my coworker won’t answer my emails

A reader writes:

I have a coworker who very rarely responds to my emails. Maybe 25% of the emails I send her get any response or acknowledgement she read them. I work in manufacturing as an engineer, and she runs inventory, so our paths don’t often cross but I still need her input on certain aspects of my job. Every time we interact in person she has been very helpful, kind, polite etc. Normally it’s just to stock up on pens or something small. However, if I send her an email asking her to run a report for me, or to coordinate a time to walk through a process with me I get total silence. Not even an email that says “Hi – super busy this week – can I get back to you next Tuesday?” I don’t even get responses to emails I send like “Hi, I know you’re busy but I could really use help with X, I don’t know this process as well as you. Let me know if we can get together sometime this week to look it over.”

She works on the opposite side of the building from me, so I will admit that it’s partial laziness that prevents me from walking over to ask her questions, but I also feel that email is a better form of communication for what I need to work on with her — for example, because I might need to send attachments, coordinate a meeting time for when she’s not busy, or simply not interrupt her current task with my questions. I have no problems with other coworkers responding to my emails (they all do), so I don’t think my tone is overly demanding or rude, although maybe I’m wrong?

Obviously my method of stubbornly emailing her and willing a response isn’t working. Should I just start walking over to her desk more often and hope she gets on board with communicating even if it’s more time consuming for me? Should I possibly bring it up to her and ask if there is a better way to communicate?

I am hesitant to bring it up with my boss because he will surely ask me why I haven’t called or walked over more, and I don’t have a great answer other than “her lack of response thus far indicated to me that she doesn’t want to work with me and walking over will probably be annoying her,” nor do I want to sound like a tattletale complaining about a coworker. I’m fairly new (less than a year here) and young (under 30) so I’m trying hard to not step on toes but also I’m still adjusting to my increasing responsibilities, so I will admit I probably am more anxious about this than some, but I could really use help.

Your boss almost definitely will ask why you haven’t tried other methods of communication, or at least tried to talk with your co-worker about how to communicate better.

To be clear, what your co-worker is doing isn’t okay. It’s not okay to routinely ignore questions and requests from colleagues.

But it’s also not ideal that you see the way you’re trying to communicate isn’t working, and that you’re just … doing more of the same. Most managers would rightly expect you to try to address the situation differently — and to try solve the problem yourself before bringing it to them.

That said, the way you’ve been handling this up until now is incredibly common, particularly among 20-somethings. I can’t tell you how often I hear people say something like, “I’ve tried to get ahold of this person four different times but she never gets back to me” — and then it comes out that all four of those attempts were by email and they never tried calling or stopping by the person’s office, even when either of those options would have been easy ways to connect.

The reason we don’t try other methods of communicating is pretty much always because, well, we don’t want to. Email is easy and it’s comfortable, and so many of us stick with that. And I get it: Email is magnificent, and I wish I could conduct my entire business life through it. But when you’re getting clear signs that email is not achieving what you want it to achieve — and you need things from a certain person to get your own work done — you have to try a different approach. (Though if someone works for you and ignores your emails, you can require that person to answer their email.)

You worry your co-worker’s unresponsiveness is a sign that she doesn’t want to deal with you at all … but really, when people ignore work emails, it’s generally because (a) they’re overwhelmed and dealing with higher priorities or (b) they suck at email. It would be really rare for someone to ignore reasonable emails from a colleague as a way of signaling “go away, pest.” The reality is that some people just aren’t on top of email, and may never be.

So, what should you do here?

First, start by asking your co-worker in person, point-blank, if there’s a better way to communicate with her. Say something like, “I don’t always hear back from you when I email you work questions. Is there a better way for me to send those requests? Do you prefer I call or handle it some other way?” (Again: Say this in person, not over email!) This will accomplish two things: Most obviously, it might reveal useful information. Maybe you’ll learn she’s inundated with emails every first week of the month, and if you need to reach her during that period you should call or DM her. At the same time, you’re politely calling her out for not answering you. You communicate that her lack of response is causing problems, and that if she doesn’t reply — if she doesn’t try to help you — she will likely have to face this mildly awkward conversation with you in the future, too. That alone is sometimes enough to nudge people into being more responsive.

Then of course, take her at her word. If she says you’ll have better luck if you call her, then you should start picking up the phone when you need to reach her. Which is annoying if you’re not a phone person, or if email would be more efficient — but getting an actual answer is better than continuing to use a previously unsuccessful method.

Even if she says email is fine and she’s just swamped but will do a better job of getting back to you from now on, you probably still need to start varying your methods of communicating with her. The next time you send an email and she ignores it for a few days, pick up the phone and call her, or stop by her office, or send an instant message — whatever non-email method people use in your office. You can’t prize one particular communication method over the results it gets, just because you prefer it — you’ve got to go with what works. (Meanwhile, you’re certainly entitled to be privately annoyed.)

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 292 comments… read them below }

    1. JokeyJules*

      I deal with this often too.

      Yes, they SHOULD be responding to me via email or X, or Y, or Z, but sometimes I need my answers, no matter how I get them.
      While I definitely wouldn’t do this every time, sometimes you need to just go over to them if it’s that important.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      At my company it’s just the standard to not answer your email. I don’t understand what it is. But a lot of times the person I am emailing is not readily available for me to go get (they are across town, in another building, etc.). It’s so frustrating because half of the time when I have a conversation with anyone, they will claim they never said that or whatever, so I strongly prefer to have the conversation in email. My go to is to email the person, then wait a few days and follow up, and then if I have to follow up again I CC someone else in the email. It’s so irritating but as I said, it’s just the company norm.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I’d say Alison’s advice still applies – maybe start with a phone call, then follow up with an email summarizing what was said.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          This is what I do, especially because often the email chain includes several people that need the answer, so I call, then reply all with a summation of the call so everyone has the information.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        If you can’t get people to respond to email but want the written record, my recommendation is always to send your own email after the conversation that summarizes your takeaway.

    3. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      +1! I deal with this all the time at my work. Sometimes it is a big problem when someone is unresponsive via email and you gotta address that long term, but at the end of the day, I still need to move on and that means finding another way to get what I need.

  1. Mystery Bookworm*

    I gotta say, the headline over at New York Magazine does not seem in line with the content of the letter…

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        That (and the photos) must be an odd aspect of freelance writing! Is it common practice for those things to be run by writers, or do they just get to find out upon publishing?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Depends on the outlet — some do, some don’t. NYMag actually does show me the headlines when they send me the edit, but I just saw this one shortly before it published (and in the interests of candor, didn’t notice it until it was too late).

    1. Velma K*

      Yeah, that was really off-putting. I thought the link was wrong at first because the mismatch was so extreme. It really mischaracterised the letter and I think it’s unfair to the letter writer.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I literally thought there was a second letter because the title had nothing to do with the letter!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I thought there was going to be a line about “I don’t call or walk over because I don’t like to talk to people directly” but then there wasn’t.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        I think it’s unfair to readers too, if they haven’t already read it here. They’ll expect something completely different when they start reading.
        A few times I’ve picked up magazines based on the cover headlines and found those headlines were misleading. I don’t buy those magazines any more. Deliberately misleading readers is not good long-term business!

    2. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. I think the NYMag title is meant to characterize me as a lazy, entitled millennial haha. Whatever gets them clicks I guess. Allison’s advice and the comments have been nothing but kind and helpful so I’m good :)

      1. Natatat*

        That’s unfortunate. Especially with the ‘___’ around the headline – it implies that you said that in your letter, which you didn’t. I appreciate the AAM tends to have really straight forward, fair post titles – they match up with the content of the letters rather than being click bait-y.

    3. Le Sigh*

      Often writers employed full-time by the outlet don’t see the headline before it’s published. A good copy editor is so important and not just for edits. More than once I’ve looked at a headline on a story I wrote and cringed.

    4. Enid*

      In my experience most people who email and email and email some more rather than phoning are, in fact, doing it because they don’t want to try another way. I thought the headline was fine.

  2. Girl from the North Country*

    In addition to Alison’s great advice, one thing that worked for me in situations where I *had* to send an email was to send the email, then immediately walk over to the person and say “I just sent you X email with Y documents. Can you please look it over when you get a chance?”

    In general, I think it’s a good habit to walk up to someone in person (if possible) when they’re unresponsive to email, IM, etc. I used to always sit at my desk wondering what’s taking so long, when my boss started to call me out on it by saying “you know, they sit *right there*, you can just go ask them.” I got what I needed a lot faster, and developed a good rapport with people over time. Eventually everyone knew who I was and vice versa!

    1. Girl from the North Country*

      To be clear, I only walked up to people who I knew to generally be unresponsive or likely to miss my emails. I wouldn’t recommend doing this to everyone or else it will probably come across as annoying after a while lol

      1. EH*

        Oh man, seriously. I’ve worked with people who for some reason insisted on swinging by my desk whenever they sent me email. Often they would say exactly what’s IN the email and/or try to start a conversation about it too, not just “hey, I sent you some important info, please take a look,” or something. GAH.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          There are a lot of possible variations on this, though. I usually do the drop-by when it’s really a question or assignment I wanted to discuss face-to-face, but you need some documents for the discussion. If it’s not time-sensitive, I’d probably leave the details out of the email and ask them to call me when they can rather than stopping by, but that can be annoying, too.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          My team lead at Exjob used to do this–she’d email me something and then call me about it. But she also liked DMs. I liked that better since I was already on the keyboard and didn’t have to hold the phone awkwardly or use the headset.

        3. De Minimis*

          I had a similar issue, except the person would just swing by the desk and not use e-mail at all. They would either do this or call. It would take a lot of additional time both on my end and hers, because I was located on the floor above her.

          Almost every time, these would just be small questions that would have taken a lot less time for everyone if they’d been asked over e-mail. In the case of the phone calls, it was also more difficult to document things/see where the request was on my to-do list.

          Oh well, yet another reason I’m glad I no longer work there, but I run into similar problems with people not reading e-mails [asking me for information that I’d given them over e-mail hours ago…] E-mail is not a new technology, people!

        4. Essess*

          I once had one person that sat 2 aisles away from me. He’d send me the link to a trouble-ticket for me to work on. He would hit send, jump up and run to my desk and ask me what I’d found out about the problem in the ticket so far. I’d notice that the email would arrive while he was standing at my desk so he was giving me literally less than 5 seconds after hitting send before demanding to know the results of my research. I finally snapped at him and asked him how he expected me to have an answer to an issue before his email has even reached me.

        5. boo bot*

          What would you think about reversing the order of operations? If someone stopped by or called to talk, and then followed up with emailing the materials? I feel like having the conversation first would make me feel like less of a nudge.

          1. A. Schuyler*

            My colleagues and I do this regularly where there’s more context or background than we’d reasonably put into an email, or where an early directional answer is helpful but we also need a formal response. It would be annoying if it happened for every email, but sometimes an off-the-record chat really improves outcomes.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            I think it depends. I have done this when it happens organically, say at the end of a meeting, “so, Jane, I’ll get together the draft for this by Friday. I’ll probably need the inventory numbers from you, though, so I’ll email the work-in-progress by Wednesday and let you know what I need.”

            I’ve found it does work well, but I wouldn’t out of nowhere walk over to someone and tell them I’m going to email them a question. That would feel weird and micromanage-ish.

        6. Paquita*

          I asked a manager at work today if she had seen my email. I didn’t know the correct one of her direct reports to send it too and it was time sensitive. Of course, the fact that we were at lunch together had nothing to do with this :)

      2. JokeyJules*

        I have someone who will call my personal cell phone to confirm that I saw their email, except they are dialing my # WHILE hitting send. I’m very responsive over email, so for me it’s annoying and actually slows me down in responding.

        However, we definitely have coworkers who need that call if you ever want to hear back. Definitely pick and choose who you do this to.

        1. Arjay*

          Yes, I had a supervisor who sat about ten feel away from me, would hit send, and then walk over.
          “Hey, I sent you something…” followed by a lot of questions.
          Me: “Ok, you need to let me read this first.”

          1. JokeyJules*

            yeah, whenever she calls i tell her “wow! it literally just appeared in my inbox, give me a minute to read it.”

            Whoosh. must go right over her head.

        2. MatKnifeNinja*

          I’ve seen you’ve met my boss.

          Texts me EMAIL, the hits send, then is tick I don’t have a reponse 30 seconds after he sent the email.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thanks for that. I used to work with someone who would email… then leave voicemail…then show up at my desk…and hang around my doorway to interrupt a meeting.
        She never once waited long enough to learn that I *always* replied to emails by the next morning at the latest.

        She may have done this to others because she wasn’t around very long.

      4. bonkerballs*

        I’m glad you added this caveat – there’s a woman in my office who does this and it drives everyone bonkers. To the point where one of our highers ups told her she’s not allowed to come follow up with him in person after sending him an email until 48 hours have passes.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      I agree, especially if it’s a situation where attachments need to be reviewed.

