is it ever bad to reply to an email too quickly?

A reader writes:

I work in municipal government, and often we get requests that we need to say “no” to. In this case, a constituent asked for a bus stop outside of her building. This wouldn’t be unreasonable, except there is no bus route on the street in question. This kind of confusion happens sometimes, so I quickly (within 10 minutes of receiving the initial email) responded with a note saying why a bus stop isn’t possible and pointed them to the closest bus route. Their reply indicated that they felt my response was rude and dismissive.

I have probably written better responses to this type of question before, but I am curious if the speed of my reply was part of the issue. While my answer wouldn’t have changed substantially, I wonder if waiting 24 hours to respond would have made it seem like we had at least considered their request. This contrasts with providing good news, where a quick response makes it seem like we were already on top of the issue and providing great service.

Are there any best practices around response times for bad news vs. good news? Should I use my “schedule send” button more often when dealing out bad news?

Ooooh, interesting question!

I do think there are times when a very quick response can make the recipient feel like you didn’t put any real thought or effort into the response. I don’t know if this was one of them — it’s possible that it was your email wording that came across as brusque or dismissive, or that this person is simply unreasonable — but I do think it’s worth thinking about what signals can be sent by very quick responses in some situations.

For example, I can often tell in 15 seconds that I’m not going to move a job applicant forward to an interview. But if I happen to be looking at applications right after they sent theirs in, I’m not going to send that rejection on the spot — because a ton of people feel stung if they get a job rejection only minutes after applying. Whether or not that’s reasonable isn’t the point; the point is that lots of people will feel like, “Wow, I’m so terrible that it only took you five minutes to reject me” or “You obviously didn’t even look at my application.” People might know in theory that initial resume screens are fast, but that kind of timeline can still sting.

Similarly, if you put a lot of time into carefully crafting an email to your boss requesting something and really agonized over your wording and approach, hearing “no” just a few minutes later might feel like you got less consideration than if a little more time had passed.

To be clear, I’m definitely not suggesting that you delay responses that could have any degree of time-sensitivity! When someone needs a quick answer or a project will be on hold until you reply, artificial delays would be counterproductive. But other times, the illusion of “I gave this plenty of consideration” is a social nicety that helps finesse some interactions.

I do think you’re right that those times are more likely to be when you’re delivering bad news than good (people don’t usually complain about receiving good news too quickly). And yes, the “schedule send” button is really helpful here — I use it liberally myself, and often for exactly this reason.

{ 241 comments… read them below }

    1. Sloanicota*

      That is also very true. If you’re not going to tell them what they want to hear, they’re going to be annoyed, and that isn’t your fault. What you can do with diplomacy is more around the edges sometimes.

    2. JSPA*

      True, but it can also help to state full context, give a “rule of the universe” answer, And suggest how someone might follow up, if they care enough to do so.

      ” I’m terribly sorry, but bus routing is only reworked once every ten years. We retooled routes in 2020. Requesting an additional stop on an existing route is straightforward. However, as the location you suggest is not on any of our routes, there is literally no way to put in the request. There is always a year-long public comment period before routes are modified and optimized. Look for placards and public service announcements after January 2029.”

      1. metadata minion*

        That’s a really good point — if there’s a quick, objective reason why something is an instant no, as the recipient of the email I’m much less annoyed/sad since I can understand that oh, you didn’t have to think about it because it falls under a rule and now I know the rule. Maybe I’m upset about the *rule* now, but it doesn’t feel like a brushoff.

