dark and stuffy dungeon office at SSU, quietly seething at my response.

    1. Amber Rose

      I had a dude basically re-write this massive legal agreement I’d constructed and already had signed by a bunch of people. What he changed it to was so wrong that it was obvious to me this thing was never gonna get registered, but he called me and basically gave me a 15 minute “Do you KNOW who I AM?!” rant, so I sent it in. Then I got the dude who rejected it to write me a neat little explanation of all the wrong stuff (ie, all the stuff that had been changed) and passed it along to the dude like, “So this is what I heard back. Seems like there are a few changes that need to be made, I hope that’s OK with you!”

      The response I got back was three days later and incredibly, hilariously sullen. He’d swapped back verbatim to my original document and signed it. It was so much more satisfying than if I’d sent it back with a “SUCK ON THIS, LOSER” message, which was my first angry instinct.

    2. up on my low- to middle-sized horse

      Re SSU/dungeon: emails DO get lost in the ether though. And I think too many people rely on their spam filters. I get legit emails in my spam filter all the time. I check it daily … I don’t think the rest of the world does though.

      1. Bea

        A piece of me dies every time I remember that so many don’t check their spam folder.

        Every. Efing. Email. From a yahoo account is filtered. IT is just like “yeah cuz it’s an antiquated service and often the source of spoofing and hacks”. So yeah, I check every day because people still have their odd love for that damn service.

      2. HigherEdPerson

        Oh totally understand that emails get lost. However, it’s simple enough to pause and think “Hmmm…I don’t remember ever seeing an email from HigherEdPerson. Let me do a quick search to see if I missed it” rather than write a rude response.
        Hell, I’ve got “Clutter” “Spam” “Unwanted” and “Junk” folders that Outlook set up for me automatically. Uh…thanks? And I still lose emails, but I will always always search every single folder before telling someone I don’t recall receiving their message.

        SSU also has a reputation (well earned) for acting as if they are the be-all end-all of institutions, and if you dare to question them, their response is usually something like “Well, we’re SSU” as if that should be enough of an answer.

  23. Nay

    Although I feel like Allison gives good advice, I feel like it’s really easy for “cheerfully matter-of-fact” to come off passive aggressive…if someone pulled that on me for an honest mistake, then it would most certainly come off defensive.

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      You’ve got to be legit cheerful, not smarmy cheerful. Basically, write it as if there were a chance you could eventually be proven wrong.

    2. Lil Fidget

      Yeah the tone here is kind of tough because, as you see in the comments, there often is a bit of vengeful gotcha! when somebody is snippy about something you missed, and you can prove it was their fault. You have to be careful not to let that slip out in most cases. Also see: why I’m always nice when I think somebody has forgotten something!

    3. Liane

      Would you prefer someone respond to your honest mistake with something overtly aggressive/accusatory? Such as:
      “See below email chain dates/times Jan. 22, 2018 at 2:21pm CDT to Jan. 23, 2018 at 9:51am CDT, concerning Project Zeta going online, in which you agreed to be liaison with Starfleet Command. Also see attached screenshot of chat window timestamped 12:39pm CDT 2/5/2018 in which you repeated to me and Comm. Koloth that you were the liaison with Starfleet Command. Thank you for being more attentive in future.”

        1. Lavender Menace

          In my experience, people are far more likely to interpret “direct and matter of fact” as “aggressive and accusatory” than they are to interpret “cheerfully matter of fact” as “passive-agressive.” I use the cheerful-but-direct route all the time and I always get “Lavender is so nice!” or “Lavender is always smiling!” But it’s mostly because I acknowledge that there is a nonzero chance that someone really did miss something.

    4. Bea

      That’s why it’s important to realize who you’re dealing with. The first time someone forgets, I assume an honest mistake. I’m not really bothering with a follow up.

      However if they’re repeat offenders or getting pissy with me, that’s when I cheerfully forward them the receipts.

      My biggest peeve is when a vendor snaps back at me. Demanding I pay them…when I have email chains showing they billed something wrong and like hell am I paying the thing until it’s fixed. Or the delightful trolls who I paid and they allocated things incorrectly. So I explain it…only to get more furious as they bother me 10-15 days later because they never bothered to fix it.

      1. Specialk9

        I’m not sure I understand the power dynamic here. You’re responsible for paying vendors, ie orgs that lobbied hard to have you buy their services. And they treat you rudely? … Am I missing something? That seems like very odd behavior.