      And don’t be afraid of phone calls, OP! They can be really way easier than going to see someone in person. Some people are much better at responding to voicemails than emails, for whatever reason.

    3. Liane*

      In this situation, which you and the LW both deal with, I would email, then call/DM and say “I sent you the Dithers Contract by email. Please [Do Job Thing] and get back to me by [deadline.]”

    4. AMT27*

      I sometimes do this too, or follow up immediately with a phone call, just to say “Hey, I just sent an email about X with these attachments, because I need to know Y, let me know once you have a chance to look at it”. I only do this with a small percentage, when its either time-sensitive, or someone that I know won’t look at it for days unless I nudge them first.

    5. Fleur*

      Oh God, there are multiple people at my work who send an email and walk over immediately completely ruining my concentration because they can’t wait for a response.

      “Did you get my email? Did you see my email?”

      It is the absolute worst, especially because I reply to everything within 1-2 hours. Please don’t do this to your coworkers that do work requiring concentration/heavy analysis.

    6. Undine*

      Actually, there are people I always mention give a verbal heads up about emails. Those are people who I know have a ton of emails and just may not see my email if they don’t know it’s coming. Our office is small enough that I just wait until I run into them. I tell them I sent an email or I will be sending an email and we’re good.

      I would also ask her for Slack or IM info, and send a quick heads by IM and a longer message by email.

    7. Michaela Westen*

      In my office, it’s text. Send an email, then send a text telling them about the email so they’ll look for it.

  3. JHunz*

    Stupid question maybe, but is OP absolutely sure they are emailing the right address for that person? Because sometimes you end up with an address book with two Cerseis, and you email the one that’s been retired a year instead of the one that still works there, and then you hit Tab to autofill that address forever…

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I was really wondering this, too. It seems like a hell of a lot of ignored requests from someone whose job is to fulfill requests.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That was my first thought. We don’t even know if the co-worker is getting the OP’s emails.

    3. Email Loving Newbie*

      I do have the correct email, I wish it was that haha. I get a response over email maybe 25% of the time from her, so I know that she gets them.

      Allison’s advice seems on point for the correct course of action though.

        1. Email Loving Newbie*

          If I need something urgently, I will either find a way to get the information myself (looking through different folders on the system etc) or ask someone who’s been here for 8+ years who has dealt with that topic before if they know enough to get me by.

          Sometimes, because half my projects are “continuous improvement” and not directly related to a customer etc, they can wait. There’s really only two key projects I need to collaborate with her about, but they’re both time consuming on her end and not urgent on my end – just would be useful to complete. I think my other problem is that these projects really excite me, and so I want her fully on-board to do it well, which makes it harder to be pulling teeth and I default to waiting for the “green light” from her.

          I have plenty on my plate and my manager is happy with my performance, so thankfully waiting on these projects isn’t causing any issues. If it were, I think I would be acting differently.

          1. LCL*

            This. This is the crux of it. The projects are ‘time consuming on her end and not urgent on my end’. She is ignoring the requests from you that require a lot of time, such as a walk through or running a report. Inventory management is one of neverending jobs so on paper there never is a better time. She is prioritizing her tasks the best way she can, which conflicts with your business needs. Just start asking her in person when you need to schedule something. Since she is more comfortable meeting with you in person, do that. If her job was specifically to support you things would be different.

            1. Oof*

              Completely agree with LCL! Also, since you can get the answers from other sources, she may know that as well, and so it goes down in the priority list. Enough time passes, and poof!

              I’ve also forwarded things on to others, delegating questions that just are not on my priority list. That’s “done” for me, unless it’s critical, I don’t follow up. I wonder if that is occasionally happening here?

              1. Isotopes*

                “I’ve also forwarded things on to others, delegating questions that just are not on my priority list.”

                Absolutely. I’ve been at this organization for a long time and I know the answers to a lot of questions. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to answer them. It could be that it’s a question I’ve answered before for this person; or the information is available elsewhere; or sure, I know the answer to that, but it hasn’t been my job to answer those kinds of questions for 5 years, so maybe ask the person who’s actually in that role now.

                OP, you mention “If I need something urgently, I will either find a way to get the information myself (looking through different folders on the system etc),” so I would recommend that you always make that your first step rather than your last resort. It’s easier for you to just ask someone who probably knows the answer, I get that. But if it’s available to you elsewhere, you also have a responsibility to do that digging BEFORE requesting the information.

                1. Someone Else*

                  I think a little bit this depends. I mean, I am absolutely all for if you have a way to figure it out yourself, do that. But if the company has set it up that these two are intended to collaborate on this (even if it’s not highest priority) and if OP asking the CW would require less than a minute for the CW to respond but OP digging up the answer herself takes 4 hours, or something similarly way disproportionate, then you know, yay finding the answer, but it was still a reasonable go-to to ask the CW in the first place. That’s so significantly more efficient. If these were things OP were expected to know or learn herself, or could readily look up, then absolutely that should be the first step instead. But it does depend on the proportions. And I do think it’s still not great of the CW to just ignore it. If I know someone can look something up and I don’t have time to help them, I tell them sorry look here, I gotta do my other work. Or I say I can get back to you in a week, will that work? I don’t just not respond for weeks on end. Ignoring it completely is rude.

      1. your favorite person*

        Regarding not liking phone calls (I get it) my advice is type up a script/bulletpoints before calling. That can help if the person is prickly or not friendly or whatever. If I’m afraid I won’t use the correct language it can really help to just see it written so I will remember the pertain info.

        1. Email Loving Newbie*

          OP here! thank you!

          I do this when the call feels *very important* like Big Teapot Company CTO , or when I have done phone interviews in the past. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to do it for less important but still angsty workplace phone calls.

    4. Amber Rose*

      This has happened to other people with my email twice. For the longest time, I was on some non-profit’s internal mailing list after selling them a thing, and I was getting like, congrats for promotions and other successes for a different Amber who actually worked there. I eventually had to send a bunch of emails saying please delete my email. I feel bad for this other Amber who thinks nobody cares about her.

      Also a coworker kept complaining that her emails never got through to me, but she was emailing some random Amber not even at our company. :/

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I had a coworker who would send me email at my personal gmail address about 25% of the time. It was the address I had used to apply for the job, and she never noticed when she was doing it; she would just start typing my name and let the autofill take over from there.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Sooo annoying. My boss does this often enough that I’ve set up a forwarding rule in my Gmail account to route anything from him to my actual work email, since there’ve been multiple times where he’s asked “Hey, did you do [thing] yet?” and I’m like “Uh…what [thing] now?” because he’s sending stuff to my “professional personal” gmail, not my actual main email, and I don’t bother to check that inbox unless I’m looking for jobs. So I wouldn’t necessarily see his email for awhile.

          And then my former manager just did the same thing yesterday and again today. It’s new for her, though, so I pointed it out and she’s going to keep an eye on it.

    5. Rainy*

      Our OIT won’t let me have the logical email alias for a really ridiculous and infuriating reason, and I sometimes get phone calls from people who are irate that I haven’t responded to an email I never got, whereupon I say “did you send it to [email address]?” and they are always like “No, I sent it to [not my email address]” and I’m just like “please use the one on the website/my card/my ppt contact slide/in the online directory, if you use anything else it won’t reach me because it’s not my email”.

      On the other hand, I had a report some years ago who never responded to email. She was persistently weeks or a month behind, and a lot of the stuff I needed to send her had to be emailed because of the attachments, so I’d hit send, pick up the phone, call her, and say “I just sent you a thing and I need it back by 2:30”. I could not get her to understand that she needed to respond to her emails, needed to read them in a timely fashion, and if she wouldn’t do either of those, to at least check before responding to something 3 weeks old that we hadn’t solved it without her 2.9 weeks previous to her response. There was a re-org and I lost that team to another department and have never, ever been sorry about it.

      I had occasion to email her several months ago to ask for some information and her OOO was on, per uzh, and she responded about 3 weeks later, after I’d already gotten the answer from someone else. Ridiculous, but she’s someone else’s problem now!

      1. MassMatt*

        Why does she still have a job? There was a reorganization and the person who is unresponsive, or responds WEEKS later, after the horse has left the barn, is STILL working there? You didn’t put her on a PIP? All you can say is she’s someone else’s problem now? Wow. Sounds like a very dysfunctional organization.

  4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I have to wonder if she’s on a computer as frequently as you are…the jobs in my experience are different amounts of computer facing time. She’s probably not trained well or bad at emails…I see that in production staff. They are focused on their jobs. If you speak to them, they’re fantastic. In writing. Not so much.

    You need to adjust a bit. Meet her halfway. It’s not good to expect others to just adjust to your preferences when you note you can walk over or call. Seriously. Call. I hate phones and email 98% of the time. The 2% is for those who don’t respond well to written correspondence!

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      That was my first thought. I don’t spend a lot of time sitting at a desk…the only work I do at a computer is write charts. I don’t do much communication by email at my current job so I rarely check it during the work day. It could be a day or two before I answer an email.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      This was my thought too – people in manufacturing often aren’t at their desks on a regular basis.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Especially running inventory! She’s probably active a lot. Counting and stocking. Whereas an engineer is at their device twice as much if not more, depending on their exact focus.

        If she were IT or accounting, I would be more likely to assume she’s just bad at keeping up with the flow.

    3. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. I think we’re both at our desks maybe 50% of the time. It is very common in manufacturing not to sit down, so I have a good idea of my other coworkers if they’re desk job people, floor job people or always stuck in meeting people.

      With this specific coworker, her computer is in the inventory space, so she’s always there if not specifically at her desk. In the past I just felt really guilty interrupting her while she’s counting or stocking, since I feel very invasive in her work space, but I should probably get over that to communicate more in person and hope she says “hey after 3 today I will be done with X and we can talk about Y”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank you for the confirmation.

        I’m also in manufacturing/production previously as ops management and now as an accountant/gm advisor.

        You have to interrupt people and you’ll want to become more comfortable with it. I’ve been interrupted my entire career and had to get used to it.

        If you’re counting, you toss a block up where you left off and scribble your count down when someone needs you.

        Stocking can easily be left for a bit unless you’re in perishables!

        She probably gets very few emails and checks only sporadically. Or perhaps a filter is incorrectly set! I had all my old coworkers funneled to the wrong folder and I missed quite a few before finding them and fixing it. I’m IT savvy though. Others would never notice.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          When I worked in retail my manager noticed I’m good with things like counting and assigned me to keep track of inventory.
          I also had to wait on customers. Every 2 minutes, a customer would come while I was counting. I learned to mark everything as I counted/did it, so I could be interrupted at any time.

  5. High Score!*

    When I have to send a second email, I cc my boss and their boss. Solves the problem every time.

    1. Mr. X*

      This is what I do too. If I have to send a third. I’ll forward on the second e-mail so they can see every single e-mail that was missed in the entire chain.

      1. communication is not a one way street*

        Do you or High Score! ever pick up a phone? A whole SECOND email before you escalate? WOW.

        1. High Score!*

          I prefer to communicate via email so when someone comes back and says “we agreed to….” And that wasn’t the outcome, I can forward the email and there it is. I’m an engineer, I like to have things in B&W. Also, my managers don’t mind bc conversations in phone and person don’t have any CYA protections.

          1. Liane*

            You can get it your B&W CYA protections with a followup email.
            Step 1: Have phone convo.
            Step 2: compose email, *with only colleague’s name in TO field*. “Per our call on 1/8/19, we agreed that the Dagwood Report would be finalized by COB on 1/30/19.”
            Step 3: Click send.

            Cons: takes 30 seconds, maybe.
            Pros: Your coworkers like you better. Your boss doesn’t ding you on your eval for Not Being a Team Player, Unable to Solve Minor Problems, & Annoying Her and Other Managers.

        2. MLB*

          I used to work with a developer who NEVER responded to my emails unless I CCd his boss when I sent it. Some people are assholes who can’t be bothered with helping you or doing their job. And email provides a hard copy for future reference, where as a phone or in-person conversation turns into a he said, she said situation, so you can turn down the friggin snark.

        3. ENFP in Texas*

          It depends on a few things.

          * Whether the request is urgent.
          * Whether the co-worker has a habit of not responding to email requests.
          * Whether or not there needs to be a written trail to document the request and responses.

      2. drowning in email*

        This is a poor way to solve this problem. Yes it gets you what you want. But it ruins your relationship with the person you are emailing.

        I work in an office where I get over 100 emails a day. And email is not my main job function. When I get the emails you describe above, copying bosses, it says that you don’t respect my partnership or my time.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Especially be careful if you’re asking me a non-urgent or, frankly, stupid question. And note that people with little self awareness are rarely able to identify that they’re bugging me and then doubling down and bugging me harder, over something they should be able to solve themselves … (of course I should still have answered their stupid question sooner, but by ccing my boss, you’re usually just causing BOTH of us to shake our heads at you).