        1. Tabihabibi*

          I like that direction as applicable. LW and I have *very* similar jobs. Where I can point people to the political decision point or process, that is something I will do (empowerment! civic education!). For things slightly above this example threshold, I’ve learned to make a little bit of a show of double-checking the code, offering to get a second opinion, etc. but I think it just takes trial and error to find that balance. If I can open a window when closing a door, that’s always good too. Often in public agencies though we are understaffed and pressed for time. The time to research what the last applicable plan, etc was might not be something I can justify when there is such an obvious no, so sometimes a formulaic, “thanks for your question, unfortunately, spaceports are not permitted downtown (I need more synonyms for unfortunately), please contact the Emperor if you want to revise spaceport policy” is all you get

          1. Lydia*

            I do this, too. I’ll check the zoning, reread the code for that zoning, maybe double check with a city planner, then respond to the person asking letting them know the steps I took to make sure the info I gave them was correct. Usually, at that point, if they are upset, they’re upset at the way the code is written and our elected officials and not me. :)

          2. Mockingjay*

            Re: synonyms. “Thanks for your question; under current statute/zoning, spaceports are not permitted downtown.” Throw in a link to the city planning department website, so they can go down the rabbit hole themselves.

            I’m not public-facing but I get a lot of “why do we have do do it this way” questions and the non-arguable answer is to cite an industry standard or government policy.

          3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            I spent some time working the complaint line of a county health department, and did a lot of dealing with people frustrated that we couldn’t help them with various things–the racoon living in their roof, the AC not working in their apartment, mold in their rental, terrible odors from a neighbor’s farm. A lot of times they were calling and feeling quite desperate and in a genuinely difficult position. An explanation of why we couldn’t help (generally a legislative issue) and a healthy dose of verbal expressions of genuine empathy went a long way toward having them leave feeling better (though there were inevitably some people who would just yell and rage and threaten to stop paying their taxes no matter what I said).

      2. Not your office Mom*

        This isn’t “no.” This is “here’s the process and the timeline for making your request.” Idk if it would have gone over better but it is objectively not dismissive. It sounds like the OP just said, “no bus route. no stop.”

        I agree the context helps.

      3. Tink’s Mom*

        That response is lovely, and I hope OP responded in that vein, but there is a certain demographic who would have still been unhappy with it. Some people are just unhappy, especially with government.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Well said. OP could have waited until the next day and sent a carefully written, diplomatic response – and the recipient might have responded with the same irritation.

      Plus, I think a lot of people say, ‘That’s rude!’ simply because they didn’t get what they wanted.

    4. Emily Byrd Starr*

      Just like breaking up with someone. There’s no way to do it without hurting their feelings.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I was just thinking this is like my calculus teacher who could take an exam I spent an hour agonizing over and have it graded (with partial credit!) within a minute and have it back in front of me so I could see where I went wrong.

        Just give me a second to brace myself and get some distance over the intense feelings I have about this test! I to be a tad less emotionally invested than I am a minute after just turning in the test!

    5. stratospherica*

      Yep. I’ve noticed that particularly among job applicants, there’s never a good time to get a rejection (because of course there isn’t!). If you respond within the day you didn’t put enough thought into their application, if you wait a while you strung them along, if you respond on a Friday you are just bulk rejecting everything before the weekend and if you wait over a weekend to respond then you kept them holding their breath unnecessarily.

  1. B*

    Even if it’s good news, responding too quickly can set an unwelcome precedent! The next time someone asks for something they may expect that you will drop everything to get it to them immediately and that their requests can be answered quickly and easily.

    1. gardengate*

      Yep, I had this exact experience. Once a client commented on my “dedication” to responding to them within 10 minutes when I had COVID, and from then on I was like…I’m scheduling my responses an hour later with them at the very least. I’m not going to set a precedent as the person who will work when sick, that’s a bad spot to be in and people will take advantage of it!

    2. MsMaryMary*

      Totally agree! I’ve learned to delay answering some client emails immediately, because it sets an unreasonable expectation that I will always answer their email within five minutes. Especially for people I started working with for the first time during lockdown. I needed them to understand I might be in meetings with other clients or traveling and they’ll need to wait a few hours – or maybe even until the next day!

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, that’s where I’m at. Most of my emails go to internal “customers,” so the precedent is important!

      Unlike the OP, who is writing back to a lot of individual constituents.