        1. Deus Cee

          I see vendors doing that a lot too – in an academic library, where our payments don’t come directly from The Library but The Institution we get a lot of times when the vendor doesn’t supply to us because we have no control over the paper trail. I then complain when we haven’t received anything, they complain that they haven’t been paid, I point out that they were indeed paid by The Institution and here’s the proof, and then (hopefully!) they manage to link the payment to us and send us the product. In that situation I can see the power dynamic being a lot like Bea describes.

    5. Sylvan

      I think the tone’s hard to pull off. If I’m frustrated, I can be polite and matter-of-fact without a problem, but I’m not good enough at moderating my tone to seem upbeat believably. Sounding fake or sarcastic can go over worse than being direct would.

      If you’re like this, too, try being straightforward about whatever issue you’re bringing up.

    6. Courageous cat

      100% agree. There is no way this wouldn’t come off passive-aggressive in most of the offices I’ve worked in. “Cheerily” so easily comes off as “fakely”.

      Honestly, in my experience, there’s no great way to do this. I guess I say something like “Oh, in your last email you said ___ so I thought you were doing it, I might have misunderstood”, but it’s not easy to pull any response off perfectly to this situation.

  24. Qwerty

    It sounds like you need to reconsider your communication. Both of these examples are one-sided conversations where you asked someone to do something and heard nothing in response. Additionally, it sounds like these are peers rather than people that you manage? If its the former, I’d question the assumption that because you asked for something that they are automatically “supposed” to do it.

    Generally, when you haven’t received a “yes”, then the answer is “no”.

    1. Someone Else

      I think this varies. In my org, if it were even appropriate of the first person to be asking the second to do it at all, once it’s been asked, it’s now in 2’s court. Not responding isn’t an acceptable method of “no”. I mean, I’d probably follow up and try to get some confirmation, but the ball dropped would still be on the asked, not the asker. If you don’t have the time or can’t do the thing, you have to say so. Not responding isn’t a sufficient replacement for “no”. If the structure is such that peers do get to delegate among themselves, you can’t just ignore someone.

      1. Qwerty

        If you don’t receive a message, how can you refuse a task? Every technology I’ve worked with has issues, especially chat clients. An email can accidentally get caught by the company’s spam filter or by a custom filter that needs to be refined. Chat clients have various glitches, especially if the same user has it on both phone and computer. If the client is in focus when the user thinks they are using the web browser, a keyboard shortcut can accidentally wipe the chat history before the user even saw the message. Until there’s a pattern established, it just seems simpler (and kinder) to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

        It just feels rather accusatory and jumping to the worst conclusion to go straight to the coworker is refusing to do a task and ignoring me, not to mention risks focusing on the blame game. If I need someone to do something and they don’t respond, I follow up with a quick cheerful message checking if they saw it. Almost all of the responses are that the message fell through the cracks or confusion over why they didn’t receive the message in the first place. Very rarely do I hear that they saw the message, are working on it, but didn’t feel like confirming.

        1. Someone Else

          I’m not jumping to any worst conclusion. I’m pushing back at the notion that no response= refusal. My point was just that I think there’s a lot of “they never said yes, ergo it’s your fault for assuming they’d do it” and that’s just…not the way my company works at all. If I email a coworker and say “please do x for the meeting Thursday” and they don’t respond, sure I personally am likely to follow up. But if for some reason I didn’t (or for example, if the whole reason I said it to them is I’m not going to be in between now and then and this is a handoff) and the meeting Thursday comes and they didn’t do x, and they say “Someone Else never told me to x” and I’ve got emails that say I do? Boss is unlikely to be irked at me. Boss is likely to be irked at coworker. Worst case scenario boss is irked at both of us. “I never noticed you sent this” does not go over well. I’m specifically talking internally, so spam filters aren’t a factor.

  25. Teapotty

    At Last job, my manager used to use read receipts to see who was actually opening his emails. They were sent to a separate folder and periodically, he’d check these.

      1. ArtK

        If the OP lacks the authority (and I see no reason to assume that she *does* lack it), then either ignoring the assignment or lying about the assignment is absolutely wrong. Far worse in my book than someone overstepping their authority to give an assignment.

        If they don’t think the assignments are proper, then it’s their job to respond to the OP with that information and/or escalate the issue. PA ignoring and/or lying are very bad.

    1. T

      Ugh I hate those read-receipt notices, it just comes off as passive-aggresssive to me. When you get 200+ emails a day these are annoying.