            1. irene adler*

              In general, yes. However, we don’t know the history here regarding those whom Mr. X and High Score! must communicate with. There may be something that warrants this in their situations that hasn’t been communicated.

            2. Mimi Me*

              A coworker on a completely different team used to cc: her boss as well as mine for ALL interaction. She was a team lead so there was little room for me to say “hey! cut this out!” I wasn’t upset when her location closed and she was let go. I may have actually done a little “woo-hoo” for which I immediately felt a bit guilty about, but not too guilty. Her emails made it on to my review this year. My boss said that I need to be more prompt about getting back to people so that she wasn’t included on emails and cited several examples that were all from that person. I’m still upset about it!

              1. Jadelyn*

                Did you explain to your boss that this person hadn’t even tried to talk to you directly before including the boss?

            3. MassMatt*

              I think people who ignore email repeatedly, regarding significant issues, should gain self awareness. Email is a major part of most business communication, people need to deal with it.

              Yes there are people who ask stupid time wasting questions via email, even then the better case is to respond with something like “I don’t have time for this” or “check The documentation before emailing me” etc vs ignoring.

              I was surprised it took this long for “cc the person’s manager” to come up and am surprised there is so much pushback on it. I would not use it as a first or second resort but it’s certainly a useful option. How the person asking for information should be branded “not a team player” vs the person who doesn’t respond to email is beyond me.

          1. NW Mossy*

            As a boss, I have near-immediate side-eye when an individual contributor in another area emails one of my team members and cc’s me with the very clear implication of “now your boss knows I want Thing, so hop to, dude!” on a matter that does not appear to be mission-critical. It’s needlessly antagonistic towards the person on the other end, and I don’t generally appreciate being told that it’s time for me to bring the hammer. It’s my team, and I’m the one deciding if this is a hammer or screwdriver situation.

            That said, it rarely happens twice because the first time, I’ll pick up the phone and call the individual contributor to discuss it, usually with some version of “if you need something moved up the priority list, please reach out to me directly so that I know why it’s urgent and can realign workloads within my team.” If it’s truly an escalated issue, I can better understand the impact on our customer; if it’s not, it gently puts that person on notice that I’m going to ask them to explain their part in the situation before I decide to give my employee negative feedback.

            Apparently, passive-aggressive emailers dislike this approach of mine enough that they stop doing it. I wonder why…..

            1. MassMatt*

              I am curious if you have ever been told the reason someone is cc’ing you is because they have tried x times to get info from someone on your team (maybe on this issue, maybe on a prior one with the same team member), and if so, do you follow up with your report. Maybe you are an awesome manager that backs up your team, but I wonder are you sending a message that other departments should not cc you unless they want to call you personally.

        2. Mystery Bookworm*

          Plus I’m not sure it always solves the problem. I used to work with a woman who pulled this fairly often, and I think she felt it helped prioritize her requests. Except…it didn’t. I ended up switching to the team she did this with, and saw that her tickets were handled with the same speed as everyone else’s.

          I’m not opposed to cc’ing bosses (sometimes they need to be looped in) but there also needs to be an understanding that your urgent priorities aren’t everyone’s urgent priorities.

          And you really don’t want to send the message that you’re the sort of person who will escalate at the drop of a hat. Frankly, I’m skeptical this practice made her look good to higher-ups.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            “And you really don’t want to send the message that you’re the sort of person who will escalate at the drop of a hat. ”

            That’s the reputation one of my coworkers has, that she’ll escalate minor items at the drop of a hat. I was taken aback the first time she cc’d my boss on an email to me, but my boss called me aside and explicitly told me not to worry about him being cc’d on emails like that from her, and then we both rolled our eyes at her . . .

        3. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          As a supervisor, my knee- jerk reaction on an email I’m cced on is to a) determine whether the question needs input from me specifically and if not, b) ignore it.
          My team knows my expectations on responsiveness and I know if they haven’t responded they either hadn’t seen the initial email or had to track down information.
          I do not have the time or desire to micromanage that, thanks.

        4. Cat Fan*

          If I don’t get a response, I follow up by email once and a phone call the next time. Pulling in the bosses every time you do not get an immediate response must be really off-putting to them. Sometimes people see an email and then forget to respond or think they’ve already responded, or they just don’t see the original email. I’ve done it myself.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oooh, I would not be pleased if someone I managed did that with every follow-up email (and in fact would ask you not to). Not a good use of my time, not good for your relationships with coworkers, and makes it look like you don’t have the skills to address this stuff yourself.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          I think this is highly dependent on their boss, though- I recently asked someone for help with a project who CC’ed their supervisor on every email they sent me- and we were responding to one another within a couple minutes, and the email chain is probably 40 emails long. I can’t imagine they’d be doing that if their supervisor didn’t want them to- I did find it extremely off-putting even so!

          1. Rebecca*

            Yes, I used to have a middle management job where my boss insisted that I copy him on every single email I ever sent to one of my reports. It made them quite nervous! This constant cc’ing was unusual for our organization, and nobody ever figured out why he wanted it. Eventually he moved to a different team, and his replacement put a stop to the practice.

          2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            Yeah. My boss is pretty good at not micromanaging on most things, but this is one area where she is a major micro-manager. She always asks me to CC her on follow ups (and lots of other things too). It actually makes me feel like I have an overlord of my emails and I worry that it comes across to recipients that I’m not confident in my decisions/authority. But my boss has asked for it, so I do it.

          3. Teapot project manager*

            I had a boss who wanted us to copy him on emails. He was not a micromanager, he had rules set up to file the emails by client/project and told us if we needed him to actually step in and do something to ping him and let him know he needed to read what was being sent.

            The reason he asked to be copied is so if there was an issue that had to be escalated later, or if we were out of the office and something came up he would have the whole history and could get himself up to speed

    2. Sleepytime Tea*

      That can come across as really antagonistic though. Not answering my emails? Well I’ll go straight to your boss then! I think that’s only appropriate once you’ve tried to work through communication issues using different techniques and it’s still an issue. At that point I talk to my boss, let them do their boss thing, and ask if they would like me to copy them on follow up communications when I am having issues getting a response.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Also depends on the nature of the request. If you need some production info on a certain deadline, maybe. If you’re asking for help (a favor, especially) or if you’re just trying get a future non urgent date on the calendar, CCing her boss is a real escalation, and you’d probably sour the relationship.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Wow. Maybe do that on the 4th email, after you’ve tried in-person and phone contact with no success, but cc’ing someone’s boss isn’t usually a great way to build a relationship with someone. Plus my direct boss is over 45 people, very busy, and slow to respond himself. I doubt he will respond to your email, either.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I guess the exception in my personal operating rules would be if there is a time-sensitive issue, but I wouldn’t CC the boss, I’d address it to her and CC the first recipient. “Jane, I sent this to Susan, but I haven’t heard back and haven’t been able to reach her directly. Can you provide a response?”

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Yes. For me it’s almost always about the presure on the issue. I will cc’ bosses though. Not to pull rank, or get anyone in trouble, but because some sensitive issues my boss has requested to be looped in on.

          This may vary depending on workplace culture, but in my experience those threads often end-up with a handful of higher-ups cc’ed. Again, not based on WHO is being e-mailed, but based on what the e-mail is about — so management has real time insight into the progress (and is free to jump in if they’d like) and so people can see the involvement of higher-ups. (After all it’s often useful to know if the project you’re working on is being carefully scrutinized.)

      2. Czhorat*

        Yes. Looping in their boss (with the original email in the string) and a header that says “SECOND REQUEST” is an escalation. At some point you may have to, but it’s better to try the softer touch first.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. This is not how internal communications should work. You’re not as important as you think you are.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        This is exactly the risk you run, I think. What to you is an urgent time sensitive request might be legitimately lower in priority to the organization as a whole, and you seem naive if you don’t recognize this – which is what jumping to the higher-ups indicates. Now you want the senior director of whatever to drop everything and handle your issue … it better be a legitimate fire.

    5. Mystery Bookworm*

      This should be done carefully, I think.

      Especially if this coworker is more senior than OP, it might be OP’s responsiblity to be more accomodating in how they request info, and in that case this move can run the risk of looking high maintenance.

    6. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. We’re a very small company. Her boss is the president and he’s not a fan of being added to other emails not directly related to his job.

      At my previous job (Fortune 50 company) I would certainly employ this tactic because everyone had maybe 3 people above them on the chain. I think it works for some company cultures.

      1. High Score!*

        When I first started working here at Fortune 100 company, NO email was ever answered unless at least 3 managers were cc’d. That has calmed down a lot and coworkers know I don’t email fluff and I will escalate bc my time is important too.

    7. Parenthetically*

      Wow, holy crap, tattling on me to my boss because you had to send a second email is SUCH a nuclear option that it’s really going to change our working relationship going forward. It might “solve the problem” but it also makes you look like someone with no sense of what’s important to bring to a boss, and who is incapable of addressing concerns with his/her peers.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Seriously – that behavior immediately puts you on my “minimize interactions with” list, and I’m sure as hell not going to be willing to bust my ass to help you out. I’ve actually got a coworker like that and my whole team cringes when we have to interact with her, because inevitably she’s going to turn something or other into An Issue and cc our VP on it and try to make it look like we’re not doing our jobs. Most of the time it’s about something we already took care of or already answered her question on.

        In those situations, I take great pleasure in forwarding her emails I’d already sent her and saying “per my email on [date], [answer to your question that I’ve already answered].”

        And I very much do keep the VP on the cc line on those emails. She wants to play like that, fine. Let’s play.

    8. The Other Dawn*

      Maybe this is a “know your company/culture” thing, but that seems like the nuclear option. Maybe if I’ve had to email someone three times and also called them I’d do that, or if it was something time-sensitive and I’m not getting a response. But giving someone only one chance seems extreme.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It’s definitely a know your culture thing. At my office, it would be entirely routine to CC immediate managers on ignored emails — but we’re also in a position where alternatives to email are often not practical (spread out among multiple sites prevents checking in in person, some teams are by design not reachable by phone, etc) and deadlines can be quite sensitive.

        Generally speaking, in my office the escalation goes first request, second request with requestor’s manager CCed, third request with requestor and requestee’s managers both CCed. If you’re ignoring emails, you’re the problem.

      2. Email Loving Newbie*

        OP again. Yes yes yes to company culture. At my previous job I knew people who would not do ANYTHING unless their boss directly asked them too, so the best way to get the boss to give them as task as to CC them. I will add that my previous job was very toxic and few people actually enjoyed their job. Sometime it sucks that that’s what we had to do.

        It’s not a tactic I would employ at my current job, but want to acknowledge that it may be needed in some contexts for some people, so it’s not terrible advice flat-out.

    9. LQ*

      I used to work with someone who would do that. Their boss was my boss’s boss (at the time) and OOOH BOY! Did he not like that. Especially when he’d stop by my desk and I’d point out that nearly all of the time I’d already dealt with the issue. You darn well better be right and willing to antagonize your coworkers if you’re going to do that because that person used to be my coworker for a reason.

    10. byebiscus*

      Someone tried this on me so I did it for her. At the advice of my boss’ boss I copied him and my direct boss on my reply asking her if she lost her login to monitor her own account. She tried to get me in trouble, and wound up having to be spoken with by her boss.

  6. BlueWolf*

    I have a few people who are not very responsive to email, or who respond to emails by calling or stopping by my desk. I’ll admit I hate calling or stopping by for most things, but it’s mainly because I’m in Accounting, so I actually do need things in writing most of the time for audit purposes.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That internal processing red tape would kill me. I am the accounting department and verbal communication is just as good as written more often than not. If it has to be written approval, the response is “I need it in writing, please send that in an email, thank you.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

  7. Marie*

    Also, and I don’t know if it’s true in this case, many people in OP’s age group are not great at writing emails! (I am in this group too.) If an email is a long block of text it can be overwhelming for the recipient, and easier to put in the “get-to-it-later” pile. Tweaking your emails to be short, clear, and actionable (i.e. highlight or bold your question or request! be upfront!) can do wonders for response rate. Ask a trusted coworker to read over a few samples and suggest changes.

    1. Sleepytime Tea*

      I am quite verbose lol. I have to edit my e-mails before I send them. I’ll write something out that is a big ol’ block of text or multiple paragraphs and then I will edit it and start putting things in bullet points and things like that. I also try to follow the reading pane rule (the vast majority of your e-mail should fit in the Outlook reading pane, else it is too long) and the rule of always putting your ask in the first sentence or two. ESPECIALLY when e-mailing super busy people and higher ups, this all goes a long way to making sure you get responses instead of “this looks like it will take forever, I’ll come back to it later” and then they never get back to it.

    2. KHB*

      When I was first starting out, my boss taught me a three-paragraph structure for emails: First paragraph states the general purpose of the request, second paragraph fills in details, third paragraph states the action item. And the action item should be as simple as possible, e.g., “Are you available to answer some questions about X?” rather than listing all the questions right off the bat. It’s generally gotten me good results.

      1. CeeDee*

        You’re very lucky. As college kid in the 2000s, I’ve nearly always had computer accessibility. I’ve noticed that people think of email as a casual way to talk, almost like text messages or any other messaging service. So oftentimes, the request or desired information is lost, because it is not effectively communicated.

        1. KHB*

          Effective workplace communication – by email or any other channel – is a learned skill. Nobody’s born knowing how to do this stuff.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        To be honest, I’d say three sentences with this structure might be a better rule of thumb than three paragraphs.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Each sentence is its own paragraph. Newspapers do this a lot. It makes it clear that these are 3 separate and equally important Things.

          And I have a couple of rules-of-thumb: ONE question per email. And if an email needs to be long, I build in section heads like “Background” and “Current Situation” and the first line says “This email is long; please read to the end”. I also make my purpose clear, because a progress report doesn’t need a response, while an actual question does.

          Basically, I don’t just throw data at a person and expect them to interpret it the same way I would. I give them *information*, and have the data to support it if they need to ask.

      3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I think this is a little too much and in the wrong order. If 3 paragraphs are necessary (generally not), then it would be executive summary, action, then background info/details.

        I’ve taught my team to use bullet points. If you can’t get across what you need or what info you are trying to convey in bullet points, it’s too long anyway and nobody is going to read it. You should be talking or scheduling a meeting.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I have heard, “bottom line up front.” Put the specific request and deadline in the first sentence.

        2. KHB*

          I know a lot of people do it that way, but I still like the way we do it. It feels a lot more like corresponding collegially and less like we’re barking orders at each other. I guess it’s a know-your-office-culture kind of thing.

          Of course, very simple requests might not require the full three paragraphs. For example, “Good morning Jane. Can you please send me a pdf of last month’s TPS report? Thanks, KHB” would work just fine, because I ask Jane for TPS reports all the time, and she already knows why I need them, so I don’t have to explain the details each time.

      4. irene adler*

        I do the reverse.
        I state right up front what I need from the reader.
        Then I explain why and include details, keeping things as brief and concise as possible. Bullet points if necessary.

        My reader explained to me that he’s normally not interested in why I need something. Hates having to plow through paragraphs to get to the request. Doesn’t want to hear the details either.

        Garnered a lot of cooperation from this method.

        1. DArcy*

          The college essay rule works well for business communication: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and them tell them what you told them.”

          Introduction with one summary, body paragraphs succinctly explaining each point with supporting facts, concluding resummary.

    3. EH*

      I’ve found this to be the case as well! Being concise and having any questions standing out on their own lines gets better response rates, IME. I sometimes use bullet lists as well. Brevity and white space are your friends with these folks.
      I loathe calling and am hesitant around stopping by, so I’ve spent my time in tech honing my reader-friendly email skills to make sure I don’t have to. :)

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes, I get a lot of emails at my job, and someone who sends me a long multi-paragraph list of questions – especially a mix of urgent/time sensitive and not – always has to wait longer for me to get the answers to each one of them (often while I double check with others, trying to find the info online, etc). If you have one urgent question, putting it in as simple a form as possible, and ideally framing it as yes/no question (Is it this or this? is the date this?) is one I will try to reply to first and get it off my desk.

  8. Namelesscommentator*

    I’ve started making phone calls for these kinds of things. Even just to give a heads up the email is on its way. I also find that it helps build more personal working relationships than email with people you don’t see often.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I was puzzled that OP did not mention phone calls AT ALL as an option (?) until the very last sentence. I’d usually say you should go to phone calls after email, BEFORE walking over to their desk. Walking to the desk is a rather aggressive option IMO, although of course it has its place. You’d better actually need that info on a deadline to do that.

      1. Ellen*

        At my workplace, you would just airily state that you were just “getting in your steps” when you stop in. I work at a hospital that basically pays us 200$ a year for tracking healthy activities.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Yeah, here if you’re on the same floor, stopping by is seen as more congenial than phoning. If you’re on a different floor, either is acceptable. Though with some people stopping in will get you brownie points. (With others they’ll wonder why you didn’t just call, and “I was on your floor anyway” will work.)

    2. Michaela Westen*

      If they pick up the phone…
      I tried to work with someone who didn’t answer emails, pick up her phone, or return voicemails. I had forgotten about her, until a manager included me in a discussion with her.
      Of course, she always answers if the manager is cc’d. Now we know what to do to get answers…

  9. in a fog*

    OP, if you follow Alison’s advice and your coworker says that email really is the best way to get in touch, then I would start adding more specific language to help them triage your messages. Doing something like “Action Needed” in the subject line or giving a deadline for when you need that report could make a difference. It sounds like they just have too much to sift through, and if all of your requests come in sounding like they’re the same priority, then they might just seem like noise to them.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      When you can, it’s nice to say something like, “I need an answer on this by Tuesday at 3 to get back to Jim. If I don’t hear from you before then, I’m going to … (use X number as your best guess, send out the draft without this person’s edits, whatever).”

      1. Blue*

        I was going to suggest something like this. Or even more subtle, like, “If you don’t get a chance to get back to me this week, no problem – I’ll just swing by your office Monday morning to discuss. Thanks!” If she would really prefer that you stick to email and not show up in her office and interrupt her, she may be motivated to get back to you before you appear in person. I once worked with a woman who was very motivated to keep people from bugging her irl, so these subtle deadlines worked wonders!

        In general, though, I think OP needs to reconsider the notion that email is the faster/more efficient mode of communication here. If this person doesn’t reply by email, OP then has to keep track of whether or not she’s replied, how long it’s been and whether she should try again, put projects on hold while she waits for the coworker to weigh in, etc. If the coworker proves to be more helpful in person or over the phone, it’s much faster to skip straight to those approaches. And even if it’s more annoying for OP to do it that way, it will likely balance out with the decreased irritation with her coworker!

    2. Mockingjay*

      I swear by subject lines. I use the same basic few for consistency.

      For your Action: Teapot Handle Order Due Wed 9 Jan
      For your Signature: Spout Breakage Report
      Request for Info: Glaze Types, Need by 11 Jan

      While initially seeming abrupt, succinct email titles really help the recipient locate and prioritize your email quickly. The body of the email can be more casual and conversational, of course.
      I also follow up with a phone call or an in-person meet to confirm deadlines and provide more details.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        And yet I so often hear that people didn’t look at my subject! If my subject is “Meeting January 12th at 10AM,” I better be sure to include the date and time again in the body, or else I’m sure to get three emails asking me that or telling me I left it out!

  10. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Are you sure you are supposed to request things through her email? She may be conflict avoidant or fed up or some other reason, not necessarily with you, but anyone who doesn’t “FOLLOW PROTOCOL.” Are you supposed to request supplies through an order form? Are you supposed to schedule training through a program? Just things to check because it’s better to come from the “I tried everything” than the “I don’t know where to start” place.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      I was new and didn’t know how to order something. I emailed the purchasing person. It was ignored. I was aggravated but not long after that, I found out the proper ordering procedure. No supplies were ever messed up/ignored again. (Yes, a form, routed from another person was technically the procedure.) It would be cool if they immediately told the person the ropes but I think in my case, the person was 1. Swamped with work 2. Doesn’t ever take it upon herself to explain things without explicitly being asked.

      I have started asking people who are prone to seemingly ignore an email, in the email if they prefer I do something differently. It’s gotten good responses. It gives them a “go ahead” to correct me…so many folks are conflict avoidant and even correcting someone with “please deliver a XYZ form to proceed” is too much for them.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Thanks, I was hoping this was a thing. I don’t want OP to see this as a criticism but honestly just a “thing you have to deal with” when you need some people. And everyone just knows and doesn’t bother to tell the new guy!

    2. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. Thanks for the input. In addition to speaking with her in person, I will look into protocols I may be missing / only know partially.

      1. Cathie from Canada*

        But also realize that her behaviour is causing you problems and wasting your time. So it isn’t entirely on you to fix this, it’s on her too. While you can certainly start out lower-key, it may ultimately be necessary to throw your own weight around a little, and to tell her and maybe also her supervisor that YOU prefer to use emails so she just has to deal with them in a more professional manner. Other suggestions: don’t make your emails too long, two or three sentences at most, and in the first sentence state the deadline for your request — ie “By Jan XX, I will need you to send me a printout of the…..” or “This contract needs to be issued by Friday Jan XX” . If she is really as busy as you think, she will appreciate immediate information.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          You make it sound like OP has weight to throw around.

          Anyone who complained that someone wouldn’t email but didn’t try other forms of communication first to try out those for size would be taken down a few pegs in every company I’ve been within. So please don’t encourage “throwing weight around” and putting deadlines on someone who isn’t even in your department.

          This is here department wars happen.

          1. LQ*

            Well and sometimes you’re wrong about that too. I was working with someone for a little while who thought that their stuff was SUPER important and they always had deadlines on stuff and they would email multiple times with urgent flags and deadlines and tell me who they reported to and how important their work was (aka throw their weight around). But I knew something they didn’t, that their department is so small and nearly meaningless that if you were to try to push that weight upward at all they’d get crushed. So they tried to throw it around with people who didn’t know (and it worked, a lot). But yeah, I’d not deal with an email until a couple days later because I knew it wasn’t as important as they thought it was.

            Luckily their boss is reigning that behavior in quite well at this point and they are improving a lot. But beware of throwing weight around because you might turn out to be a lot lighter than you think you are.

            1. Cathie from Canada*

              Sorry, I guess “throwing weight” wasn’t the right phrase. I was concerned that OP was perhaps too willing to accept all the blame herself for the communication problem. In a larger organization, it has been my observation that existing administrative staff can sometimes get into the habit of treating new people dismissively — they act like they can’t be bothered getting to know another new person nor will they volunteer to help that person integrate into their workplace. So I think it can be worthwhile for a new person to push back a little (polite and friendly, yes, but also assertive) against being treated like this. Basically, it makes the point that the new person won’t tolerate being ignored.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I was suggesting this also because Alison has taught me over the years how much more awesome you look when you can say, I’m having a problem getting X from Bob. I tried this and this. Am I missing something?

  11. Jay*

    I wouldn’t stop emailing your initial requests. I’m always suspicious of people who prefer in person or over the phone, it means there’s no audit trail of what’s being asked for.

    But I would speak to them about why you’re not getting a response.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      While I prefer email myself and like having things in writing for back-up, some things are actually faster and easier to discuss in person or on the phone. You can potentially resolve the question then and there, rather than a series of back and forth emails.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Also depends on the person’s role. If they’re on their feet all day somewhere else, insisting that everything be done in writing means that it can only get done during the 30 minutes they’re sitting down at their desk. For accounting info or similar it’s a safer assumption that both sides of the convo are likely at their desks most of the time.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m suspicious of those who don’t trust others and assume malicious intent. Not everyone needs a paper trail so you can pass the blame when you don’t have a report in time.

      You can document things easily on your own. A lot of “per Nancy” notes when you want to have a trail of why this is how it is.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        “pass the blame when you don’t have a report in time” … ooh, I just had a flashback to an old coworker. Always insisted on getting every little thing in writing, always insisted it was necessary for an audit (?) but never seemd to be actually audited – yep, just wanted to have CYA for every little thing, and it sent a bad message to everyone, like “I’m hoping to throw you under the bus if I can.”

        1. Lis*

          I had a coworker who would email a request and then come to me to discuss it and if it would take a lot of time and effort on their side or would require approval would just say “don’t bother with it” then when it wasn’t done and got noticed would go “oh I asked Lis to do it, see mail” this happened exactly twice before i started sending mails saying “as per our discussion I do not need to work on this right now”

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Not as much malicious intent as a lot gets lost in translation. Especially after a few days have passed since the request. I’d rather have something in writing than have the other person (or myself!) go, “Ooohhhh, you mean you wanted me to do A by last Friday? I took you to mean that you needed B, C, and E by next Tuesday.”

    3. Lynca*

      I think it’s a pretty far reach that everyone that prefers a different form of communication is up to no good. My experience is that there are just differences in communication styles. I deal with a lot of people who just pick up the phone to tell me something rather than email me. I also deal with people that will avoid in person meetings/phone conversations like the plague.

      They’re all valid forms of communication and no one is inherently better than the other.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I agree big picture, but would also argue that is actually wrong to avoid the phone out of personal preference when that would be clearer and more straightforward than long complicated email chains. I’d say that each form of communication has it’s place and we all have conversational tendencies but that there’s a proper place for each.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          I feel like I’m busy following you around agreeing now.
          I hate the phone. I’ve also found that a lot of my conversations happen on the phone because a lot of them involve “I need to check these assumptions before I answer.” That’s a fifteen minute email or a five minute phone call and prevents me from giving someone a useless answer.
          I may not enjoy it, but it works, and has its place in communication. Whereas I’ll usually email the “tell me your budget” or “where are you on” style questions, because those often need research to answer.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      Jay, some of those people who prefer in person or over the phone may have trouble reading your email (for any number of reasons). Not saying you should shut down all suspicion, but please be open to there being a legit reason when someone does things not the way you would.