  26. Environmental Compliance

    When I was at a county health department overseeing septic permits, I would have a handful of contractors that would attempt to throw me under the bus of them forgetting to submit something by cc’ing in the homeowners in a snarky email to me of “when will you get to your actual work, wow you’re slow”. I loved responding back with a fwd’d email, also cc’ing in the homeowners, with the very specific worksheet showing exactly what information they were missing, that was sent usually within 2 business days of design receipt. The contractor would 50/50 shut their mouths or get snippy with me. I started sending those emails chirpily cheerful, but ended up cynically putting a read receipt on the original rejection/acceptance email and if they tried to throw me under the bus again, fwd’ing that original on with a “See below.”. It got old really fast.

    1. Environmental Compliance

      (Note – I don’t recommend going the cynical route with your actual coworkers or a boss…. these were all third party contractors that spent most of their time whining to the county chairs about how mean I was rather than actually doing the work they were supposed to be doing.)

        1. Environmental Compliance

          Especially after they went on the radio to complain that I was taking too long to issue a permit. Uh….been waiting on your designer for 3 weeks after he completely violated state standards (fun fact: gravity flows down, not up), and I have the documentation to show it. It’s not that I hate your mother who has dementia, it’s that you have standards that you are required to comply with, ffs.

          So happy to not work for the public anymore!

          1. Jaid_Diah

            Wait.

            What?

            On the radio? Was it some kind of local talk show they were on? Advertisements? The heck?

            1. Environmental Compliance

              They called in to the local radio station after the radio read an ad for the dept’s free flu shots (or something like that, I know it was for our vaccination clinic), and decided to go on a rant. Totally unrelated and unsolicited. And he went on and on about how we didn’t want his mom with dementia to get her “last home”. Uh, that has really nothing to do with anything. I actually would love to have your mom have a lovely home. Which means that since shit don’t flow uphill, you need to make your gravity based system flow…..downhill.

  27. Megan

    Sometimes, in my office, we can easily overlook things because we’re all so busy. I have done it, and I respond best when someone just reiterates what needs to be known and asks me to correct it. My direct manager is especially good about tone and not making me feel like a complete idiot.

    However, I find people don’t respond well to bringing up “receipts” or proof (if it was a simple misunderstanding or mistake). Like a comment above mentions, the tone here is sort of like a “gotcha! haha, I was right!” Like, sending a screenshot of someone’s own words? You’re just asking for trouble there. We’re not on a gossip forum or trying to out people for their mistakes to make them feel bad.

    Anyway, I would ask suggest that you use some sort of task system if you’re not already or have a more clear follow-up procedure so things don’t get lost in the ether.

    1. media monkey

      i agree – forwarding on the email with a “perhaps i misunderstood, but i asked you to do this and you didn’t let me know that wouldn’t be possible, let me know if you want me to help out” is a lot less petty than sending on read receipts!

  28. Slightly Vengeful

    My only question is: Would the recommended verbiage change at all if one is interested in inflicting the maximum possible humiliation on the other person (while still outwardly remaining perfectly polite and professional)? Perhaps citing the exact time (down to the second) of the missed communication? Citing multiple missed communications when possible?

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      The more you want to humiliate someone, the nicer you need to be.

      I had an email interaction with someone who accused me of dropping the ball on a task that resulted in people not being reimbursed for something, and she very, very snarkily asked why I’d not done it, and could I be expected to do it in the future. My reply, which that I was literally FORBIDDEN from doing that task until she officially requested it, which she hadn’t done, and politely reminding her that I had absolutely no way of knowing who was supposed to get these reimbursements until she submitted a request, and offering to help her come up with a checklist of her own duties for this particular project, was as sweet as pie. Guess which one of us looked like glassbowl to everyone she CC’d (who, of course, received my reply-all)?

      1. AKchic

        All of this.

        There have been a few times I’ve had people attempt to call me to the carpet for their own failings. For not getting their paperwork turned in on time, for not responding to multiple emails. For not following up with attorneys, judges, politicians, whoever; and then trying to lay blame on me for getting chewed out and “looking bad”.
        I bring receipts. I save every single email. I get delivery receipts, read receipts (for certain people who I know are failing, yep, I give you your rope, honey), reply emails (the whole email chain), meeting minutes, my *handwritten* notes, the recorded minutes (because I have a digital recorder in the room in case I miss something or can’t read my handwriting for some reason, or in case someone questions my notes).
        I am the ultimate administrative person. If there’s a task, baby, you’d better believe that if I’m in charge of it, I will do everything in my power to get it done. If its not within my power to do so, well, that’s on you.

          1. AKchic

            When working with addicts, you will find that some will do anything to scapegoat or otherwise manipulate to get out of fault and lay blame elsewhere.
            I also come from a long line of manipulative addicts (my career was apt), married a gaslighting abusive jerk, and have had terrible bosses who liked to play the blame game.
            I don’t accept blame if it’s not my fault. Especially if that means I may end up in court getting admonished or have my name dragged through the mud in a court case somewhere.