    5. Jennifer*

      It does sound like this coworker responds to some emails. It just sounds like she’s swamped. I think that’s a bit of a reach.

      I did know of a boss who would NEVER respond to emails to avoid incriminating himself. If someone sent an email he would go to that person directly and give them an answer. THAT was really odd behavior. I can’t imagine responding to every email I receive in person.

  12. Jennifer*

    Is it possible that the OP is emailing his coworker about the things that really aren’t her job? Is it possible these are all questions that have been answered so they are lower priority if she is swamped? I’m not saying this is the case. I’m just wondering if the OP has considered it.

    I do feel the OP’s pain because I prefer communicating via email also. I also like having the emails to refer to if I can’t remember something so I don’t have to ask again. But there are some people here who never answer emails and you have to track them down if you need an answer. Another suggestion would be to find someone else who has a similar role and use them as a go-to for questions, or take notes when you ask this coworker so you have them to refer to.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah I would say if OP is new / lower in the hierarchy, and their questions are not urgent, OP may need to accept that they can’t get this person’s attention as much as they want it, and find alternate ways to get their work done. I’ve been there, and it sucks, but it happens.

    2. Triplestep*

      I wondered this myself. Is the recipient thinking “that’s not my job” or “I don’t report to this person, so she doesn’t get to assign work to me.”

      I am surprised Alison’s response didn’t ask the LW if she was sure this coworker is supposed to do what the LW is asking in these unanswered emails.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Could also be a sign that OP might be slightly out of step with the conventions of the office on this issue. The person should still email back something like, “people don’t usually email me to ask the schedule, you should be checking X document or talking to Charlie about that,” but sometimes people hesitate if they feel awkward. Of course, it’s at least equally likely that this person is just not on top of their inbox, which is a real thing. OP should ask another coworker if they often have difficulty hearing back from Jane, that would clear it up.

      2. Jennifer*

        I’m not going to lie. I have delayed responding to emails from coworkers assigning work to me. Usually, I respond and copy the person who is supposed to do it and ask them to help.

      3. Email Loving Newbie*

        OP here. I’m not 100% sure everything is her job, but when I mention in meetings that I will take an action item and “confirm with coworker about X” nobody in management will step in and say “actually, you should talk to Sid instead of Nancy”

        I think when I talk to her in person I will clarify some bigger picture “umbrella” things to clarify that they are within her scope of work.

    3. Lucille2*

      I had a coworker like this. For minor things, you could just find someone on his team to respond or help with a request. But if you needed coworker to be involved, your best bet was to walk over to his desk and ask if he was available or could assign it to someone if not. Next was booking time on his calendar if you could find an open slot. For the most part, he was overbooked all the time. This was a person who had to schedule time on his calendar so he could eat lunch. Don’t get me wrong, the guy was bad at email in general and could’ve managed his team better so that he wasn’t the request bottleneck. But the fact is that most of us had no influence over the situation and had to figure out a way to work with him to get things done.

  13. CeeDee*

    I remember when I thought this way in my earlier jobs. It was because a lot of the information I needed, NEEDED to be in writing and formalized. There needed to be a paper trail. As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I’ve actually gone back to a phone call FIRST. I then follow up with an email outlining the phone conversation. Same concept as doing meeting notes. For time sensitive items, I try my best to meet in person. Where I get frustrated is when I am trying to get a hold of someone in my company, and through the beauty of Skype, show as available, but do not pick up the phone, send me voicemail, or return my call after I leave a VM.

  14. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Now that I think of it, in my workplace, emails have pretty low odds of getting answered, for multiple reasons. People assume it does not needs to be addressed right away, otherwise it wouldn’t be an email; or the person gets hundreds of emails a day and loses track of some of them as they roll off the screen when the new ones come (the advice to copy your boss? while it is often necessary to do, and people do it where I work, the side effect is that, if everyone copies the same manager, then the manager’s inbox will get out of control pretty fast); or, like others mention on here, by nature of their work they are away from their desk a lot. (Some of the people in our office appear to have eight hours of meetings a day, every day. I wouldn’t last a week in a role like that, but they exist.) For my workplace, the preferred methods of communication seem to be IM and project-tracking software, followed closely by (as weird as it sounds) meeting invites. Phone and walking over in person are dicey, because you are likely to catch the person in the middle of something else and they won’t have an answer for you. We are also spread across different offices in different states, so walking over to someone’s desk is not always possible. Honestly, I very rarely expect an answer when I send an email out. Even if it is a response to the other person’s email, where they ask for information from me that they need for an action they have to take (ask me about how my teammates and I had our expense report accounts set up…), more often than not I end up having to follow up.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      > if everyone copies the same manager, then the manager’s inbox will get out of control pretty fast

      This is what Inbox Rules are good for. Those cc’s should be landing in archive folders, to be checked when needed.

      (Anyone who is overwhelmed by email needs to figure out a way to get un-overwhelmed. The way will vary with each person, but especially with managers, they often live in their email.)

  15. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    Is this person a poor performer, sneaky, etc.? I’ve worked with a lot of people who are doing something they do not want management to know they are doing who are resistant to putting things in writing, because then there is a written record. On the other hand, that makes everyone all the more eager to create a paper trail of communications.

    I have encountered this with several people who wanted the plausible deniability of a verbal conversation. Ex: I say in a meeting that the llama pen is broken and the llamas could escape and we should keep them in the barn until the fence is repaired, my boss verbally tells me that fixing the llama pen is not going to happen and that I also cannot keep the llamas in the barn. The llamas escape, and my boss says, “Well the llama pen is That Girl’s responsibility and she never told me there was something wrong with the llama pen, I’ll write her up.”

    But if I send four emails saying the fence needs to be repaired or the llamas need to be kept in the barn, then it is the boss’s fault for overriding either of my decisions when the llamas escape. I once even had a boss so wily that he sent me an email approving the llama barning/fence repair situation, and then he called me verbally to tell me to stop bothering him about the llama barn/fence repair because it wasn’t going to happen, setting me up as the fall guy on the paper trail.

    1. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. I realize that something like this may be the case at some companies, but thankfully not what I think I’m dealing with.

      I think it’s more a case of she’s really busy and hasn’t been able to tell me she’s busy over email.

  16. TXAdmin*

    I’m an Admin for an engineering department in a manufacturing environment and I’ll admin I don’t always respond to people’s e-mails. Some of it is because they ask REALLY ridiculous questions via e-mail and I simply cannot deal. The other reason is because they do not effectively explain what is needed or when. Someone else above mentioned adding more specific language and I find this to be extremely important. Say exactly what it is you need and give a firm deadline.
    Also agree with Allison to check with the co-worker on their preferred method of communication. In my office, we have an company IM system that is hands down the best form of communication. We have some employees, all older/not computer comfortable, who basically refuse to use it and only want to talk on the phone. I told them multiple times to reach out via IM because even when at my desk, I might not be free to speak on the phone. It took multiple requests of this for them to finally figure out the IM system and send me requests this way.

    1. Girl from the North Country*

      If someone doesn’t effectively explain what they need or when they need it, shouldn’t the appropriate thing be to respond and ask for more information? And I’m not sure what you consider to be a really ridiculous question, but I imagine you could also respond and ask them to reach out to someone else or stop by your desk to discuss? I know that people can be obnoxious at work, especially towards admins, but refusing to respond doesn’t really help anyone.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I know people have admins or Others (cough me) who ask stupid AF questions thinking we’re wizards and know everything. Granted, I usually do. But I had someone text me about where to but toilet paper once. It wasn’t a structured place, it was small and you get it from Costco or Wal-Mart like the rest of the world without janitorial crews.

      2. TXAdmin*

        for me it entirely depends on who is asking. I technically report to a VP and Sr. Manager. My Sr. Manager has also requested I support other Management-level staff on our team. If any of them e-mail, call, text, IM me asking literally anything, I respond. The rest of the department is over 250 people, so when someone I do not directly support or report to e-mails me to ask me a dumb question, it just gets lost in the shuffle). If they IM me, I will reply. I’ve been an Exec Admin for almost a decade now and I have a pretty good eye for who is genuinely asking for help and who is hoping I just offer to do their job for them.

  17. Emmie*

    Your email may not be a priority to her. If she’s in a position with multiple demands, she may need to focus on the highest priority items first. Items can be higher priority depending upon the level, urgency, regulatory issues, business demands, etc…. I do not intend to be harsh here, but it may be helpful to consider the person’s other demands.

  18. Arjay*

    When it comes to scheduling meeting time, if you have access to her calendar availability, you should just schedule the meeting. There’s no need to go back and forth or put the responsibility of scheduling on her. Set it up and expect her to accept or decline.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes! This relates to the point above that, knowing this person seems to be overloaded, you may be able to adapt your communication to make it as easy as possible for her to give you what you need. Schedule a meeting and let her decline if it DOESN’T work, rather than asking her what times she’s available. List what you think the answer is, and then merely ask her to confirm if that’s right, rather than asking her about Y topic generally. Do more of the groundwork before reaching out.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      > you should just schedule the meeting

      This is very company-specific and would go badly in a company where this is not the culture. However, creating a meeting and *inviting* her to it would be a very different thing.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Sorry, I didn’t read completely. You were talking about the same thing I was. We’re good.

  19. Doodle*

    My students are like this (not that they read email FROM me) — they will email a professor about getting into a closed class, or about a problem with the class, or about setting up a meeting, and then not hear back. So then some of them send a second email. They come in for an advising appointment, and complain that professor X is not as nice as I promised, because they never responded to their email/s.

    Yeah, if email doesn’t work, then call (and btw, leave a clear and detailed voicemail when you do), walk over to the office (and check the posted office hours, and then come back during office hours)…

    The LW loves email (I love email!). Not everyone loves email, not everyone finds it efficient. And in this situation, the LW needs something from the other person — not the other way around. Call, walk over — communicate the way the other person prefers. Then send a follow up email for your own records.

    I’d also say, since you’re a newer employee in this office, you really don’t get to be snarky or self-righteous about this, and the sort of passive-aggressive way you’ve dealt with it is not a good look. Look for solutions, rather than doing the same ineffective thing over and over.

  20. Elizabeth Proctor*

    It’s easier to schedule meetings by phone than by email. Saves a lot of back and forth.

    Full disclosure: I schedule meetings by email.

    1. LQ*

      Hm…I suppose if you don’t have a shared calendar this is true, but if you have a shared calendar that is far and away the easiest.

  21. EMW*

    The only reason I’m so good at responding to emails is because I want people to always contact me there first unless it’s an emergency. The only time I don’t respond in a reasonable amount of time is if I’m travelling, on vacation, or sleeping.

    I dealt with someone who would always go one level too far with communications – a call when an email would do. Or a text when an I’M or email would do. He basically never communicated with me via email which made it really hard to respond to his requests. Half the time my response was: “Sure thing – please send me these details in an email so I have them available.”

  22. Em Dash*

    This part stood out to me:

    “…her lack of response thus far indicated to me that she doesn’t want to work with me and walking over will probably be annoying her.”

    When we’re frustrated with our coworkers, we tend to assign the worst possible motives to them, but that tends to use up a lot of unnecessary rage energy–and a lot of times, we turn out to be wrong or mistaken. As others in the comments have already pointed out, there are dozens of reasons why emails go without responses, so try to resist the urge to blow past all the other possible explanations in order to land on the one that makes your coworker the bigger villain.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I don’t get a “she’s a villain” vibe from this LW, but rather a “she seems frosty and uncommunicative so I’m hesitant to go get glowered at” vibe? But yes, don’t assume she feels any kind of way about you, OP! Assume there’s a good explanation and get over to her cubicle and figure out a plan.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        This is another good argument for checking with someone else in your org “do you have difficulties hearing back from Jane?” When you hear she’s just overloaded / does this with everyone, you’ll know it’s probably not personal.

    2. Drax*

      “..Every time we interact in person she has been very helpful, kind, polite etc.” was in the initial paragraph, which honestly makes me feel that it’s more perceived by the LW then anything this person has actually done. Some people just suck at email.

      I work closely with a sales guy at another company and his emails are garbage. Like one word answers, very abrupt, often missing half the information but you get that man on the phone and he is one of the nicest people you will ever speak to. He’s friendly and helpful, which leads me to believe he just sucks at email.

      1. Email Loving Newbie*

        OP here. It’s probably that she sucks at email and I am really into email (#InboxZero4Ever) so we both may need to adjust to get things done.

        It is good advice to not put personal stuff on what is probably just work styles. In my experience, I have dealt with people who are always responsive and helpful, and people who will ignore me and shoot me down in meetings, but never someone who was only helpful sometimes – and it appears I just need to QTIP and walk over to her desk.

  23. Ann Furthermore*

    Sometimes you can’t beat the personal touch by talking to someone in person. My boss is great about this. When we’re talking about something I’ve been working on, sometimes I’ll tell him that I sent so-and-so an email but haven’t gotten a reply, and he’ll say, “Well, let’s go track him down and talk to him about it.” And almost every time, it’s a 30 second conversation and the issue gets resolved, one way or another. It’s helped me get back into the habit of doing a drive-by when I really need something from someone. I look at it as an excuse to get away from my desk for a little while and stretch my legs.

  24. Lucille2*

    When I was in my 20’s, a boss told me to get up from my desk and go talk to people instead of relying solely on email. One of the best pieces of advice I received early in my career. So many issues can be quickly resolved by a face-to-face conversation. Picking up the phone is 2nd best if face-to-face isn’t reasonable.

    Also, if you need documentation of the request, you can follow up the conversation with an email providing details. It’s not considered off-putting in general, especially if you mention in advance that you will be following up with an email just in case any questions arise. It’s a nice way to provide notes/details of the request and start a paper trail if one is needed.

    Keep in mind that communication is a two way street. You will often have to meet coworkers half way in their communication style. Doing so will save you a lot of future misunderstandings.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, think of all the misunderstandings already – OP has said that she thinks this person doesn’t like her / is deliberately avoiding her / is annoyed by her emails – whereas likely a phone call would quickly dispel all of this, particularly since OP says the person is kind and helpful in person.

  25. Asenath*

    I use emails almost exclusively and they work extremely well for me. Most of the people I work with also use email as a kind of default communication method. Email makes it infinitely easier to track what I’ve been asked to do, what I’ve asked others to do and so on and so forth – and there’s a written trail!! But there have been a few people who don’t use email, and like Alison said – I try other methods of communication in those cases. I try phone or even fax – the people I work with are scattered all over the place, so making a personal visit to their desk isn’t usually practical. This actually sounds like a fairly easy problem to solve – either a phone call or a personal visit should solve it. And if the co-worker turns out to be someone who doesn’t use email for some reason, it shouldn’t be that hard to work with her preferences. It doesn’t sound like they need to communicate very frequently.

  26. Non-profiteer*

    I also much prefer emails or IM to phone conversations, but have realized that sometimes the phone is better, or necessary or whatever. It helps that I’ve realized that what I hate the most about the phone is cold-calling someone. I don’t like feeling I’ve interrupted them, they’re not expecting the call and maybe don’t answer my question very well, etc. So, I send an email ahead and ask to set up a call. Sometimes it works, and I have a scheduled call (which I don’t mind nearly as much). Sometimes I get no response, so I do have to cold-call – but on the call I can reference the email I sent them. It’s kind of like a “I’m warning you I’m going to call you.”

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, this is my approach too, since as you said a cold-call feels pretty aggressive in that it’s asking them to stop what they’re doing and deal with my matter right now (of course, people can always screen, so I probably shouldn’t worry about it so much). I think this comes from the fact that I get kind of irked when people call me on something that isn’t time sensitive or urgent. I probably need to learn to screen too!

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Mind if I ask a question? I’m replying to you, but Non-Profiteer or anyone’s responses welcome. (I’m looking to understand not debate with this question)

        I think this may be one of those things that is defined by the tech prevalent for a generation. But I’ve never considered a cold call to be aggressive. What makes it aggressive?

        You mentioned being irked if someone calls you for something that isn’t urgent, is it the interruption to what you are working on that annoys you, or not being able to have full control over how your time is managed?

        I hear more and more people saying they don’t want to ‘talk to other people’ Is it the in person communication that is the problem?

        I’m sure I’m asking questions that are going to be different for each person, but I’m intrigued by this phenomenon of insulation and am trying to understand it more.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I can only speak for myself, but I guess I have a hard time carving out time to sit down at my desk (open office) and really dig into some task that requires concentration. I finally get a minute to get into the zone and … phone rings. It’s a loudmouth guy chatting about something non-urgent. Sure, I could have just not picked up, waited for him to leave a message, then listened to it and decided if I was going to respond or not but – either way, my concentration is now shot. An email doesn’t literally send a loud jangling noise for 30 seconds saying ANSWER MEEEEE!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Same here, it’s the “drop everything you’re doing and talk to me NOW” nature of a phone call that’s hugely distracting. I am happy to talk to other people. I spend a huge portion of my day on calls. But, for the love of god, schedule them, or at least IM and ask me if/when is a good time.

            That said, I do answer phone calls from coworkers, because I assume it must be an absolute emergency if they are calling; which is usually the case.

          2. Lynn Whitehat*

            Yeah, definitely. “Hi, I have no idea what you’re in the middle of, and I could not care less. Nor did I give you any warning this was coming so you could prepare. Drop everything and address my issue right this very second! I am cutting to the front of the line, because the only thing I care about is MEEEEEEEE!!!”

        2. Non-profiteer*

          Everything everyone else said, but also these two things:
          1) I genuinely find that the conversation is more productive if the person is prepared for my call. Maybe this is because I work in a very fact-based, research analysis-type position. If I’m surprising someone with my call, they won’t give me as good of an answer. Or, if they don’t know the answer, they might not like saying so. I’d rather they were prepared for the question.
          2) I basically do 4 things all day: read, write, talk and listen. I have found that I can transition seamlessly between reading and writing, and talking and listening. I do NOT transition seamlessly when the pairs get mixed. So if I’m reading or writing, and I get a phone call, my brain has to turn its clunky gears and transition to talking and listening. If I have a scheduled call, I start that transition 5 minutes before the call. This is also why I prefer someone to IM me first before coming to talk to me in person or calling. Gives me a chance to transition. I’m guessing this is a pretty common experience.

          And yes, I am a millenial, though on the older side.

        3. Anonana*

          I also find it odd, mostly because if someone calls at a bad time it’s really simple to say “I’m in the middle of something right now, can I call you or e-mail you back?” Gives them the choice if they do prefer e-mail and keeps me on task.

        4. Elsajeni*

          As far as being defined by the tech available, I wonder if it’s partly because we’ve gained so many methods of communication that are asynchronous but still quick — email, text, IM — that phone calls have started to feel more intrusive. If your choices were “let’s talk about this right now” and “I’ll mail you a letter and expect to hear back in a week,” of course most things would fall into the phone/in-person category. But when you have various ways to send something that arrives instantly, get an answer quickly if not immediately, but still give the recipient the chance to respond at their convenience instead of right now, then going with the one method that requires them to deal with you right this second seems more inherently demanding.

  27. nnn*

    “her lack of response thus far indicated to me that she doesn’t want to work with me and walking over will probably be annoying her,”

    If the things you’re asking her really are her job, whether she wants to work with you and whether asking her is annoying to her are irrelevant.

    I mean, absolutely do follow Alison’s advice about asking her what the best way to contact her is and abide by her response, but if it is her job to do the things you need so you can do your job, your job is to contact her, regardless of whether it annoys her.

    If you’re not certain whether these things are her job, perhaps you could lead with asking if it’s her job or, if not, whether she knows whose job it is. (And if it isn’t her job and she doesn’t know whose job it is, it’s time to go to your boss and ask them “Whom do I ask to run these reports for me?”)

  28. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    This is such an odd dynamic.

    -OP, if you’re only getting a 25% response rate, what are you doing the rest of the time? One of 2 things is happening, you are either going to this person with a 25% relevancy rate or you are finding a valid alternative for the 75% -in other words are there better sources for most of your requests?

    Your examples (“for example, because I might need to send attachments, coordinate a meeting time for when she’s not busy, or simply not interrupt her current task with my questions.”) indicate that some of these requests may be better served using alternate methods. Using the meeting time as an example do you have a shared calendar? I can’t tell you how many times I get asked for a good time to schedule a meeting from a coworker… After I roll my eyes I always respond with “My calendar is up to date feel free to pick a time that is open” It kills me that I have to even say that. It’s the entire point of all of us having a shared calendar.

    -I find the coworker odd too. This is probably me projecting a bit, but I have a new coworker who doesn’t respond to my emails. I’m senior to her in a different group, and I’ll email with a request of some sort… and I just never hear back.

    The weird thing is she’s doing the work I’ve asked (think along the lines of… Please take a look at this list of teapot orders and investigate why there is a block on them or please have your team contact these customers to tell them we’re sending their Llamas out early). I’ll hear back in different ways that she’s doing what I asked, but never from her. It’s really odd. Usually the responses in my company are pretty standard… “Sure I’ll take care of that” followed by “We’ve completed this whatever” I’ve learned not to take it personally or as a professional snub.

    -I have to admit that I’m a bit perplexed that you would take the time to write in for advice but won’t call or walk over to your coworker to get information that you need from them :)

    1. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. I’ll address a few different things.

      1) The only emails I get responses to are ones where I decide on an improved teapot glaze that should be an inventory item vs single order (another person’s job) and I pass on the quote from Glazes inc. for her to handle. I don’t get responses to emails like “I need to expand the shelving for teapots to accommodate the new kiln, and I need a report of all the teapot sizes and weights we keep in inventory. Is this a report you could run for me, or teach me how to do it in the system?” So maybe these questions where I’m asking for a report vs sending her documents are best addressed in person?

      2) Many have mentioned shared calendars. Not sure if it would be too aggressive to send a meeting invite to discuss a topic I have yet to hear back about? I think Allison’s advice to go in person seems best.

      3) I took the time to write because I needed encouragement to do the thing I have clearly found too intimidating to do thus far, and be reassured that stopping by here desk for something more involved than “just here to grab pens and safety gloves!” is ok by professional standards.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        This makes sense to me – she is busy so she ends up putting off emails that take a long time to answer, like, “how do I report.” She responds to email that are quicker to reply to with “yep” or “thanks” or if the email is urgent. Guilty!!

      2. Zona the Great*

        OP, I’m already so GD impressed with how you conduct yourself on this comment board that I have no fear you will one day rule your world. Keep kicking ass and striving to do better.

        1. Email Loving Newbie*

          Wow! thank you! I don’t think I want to rule the world but this is very encouraging :)

          I do think my problems are way less dramatic than others and thankfully most comments have been very helpful and encouraging, even proving to me that despite the fact that email has been business norm for a long time, many places/people don’t use it well or like it.

      3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Thanks for the additional information. It does add context.

        1) I think you’re on to something about the type of requests. It sounds like she’s not responding to the requests for reports? How do you get the information when she doesn’t respond? Do you find it yourself or go to someone else? She may be indicating (badly) that she’s not the source for this information and instead of saying no, she’s just not answering.

        2) Absolutely it’s ok to do this. There’s nothing aggressive about it. You find a good time, set up the meeting with a note about what you want to discuss and/or an agenda (I don’t use full agendas for individual meetings usually). This may be one of those things that vary by company/culture. But this is totally fine to do. The person can then decide how to respond… they may accept, ask you questions, suggest a different time, add other relevant people if needed, rarely would there be a blunt decline.

        It may also be a good way to get to the root of what’s going on. So if you send an invite with the subject “Teapot Shelving” and in the notes mention that you need information on the current sizes and weights of inventory. It may actually prompt the coworker to respond back with … Hey, I think logistics might be better to get this information from since they have all of that information for arranging shipments I can get a current list of parts and quantities but I don’t have the other information you are looking for. (Which by the way is something you might want to consider. Depending on her role she may have no idea about what you are asking her for). Some people are just weirdly so conflict avoidance they just don’t answer you instead of telling you no.

        3.) Mea Culpa, my comment came out as snarky upon rereading. I was going for the head-tilting smile type of comment and I don’t think it came across that way.

      4. Lucille2*

        I have to admit that I have intentionally put off responding to questions from newbies. I have a lot of direct reports who have been hired within the last 6 months to a year. I’ve found that immediately giving answers to their questions is less helpful to their development then giving them space to dig a bit on their own. I have to be selective with this and not ignore urgent requests. Additionally, I do spend a lot of time in meetings and can be unresponsive for a few hours out of the day. Maybe my strategy is not the best, but as a manager, I’ve found that responding to every little thing only creates more work for me and gives less autonomy to my staff. most of us will take the path of least resistance to accomplish work, but getting to the end result the hard way is usually better for growth.

        Is it possible that you’re sending too many requests/questions to CW where you should be handling on your own?

  29. Cathie from Canada*

    FYI, The Cut has article limits so it won’t allow me to read the response to this question.

  30. nnn*

    Also, as a person who doesn’t like following up or using non-electronic forms of communication, I find it a useful piece of self-psychology to think of following up or calling as putting on a show of doing my due diligence for my boss’s benefit. I’m not expecting it to work, I just need to be able to say to my boss “I’m still waiting for Jane to get back to me with the reports. I emailed on Monday and left a voicemail on Wednesday.”