    2. Mommy MD

      Why would you want to humiliate in this situation? None of this was clear and it looks like the OP made assumptions someone else was doing it. I’d never want to actually humiliate anyone. I’d just ask for clarity moving forward.

    3. Anon today

      That really shouldn’t be your goal ever in work communication. There is absolutely no way to do that while “remaining perfectly polite and professional” because it simply is not a polite and professional thing to do. If you start citing the time down to the second, you will just look like an ass.

    4. Cat Herder

      I wouldn’t do that. Because while the person who’s wrong is going to look bad, that kind of response looks worse— it doesn’t matter how right you are, you’re going to look vindictive and unprofessional.

    5. KR

      I like apologizing for things that very obviously clearly are the other person’s error. Like “I apologize for not foreseeing that a reminder would be needed after confirming the work.”

    6. Cassie the First

      I have sent responses like “I sent you the document at 12:07pm on Thursday, 8/9” but mostly so they can go search their emails (if they sort by date/time), but not to humiliate the other person. Or I’ll write “I sent the request on 8/1 and followed up by email on 8/10”. I just stick to the facts, even if I want to shake the person.

      Even if the person is a PITA whose emails send me into fits of rage. It might feel great at the moment to humiliate the other person, but the payoff just isn’t there (and then I’d feel bad myself because I got so frustrated in the first place).

  29. Not the Spiegs

    At my last job I was hired by a lovely guy, we just got along great in the interview, very simpatico, he hired me on the spot. I get scheduled for my 2 day orientation at a different building where HR lived, and while all this is getting set he emails me about getting together for lunch on day 3, my first scheduled day with him in the office. Day 2 in the middle of my orientation I get a SCREAMING phone call from my lovely new boss asking where I am, that I was supposed to be there meeting with him, we had a project I was supposed to be working on that was scheduled to get out TODAY! Um… what? I then had to rush out of orientation and get to my new office.

    I was SO unnerved and unhappy and taken aback – you can bet your sweet bippie that I printed out our email exchange where we confirmed our lunch together on day 3 and handed it to him. His response was “well, I can certainly understand why you felt a need to show me this” in a sort of dry non-amused tone. I just thought there was no way on day 2 that I was going to be set up as not reliable or even worse the fall guy when the new boss screws up. No way was I going to stand for that from the get-go. Ultimately we ended up working together ok, then he handed in his notice and left 3 months after I was hired. The office had issues.

  30. Mrs_Helm

    Task Trackers help with this as well, if you’re in the kind of team environment where you can set up something like that.

  31. AKchic

    I have always been fond of “as previously mentioned in the attached email” communications.
    It is “cheerfully helpful” while subtly “bish, don’t try to put this on me”.

  32. Triplestep

    I found an email where I specifically had asked the colleague to create the agenda.

    In another example, a different colleague didn’t do something, claiming that I hadn’t asked them to do it. I found a chat between us where I had asked the person to do so.

    Do you think any of this could be due to the fact that your peers feel you are assigning work to them and don’t like it? You give two examples, and in both of them, you ask colleagues to do things; in the second case, it seems as if the colleague actually ignored the request. I think there may be a bigger problem here. It could be that they are trying to sabotage you, sure, but it could also be related to the fact that they don’t want you delegating to them.

    1. Mommy MD

      I’m also wondering if they feel she is assigning them tasks as a manager would do instead of collaborating on who does what. This assumes they are at the same level. If she is assigning without seniority it can’t be assumed they will do it.

  33. Mommy MD

    Confirming is key. Asking a colleague to come up with an agenda is not the same as colleague accepting and agreeing. Nor is a line in a chat that is not responded to. I can understand their POV. Also, do you have authority over them or do you share tasks? Shared tasks definitely need to be clearly delineated.

  34. Gumby

    As George Bernard Shaw said: The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

    I have had a three people ask me for information in the last 2 days that I had already given them several weeks ago. They’re busy, it falls through the cracks, my being proactive didn’t fit with their just-in-time style (which is really a side effect of them being *very* busy). The report is due this week so the information just became relevant to them this week. However, what makes this no big deal is no one is throwing anyone under the bus. There was no “it’s your job to do this why aren’t you doing your job” on their part and no “why don’t you read your email” on mine. So I think these kinds of miscommunications benefit from having good working relationships to start with and approaching things with the assumption that there was no malice or incompetence involved. (Until proven otherwise.)

    1. Glomarization, Esq.

      Yeah, Person A gives me a deadline of Monday, because their deadline is Thursday. Person A e-mails me on Wednesday saying, “Hey, where’s that document you were supposed to send me by Monday?”