    It’s akin to how, when I worked in fast food, I didn’t actually expect customers to want to upsize their combo, I just asked them because my boss was watching.

  31. Yourskrewely*

    Never assume that someone got your email until you either get a read receipt or a response. Here, the first thing to do is call her and ask if she got your email. If she did, great, but ask her if she prefers a different method of communicating because you hadn’t heard from her. Or, give her a deadline in your email: if I don’t hear from you before such date, I will move forward with my plans for world domination. Or, go over there and have a pleasant chat about how her failure to respond is messing up your mojo. Again, emphasis on confirming that she is recieving the emails in the first place and a pleasant request for an alternate better way of getting an answer from her. Note that she might prefer a phone call.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I figured read receipts would get mentioned at some point. I hate those things. They are the ultimate passive aggressive move when it comes to email. I always decline to send one and the person who requests them go to the bottom of my list.

      I agree with the rest of your suggestions though.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Lol read receipts. Lots of us reject them out of spite.

      The rest is solid though, just kneejerk read receipt hate.

      1. LQ*

        Totally kneejerk read receipt hate. 99% of the time they are from one of the people who I dislike as a person (she’s just a jerk, a very soon to be retired jerk!) who is constantly trying to trip people up with them. REJECTED! And then I will send a delightfully pleasant response instead that will (inevitably) point out something wrong with the thing she sent, also just for spite (and because it was wrong).

    3. Drax*

      Sometimes out of spite when someone sends me a read receipt on a non-essential thing (and haven’t used them previously with me) I will send one that I read it, and then do nothing about the email.

      Full disclosure though – I am required by company policy to use read receipts on all outgoing emails. I don’t like it, but it’s a requirement. I also have to send delivery receipts but I think it’s because I do send out invoices and such and it’s hard to say you didn’t get it if i have proof you received it.

  32. Snow Drift*

    I ask this as someone who has worked extensively with engineers and manufacturing: does your company assign projects by priority, LW? And when you make requests of this colleague, does she need info that you aren’t providing, like a project code to which she can charge the time to fulfill your request?

    There may be an overarching procedure that you’re not seeing. As a newer/junior employee, you may be staffing the maintenance or “nice to have” projects, say Step 3 and 4, while she spends all day putting out fires on Step 1 projects. If that’s the case, she’s never going to get to your stuff.

    Is that fair/helpful? No. But it may be true. And if you ask for help, there may be ways around it, like a catch-all “do this now” code that you can assign to push your most urgent requests to the top of the slush pile.

    1. Email Loving Newbie*

      OP here. I think this is very valid advice if my company was larger and did track project charging. We don’t do that (although we should because project prioritization is something we could improve). It’s very fair to think her priorities will typically supersede mine.

  33. PX*

    OP, my first boss once gave me this piece of advice: if you have to email about something more than 3 times (either due to no response or lack of resolution) – pick up the phone and call. It sounds a lot to me like you are nervous about her reaction but also using that as an excuse not to be proactive in getting what you need.

    Please listen to Alison’s advice – it will help you greatly in your career. Not everyone wants to (or can) communicate how you want to. Be aware of it and adapt as needed. It will make your life much easier and you will be way more effective in your job.

    Plus getting up to walk to her office on the other side of the building is a great way to stretch your legs every so often! I miss having that as an excuse to take a walk :)

    1. Drax*

      See mine told me 24 hours. If you send a non-urgent email, and do not even have an acknowledgment within 24 hours then you pick up the phone/walk over. But if you’re just sending attachments – do you need a response? I assume that if I’ve sent it you will deal with it when it’s relevant but maybe that’s because I get sent things at random that I won’t need for a few weeks or so.

      I have a strong preference to use email but sometimes it is just faster and less work to pick up the phone. Especially scheduling meetings. I just call and go “hey, we gotta do X by this date. Are you free to meet for 20 minutes on one of these two days to go over it”. The phone is also very useful for complex things. Instead of 20 emails back and forth, a 5 minute phone call usually gets everything done.

      I also have to wonder if maybe this person just has a high workload that the letter writer doesn’t know of. We’ve slowed down a lot, but I can see about 15 flagged emails from up to three months ago about non-essential things I just never had time to deal with until this week. They weren’t essential nor really that important so they just got post-dated until there was time to give them attention.

  34. scmill*

    Before I retired, I WFH and spent much of my day in conference calls. The very best way to get hold of me was to IM me if you needed an answer right then. Next best was to email me, but while I might see an email come in, it probably wouldn’t get a quick answer unless it was something I could answer in a sentence or two.

    Calling me was useless. It would just roll to vm where a system change had screwed my pin code (which I never got fixed). My whole team was the same way, and we regularly just pinged one another with a “can you talk?” if we really needed to speak.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Haha, yeah, I checked my voice mail probably less than ten times in the five years I’ve been here. I’ve never seen any of my coworkers check their voice mail. Never left a voice mail. Pretty sure a lot of people I work with do not remember their pin (I think I went a whole year once without knowing what mine was). I was surprised to see how many commenters actively use voice mail. Not to say it’s bad or good, I just haven’t seen anyone use it in forever. It is interesting to read how much preferred communication styles vary from place to place. At my work, coming over in person without an advance notice will likely get you a blank stare and a “I’ll have to get back with you on that” or an invitation to come back later.

      1. scmill*

        Fortunately, I was the only member of my team and worked in a remote office even before I started WFH, so there wasn’t anyone to wander over to my desk unless it was just a friend who wanted to do lunch or gossip. Having anyone pop up behind me asking work questions would have driven me around the bend since I spent so much time on the phone in meetings or working on specs, test scripts, release documentation etc

  35. Camellia*

    “…to coordinate a time to walk through a process with me…”

    This jumped out at me. When I see this in an email, or get told this in person, I push back. If you want to meet with me, for whatever purpose, open Outlook, use the meeting schedule to find openings in my calendar, then schedule the meeting. Because that is what *I* have to do, in order to ‘coordinate a time with you’. If I can do it then you can do it, and since you are the one who wants the meeting, you should do it.

    Now, I do say this nicely, in person and in email. “Sure! Just go ahead and schedule the meeting to get it on my calendar.”

    1. scmill*

      Yeah, Outlook calendaring was a godsend for not having to deal with dickering for a time slot. If I got “Can we meet?”, they got a “Did you look at my calendar? Find an open slot and book it.” with a “why are you bothering me with this question?” virtual look!

    2. bonkerballs*

      This can be company specific however. I’ve never worked somewhere where it would be okay to put a meeting on someone else’s calendar (especially a meeting where I wanted them to teach me something) without having a conversation first.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah…most places who schedule internal meetings tend to have admins staffed to schedule for you anyways. I’m not scheduling a meeting with anyone who isn’t signing my check or owns this place.

      2. LQ*

        This is interesting and makes me glad I try to be very explicit with people about just put time on my calendar and I’ll reject it or follow up, but the best thing to do is just find a time and put it on my schedule (and look, don’t put it over something else!). It’s good to hear that there are places where that wouldn’t be normal procedure. I would rather have someone put time to have the conversation about another meeting on my calendar a lot of times. You can schedule very small blocks of time, and you can schedule a phone call.

        I just do what my calendar tells me to :) Right now it says I have 8 minutes free before the next meeting and I know I can’t get anything done of substance so I’m here and thinking about what my next meeting will be…

        1. scmill*

          Same here! Outlook told me what to do and when to do it. I even put my personal appointments on it (marked as private, of course) so that I knew when haircuts or dr appts were scheduled. Otherwise, if the time slot was open, I would get booked for a meeting.

  36. Argh!*

    I’m one of those annoying people. If the deadline is weeks away, I don’t do anything about it right at that moment, and I forget to put it in my calendar. My New Year resolution is to put those things into my calendar with 3-day reminders.

    My boss gets annoyed with me for this, but she’s the queen of never-reply. I have started opening our one-on-ones by asking about unanswered email topics. Most of those are themselves from one-on-ones, when she asks for an email about it because she can’t give me an answer at the moment. She often forgets I’ve even sent them, and then asks me to re-send it. So I do… After a few years I realized it really was a blow-off, and that’s when I started adding them to my notes for our one-on-ones.

    1. Argh!*

      (She also doesn’t take notes at our meetings. It’s one of many subtle ways she belittles her reports)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes! I wonder why she even bothers you with 1:1s

      I’ve started color tagging things and having a “later” subfolder to look into X (slow time) of day. So I check at 3pm every day to glance at what is waiting.

  37. Jennifer Juniper*

    I can understand not wanting to walk to the other end of the building, OP. But you can pick up the phone and call her or IM her.

    A question for fellow commenters: Why is e-mail more efficient than a phone call? I understand you can dispense with the small talk on an e-mail, but there is a wait time with e-mail that you don’t have on a phone call.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      It’s not really about efficiency. Really it’s the social thing. Email is talking to myself, while using the phone is talking to you.

      Me, I like to get up and walk around sometimes. I was tracking my steps for awhile…

    2. Jennifer*

      I hate talking to people on the phone. That’s just a personal preference.

      With email, I don’t have to worry that I am interrupting someone during an important task. I have a record I can save in case they try to deny what was said in the email. That has come in handy a few times over the years.

      If I need to revisit that process again, I can search for the email instead of asking the person again if I can’t remember something. I don’t have to worry about being misunderstood or misunderstanding the other person if there is an issue with the phone or if I just have a difficult time understanding the person’s manner of speech.

      When I need an answer right then, I send a DM. I rarely have to call anyone, if ever.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I write better than I speak. It also allows me to move to the next project quickly and jump back in later when the response is received. Most of my coworkers are roaming somewhere, I’ll have to track them down. Then they just ask to circle back anyways.

      But again, I use email usually but adjust when dealing with the needs of others or urgency. I’ve skidded into the boss’s office many times with “we need to talk now” or “I need 15 minutes, when can you talk?”

    4. Argh!*

      It’s not, especially when something is urgent. I could be just a few feet away from my computer, listening to a coworker talk about her weekend, and I would completely miss it.

      Another time it’s not a good idea – a last-minute cancellation for a meeting that takes place in the early afternoon. Apparently nobody considered the possibility of people not checking email during lunch and going right to a meeting. There I sit alone…. *sigh*

  38. goducks*

    You mentioned that you find alternative sources of information when you don’t get a response. Is it possible that many of the questions you’re asking are the types of things that your coworker assumes you should be able to answer yourself? I’ve certainly worked with several people who seem to prefer to ask someone else rather than finding their own answer, or learning how to run the report that they need. For them, it’s easier to just pawn off the research than to find their own answer. I tend to ignore those emails, since the people in question have already been told they’re fully capable of finding their own answer, they just don’t want to be bothered to do it.

    Regarding wanting to meet to go over something. I personally despise the “can we set up a time to discuss next week” type emails. If you want to put a time to discuss something on my calendar, send me a meeting request. If, for some reason my calendar is out of date or a time won’t work, I’ll respond to the request with a new time. If you’re requesting to meet with me, but not proposing a specific time, you’re really putting the onus of the request on me. You’re the one who wants some of my time, send a request. Worst I’ll say is that time doesn’t work, but this time does. If you put the scheduling of the time on my plate, clearly it isn’t that important, and I’ll deal with it if I get around to it.

  39. JSPA*

    How sure are you that she’s even seeing them?

    My spouse’s work (university) email has a spam filter that doesn’t filter spam very well, but it does filter (or just delete / delay) emails from students and other department members. I’d like to think that such problems are not allowed to linger in business settings, but…maybe she’s plagued with a similar problem.

    Also, when you email her, do always you reply to her emails, or are you using the address book function in your email (where the address could be wrong) maybe (say) 25% of the time?

    I have a letter “L” in my name that’s very often typed in wrong or entered wrong into directories as a number “1.” in many type faces, they look identical. This has happened so. darned. often. Even when I warn people, and spell out my name in ALL CAPS to avoid the confusion. You’d think mistaken ones would bounce, but the three most common mistaken variants of my email do not, in fact, bounce. I’ve tried contacting the people who’re getting those messages, but…no response.

    It’s also possible that she’s filtering using keywords to sideline sales emails and promotions from companies she buys from, and when you hit some of the same key words, and getting filtered. Putting these possibilities together, I think it would be fine to loop some others in on a, “we need to troubleshoot this / is anyone else having the same problems” email.

  40. Bopper*

    I have had these co-workers:

    1) I talked to him and discovered that he liked to do deep thinking work and would only check emails twice a day and didn’t use IM…so if you needed something timely, you needed to call/go visit him. Otherwise eventually you would get an answer.

    2) I tried emailing, just stopping by, setting up meetings…nothing worked. I told my boss what I had tried.
    He told me to document everything as clearly I was not the only one having a problem with this guy. He was eventually let go.

  41. Peaches*

    Ugh, OP, I totally feel you on this. I’m also young (25) and feel email is almost always the most efficient way of communicating in my line of work.

    I once gathered lunch orders for a sales meeting and did not hear a response from a coworker despite multiple attempts of following up via email. I eventually ended up PRINTING off the lunch menu from the restaurant, and walking around the warehouse at our office (where this person works) with said menu to verbally get his order. He wasn’t someone that I could reach via phone (he doesn’t have a company phone, nor does he sit at a desk with a phone regularly), and by the nature of his job was never in the same location where I could find him.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      So he has a job with limited communication access and you still tried emailing him and seem a little put out by needing to track him down? That’s pretty uncool. He has a good reason to be hard to get into touch with.

      I’ve spent over a decade tracking people down for everything.

      Again the whole theme here is everyone has their own communication style. Be flexible. When one doesn’t work. Use the next one.

      Expanding your communication and ability to switch it up will do you well in professional growth.

      1. Peaches*

        He is expected to check his email at least once a day BECAUSE he is not at his desk by a phone. Several employees work remotely and are required to work with him on things, but he does not email anyone back (unfortunately, it’s a known thing with this employee, and he has been reprimanded for it many times.) No communication style is perfect for this employee by the nature of his job, but email is still the best course of action.

        By the way, in this particular situation I wasn’t expecting an email ASAP. He had TWO WEEKS to email me his lunch order (I emailed the link to the menu) and did not do so. I shouldn’t have had to print off a menu and wander around a humongous warehouse to track him down, stand around, and wait for him to tell me what he wants for lunch.

    2. Anonana*

      No snark, but unless everyone at your workplace is about your age–which may be true–saying that you think e-mail is the most efficient way to communicate seems pretty dismissive of people who have more experience than you have and may their own reason for preferring a different style of communication. Now you know the next time you have to organize a lunch that you could leave coworker a copy of the menu early and let him get back to you (by e-mail, phone, carrier pigeon) with his order.

  42. TV*

    Eh, I don’t love the whole “millennials don’t like talking to people” stereotype. I’ve been in the working world for 6 years and I communicate through email, phone, and in person. It is my job and my co-workers jobs to do so. So it really rattles my cage when I use email as my primary way of communication and I don’t get a response and it is somehow discredited as a poor way to communicate with older works. I use email because it is traceable. If I call my coworker and leave a voicemail and they never call back, I can’t prove to my boss I called them. If I run to their office to meet them in person and they aren’t there, I can’t prove that I tried that. I’ve had an email address since I was in middle school, I get it, but for someone on their 50’s, they’ve too had email access for 20+ years and I know they know how to use it.

    1. LCL*

      FWIW, the persons in my group the worst at email response to the point of avoidance are and always have been baby boomers of the same vintage as me. Since it’s not a job requirement they can carry on, but sometimes it’s annoying.

    2. Lucille2*

      You can somewhat cross that millenial/boomer bridge by calling/stopping by their desk then following up with email with a summary of the conversation. I regularly get voicemails that state an email will follow. I’m in the type of job where I really need to document requests/tasks done and so forth. Even though email is king in my world, I really can’t fall back on recipient-never-responded as an excuse for work stalling. Don’t dig in your heels just because someone else’s preferred method of communication seems inefficient. For them, it may be more efficient. Besides, the work still has to get done.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s nothing to do with generations. I’m a millennial in a millennial work group for the first time in my 15 yrs of working. Half of them struggle with email and prefer phones/in person.

      Also as far as I read, these coworkers are the same age. I don’t draw conclusions on age alone. There is more going in to it.

      I know doctors who don’t check their emails either. So it’s across the board.

      Your need to have proof is your burden. As noted, send follow up emails to cover yourself.

    4. Argh!*

      But it’s so true! I have had to train several 20-somethings in how to use a phone, only to watch them sit silently by as the phone rings because they tune out that sound or have no idea what it is! They also don’t understand the concepts of “hold” or “transfer.”

  43. Email Loving Newbie*

    OP here

    I wanted to make a general comment thanking everyone and giving a few more insights into questions I keep seeing. Everyone here has been very helpful and kind. Thank you all.

    1) I can get around some reports pulling from 3 different databases and compiling it myself, or poking around folders. Maybe it’s expected that this is how we do things and I assume there are more efficient ways. I like email because it lets people answer simple questions (ex “the report you need is in the Inventory folder under Teapot Shelves 2018” ) at their convenience vs me interrupting their task with a phone call. However, it appears that the phone is not as interruptive as I think it is. (Although my office has an annoying intercom system so if I call someone’s desk it doesn’t ring, I just have to say “Hey Nancy are you there?” and everyone near the desk can hear. I dislike it. I should learn to do things I dislike more often though)

    2) It appears that asking people a good time to schedule a meeting with them over email is not the best way and I will stop doing that. I personally appreciate it because I mentally plan out my week and so empty outlook calendar spot are sometimes filled with my own tasks. Lesson learned. Not everyone is like me. If setting up an official meeting time fails (ie: she doesn’t meet me at that time or always decline but never proposes new times) I will address that directly with her or my manager as needed.

    3) I should have stated this in the letter, but my role is new. I interviewed for a position in the quality department, but they really liked my unique skills and gave me a new position they were thinking of creating anyways. As such, I was able to define my job responsibilities with my manager (really cool) , but is it possible no-email coworker doesn’t really know my role or responsibilities? As awkward as it would be to say “Hi Nancy, I just want to go over what projects I work on and my responsibilities before we talk about the process for X, so you know what I have been doing here is Bob and Sid on projects Y and Z” is that advisable? I understand it would be embarrassing for her to say “I don’t know exactly what you do” but I wouldn’t want my input to be insulting assuming she is ignorant vs just bad with email

    1. AnotherAlison*

      With the info in #3, I think you should have a meeting with her to outline the types of information you need and the frequency. Figure out how she can produce a regular report for you. If you’re still figuring out some aspects of your job and don’t fully know what you need yet, let her know and plan to meet again in the future to figure out what worked and what didn’t about the reports she is providing. If you can talk about all your needs in advance, then she at least knows she has this new request coming, even if the schedule of the report and all details can’t be determined now. I agree that she might be more responsive once she understands what she’s doing. Right now, she’s just getting asked to do more work that she didn’t do before and doesn’t know what it’s for.

    2. LQ*

      For #2 I strongly recommend blocking off those empty outlook calendar spots! I will sometimes block things with a note like “Teapots – Can move, check with me first” so that people know it’s not immovable, but that it is blocked off. It really helps with the scheduling mentally for the week!

      #3 I don’t know that it would really be that awkward (and also a lot of work ends up being awkward so…). I’ve got a sort of made position that’s something I’m defining as I go and I’ll still stop sometimes and say, “I feel like I should have said this…last week…last month and I’m sorry I didn’t, I’m so excited to work on this/with you/help out that I think I just jumped over it in my brain. Let me go back and make sure we are on the same page.” Has been very useful for me.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Have you chatted with your supervisor about where and who to ask for things? That is probably better to confirm Nancy is the go to person!

      I am sympathetic and appreciate that you’re willing to bend here. You don’t need ever just be a mat and let the work place trample you. You just need to find out how the place operates and who is who, also who communicates how. It’s a maze and system to figure out.

      I think you’ll work this out and find a lot of workplace hacks soon enough!

      I had to learn to talk to people. When I was younger, I cried and did deep breathing before tracking my boss down for a basic phone call. It was rough. Now I slide into the CEOs office with whatever nonsense is going on.

      Last time I had a panic attack was gearing up to tell him I didn’t hit the last submit key and we got a penalty. I was able to get it waived thankfully but it was an ugly time to be me.

    4. AnonyMouse*

      If where I worked had phone systems like yours, I would probably avoid calling people too. That’s a very weird set up that I’ve never heard of before. How do you leave a voicemail if they aren’t there?

      1. LQ*

        Agreed, I’m all for getting better at things you dislike, but…I’m not sure that’s one of them…

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Manufacturing is pretty rustic. We use overheads because we can make announcements and rooms are deeeeeeep. I have sprinted across shops to dive at a phone. BTW DON’T RUN IN THE SHOP! (Nobody has actually called me out…)

      3. bonkerballs*

        And on the flipside, I’ve only worked places that had that same phone set up (all in various sizes of non-profit). I’ve never worked anywhere where using the phone internally led to the phones actually ringing. Because it’s not an actual phone call. None of the phone lines would be in use. It’s more of a page.

        1. AnonyMouse*

          Hm, that’s interesting because I’ve only ever worked in places where internal calls ring the same as external calls (even if I dial the person sitting right next to me). The only difference for internal is that people show up by name on the caller ID.

    5. PX*

      If you’re still reading OP, based on what you replied earlier about the type of questions you ask her which dont get a response, it sounds like point #3 is definitely something you and/or your manager should do. Did you have a sit down/onboarding/introduction meeting with her when you first joined? Or was it just something like – “Email Loving Newbie has joined our company yay!”

      If it was the latter, I can definitely see that someone who has no good idea what your role or interest in these topics is deciding that your emails are too much work/take too much time/are not her responsibility, and just ignoring them.

      In an ideal world, she would reply and ask why you need that info/what your role is/why you came to her etc- but in the real world, if she is busy, prefers face to face and has no idea who you are, then yes. It makes a lot of sense to have a level-set meeting to define roles/responsibilities and preferred communication styles.

      And thirding all the suggestions that you (typically) can just book a meeting in someones calendar if the spot is free. Its usually on them to either block their time off appropriately or reply proposing a new time.

  44. LQ*

    My office has a culture of face to face. There are so many meetings and while there are a lot of emails, if you want something done, you really are likely to need a meeting or two to get there. We are all in the same physical building and within a fairly smallish space (or at least well laid out) so it’s not a giant burden to get to someone else’s desk for the most part. When I started I was really used to email and didn’t want to get in people’s way and all these other things. But sometimes you have to adapt to the culture. And here? I’m going to have a much better relationship if I get up and stop by people’s offices and desks occasionally. It’s also how a lot of the underlying work gets done. (the we need to make a culture shift to doing X instead of Y, maybe at other places you can just tell people and everyone does it and no one balks or goes slow or makes people’s work hard, but here at least that’s a problem so you have to move things slowing and help people grow into a new way of thinking about problems, that work happens nearly exclusively in person)

  45. Danish*

    I find it entertaining that one of the recommended articles is “my coworker follows up on emails in person if he doesn’t get an instant response” because I was thinking, as I read this letter, “this is how people develop habits like immediately following up on emails in-person”: Being super responsive and helpful when addressed in person and dead silence via email.

  46. ... cats and dogs*

    Something about the OP made me wonder if the recipient does not respond because they do not think it is their job to help. I could be totally off base though..

  47. LGC*

    I wish this letter had existed a few years ago for me. No advice for the LW, but I might as well drop an Embarrassing LGC Story.

    So, a few years back, I was managing this project where I needed to contact a VP (not in my office) to get everything post-processed. (Long story.) Said VP was…notoriously unresponsive – and this would have knock-on effects to our projects. Me, being…extremely impatient and kind of arrogant, sent multiple emails (I think it was one per day) about something that I was waiting on.

    Eventually, the VP (figuratively) ripped my head off for being such a pest. I was terrified to even talk to him again for like months afterward.

    (We actually went on to have a…decent working relationship. He was still a pain in the butt to get responses out of, but I moderated myself by sending an e-mail and then learning to follow up with a call or in person a couple of days later (I’d usually have to, but I gave him time to respond). And it was a learning experience!)

  48. Same*

    Oof, this was a common problem at my last job and such a hard line to walk, especially as a junior/younger employee. It was standard for people to ignore emails (coming from those below them), but the office culture was also VERY much that you do not call people unexpectedly and absolutely don’t go by their office. Calling people or going to their office unexpectedly would give you a reputation for being difficult, overstepping, not knowing your place, etc (and this was an office where internal reputation mattered a lot). Yeah, it was a difficult place to work.

  49. Paperdill*

    I worked in a particular niche field that was largely populated by women on the very cusp of returement (and me the millennial). It was more effective to communicate with these women with a sticky note on their lunchbox than it was to email, which some of them would only check every 6 months (much to my managers chargin). The last few years there has been quite a culture shift (as all the older people retired and young newbies were taken on) and it’s a lot more email communicate-y now. It’s actually a bit funny because the older women have this air of “oh, yes – have you tried email? It’s quite good – so easy and efficient”, and the younger ones are more “um, sorry, was there any other way too communicate with you other than by email?”

  50. Database Developer Dude*

    Something else I haven’t seen in the comments at all: It’s implied that the OP is male, and the non-responsive coworker is female……and the advice here runs to “work with her if email doesn’t work for her, you need to adjust”…..

    If the genders were reversed, would the advice be the same? Think about it.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Where is it implied that the OP is male? Anyway, yes, broadly, I think the advice would be the same. If you think it would or should be different, what would you suggest instead?

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