      I’d sent it last Friday, but it got buried in their inbox. No biggie, I just re-send. And most of the time I don’t need to paper the e-mail with softening language. It’s not a personal attack by Person A. In fact, I may actually apologize and say, “Sorry, I stuck a fork in it and called it done last week, so I sent it on Friday way in advance of my deadline. Probably just buried in your e-mail. Re-attaching here.”

  35. Lisa Babs

    Tone is key. Please note Alison’s use of exclamation points. Which are great at keeping the tone friendly in an email.

  36. Lucille2

    I worked with a client who used to agree to send me info, then never send it. This happened constantly. It was usually in a back-and-forth where I needed their decision or input on something, they wouldn’t be comfortable making a decision, but instead of saying so, they would ask me for more information to help them make that decision. I would send the requested info and never receive a response. Then repeat the same song and dance in the next meeting.
    I quickly realized this one person’s tactic to put off ever making a decision. So I started sending a follow up email after every meeting with a list of Action Items with the name of the owner of each item on the list. So the next week, instead of having the same back-and-forth as the previous week, or claims that I never provided requested info (also happened regularly), I would just keep an email trail with updated action items. Even though I saved all emails with requests, I felt the Action Items list was more professional than forwarding a trail of emails to prove I already did my part.

  37. Mary

    Given only these two examples, I might suspect that colleagues are annoyed at being given orders instead of asked if they can take on these assignments. Is OP in a position to delegate work to people? If not, people might be sending a message by claiming ignorance about the tasks. If OP is allowed to give orders, she should follow up to make sure the message was received. In that case, it would be rude of the people not to acknowledge, but that’s life.

    1. Maggie

      Yeah, these examples sound like OP wanted someone else to do the task, but the other person never agreed to do it!

  38. FJ

    “Cheerful and matter of fact” – That’s a good reminder for me today. So many people not on top of their **** recently that it is so annoying and stressful to feel like I’m the only one that has a clue what’s going on.

  39. Susan1

    Maybe op is being too bossy and these people subconsciously don’t want to do what she is requesting. Maybe she needs to work on getting on the same page with people, maybe talking in person instead of email if needed. Something seems off with the relationships.

  40. gawaine42

    I’m not saying this is your situation, but there are times when someone’s not effectively communicating, even if the words are in an email somewhere. So you can remind them of the situation, but if you’re having things happen on a regular basis, it may mean that you need to learn more about how they communicate.

    I know I’m an emailer and that’s what works for me, but I work with three people who need to be told things on a phone or in person for it to count. I have other people who need to see numbers, or bullet lists, or printed reports. I feel like half my job is figuring out how to meet other people halfway, learning what it means to communicate with them.

    1. Workerbee

      I agree. I’ve worked with people where I swear I have to tell the same thing to them three times in a row before the gleam of understanding appears in their eyes. Others, they want that short and sweet email, don’t even bother with a preamble.

  41. Workerbee

    I have a coworker who changes up how he says he wants to receive communications–after he’s said how he wants to receive them. “Send it to me on an email,” he’ll announce, “or I’ll never see it!”

    Email: *duly sent*
    Him: “Oh, you should just drop in my office. I’ll never see it on email.”

    He even installed a department-wide project management tool where you can tag people and they’ll get alerts and stuff.
    Him: “From now on, use this tool to get ahold of me instead of email!”
    Tool: *duly used*
    Him: “Oh, just send me an email. I’ll never see it in that PM tool.”

    If it weren’t that he were a micromanaging type of person who has to see and approve every little thing, combined with being a terribly busy person who has to see and approve things that aren’t in his purview, this could be more easily bypassed. It’s more amusing now that I’ve moved out of that department!

  42. LadyCop

    Playing dumb works on so-many-levels! Especially when dealing with people who assume you come unprepared, don’t document stuff, or aren’t already a few steps ahead in the “game.”

  43. Janey Doe

    Also have a similar issue with a coworker. I began writing all requests in email (or sending a “just to recap, we discussed xx and agreed xx. Did I summarize that correctly?”) which helped somewhat.

    Recently, I sent an email explaining a task and writing “Can you do A and B only? I am working on C and D so I do not need your help with those.” She wrote back confirming and then sent me C & D. When I asked why she did that instead of A and B, she told me “Oh I thought you were using A and B as examples and wanted me to do C and D, so I did those instead.”

    My current approach is to relax and stop caring so much. It’s still quite irritating (and sometimes generates a lot of rework), but there’s only so much I can do. The paper trail at least protects me if there’s a real issue.

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