    4. Ray B Purchase*

      Absolutely. I’ve gotten caught in this trap with one of my clients several times. I used to respond to every question as quickly as possible, because they were usually easy, so then when I’d get questions that required more time (say, 2 hrs instead of 5 minutes), she would reply back to me after 15 minutes asking if I’d gotten her first email!

      1. Jessica*

        Unfortunately, there’s a rule that if you send me a same-day email asking if I got your email, I can never reply to you again unless authorized by the Emperor.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes. I don’t want to give folks the impression that I can get everything done instantly (because while I can do some things really quickly other things take more time and it’s not obvious to other people which is which).

        The exception I make is when a very fast response makes a point that we have already covered something (repeatedly) – oh, you need a solution to X engineering problem? Here you go, it’s the same solution I sent you 10 months ago (that you did nothing with and completely forgot about).
        That makes me look super speedy and smart, and helps vent my feelings about people dropping the ball on stuff that I can see but can’t fix for them in a way that doesn’t convey my irritation.

    5. Ethel*

      Agree. Never answer a customer right away. Never give them the illusion that they’re more important than the other customers.

    6. short'n'stout*

      I follow this principle, too! Except then I run the risk of forgetting entirely, haha. Email scheduling is my friend.

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I think this kind of thing has a lot to do with familiarity and with perceived/real power imbalance.

    If you emailed a coworker to find out when the new bus route map was being released, and they responded in 10 minutes that there’d been a problem with the printer and it would be a month late, you might be mildly peeved about the dealy, but you wouldn’t think the other person was being rude to you. But that’s a peer, and you’re in the same organization.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, the reason it feels bad to get rejected five minutes after you send an application isn’t *just* that it makes you feel you must have been way off; it’s also that it may have taken you several hours to put together your application, and you didn’t get anywhere near reciprocal consideration. That is what it is, but the power imbalance makes it feel crappy.

      1. Selena81*

        It feels to much like someone took one quick look at your resume and went ‘haha, what an idiot, of course not, not even if this is the only application we get’.
        While you spend hours crafting something that you *thought* hit all the right marks and would at the very least put you amongst the ‘maybe’ candidates.

        If there is a bit more time the same boilerplate ‘sorry, you are not a match’ response sounds a lot less confrontational, a bit more like they reviewed different resumes and someone else just happened to be better.

    2. Smithy*

      I really like the call out of the power imbalance, because while the differential outside of organizations is more clear – I think it’s also a good thing to note inside an organization.

      Provided nothing is otherwise wildly unprofessional or inappropriate, someone emailing a senior executive a question or request, where the response has to be “no” – again if answer isn’t needed urgently, waiting an hour or until the next morning makes it seem like the request wasn’t completely a knee jerk one. Particularly when you know the person in question took time to write a thoughtful and professional request.

    3. Abby*

      If you think you deserve immediate attention from anyone, in any capacity, you are most definitely in the wrong

      1. Nina*

        Depends if they asked for it.

        If you ring me to say I have to drop everything and come down to the lab halfway across town immediately and when I get there you’re scrolling Facebook and wave at me to wait until you’re done, yeah, I’m gonna be pissed. Extreme example, obviously.

      2. Working*


        ‘There’s a truck stuck at the boomgate, could you please let it out because traffic is being backed up?’

        ‘We’ve got a high temp alarm in the cold store. Could you please follow up immediately before $5 million in stock had to be thrown out?’

        ‘Stop the presses, we’ve got a new front page coming in.’

      3. ClaireW*

        This is just silly – I get what you’re trying to say I think, but like, it’s too absolute to be reaalistic in any meaningful way. As an example, I don’t “deserve immediate attention” if I walk past the head of (IT) security and say hi, but would say it’s a reasonable thing to expect if I have evidence that we’re being targeted by outside folks trying to access our HIPAA data… Or if I call my sister for a chat vs calling her because I’m babysitting her kids and there’s a problem, or calling my GP for an appointment vs calling an ambulance because my blood oxygen is below 35%. As soon as you start making such widespread and absolute statements you’re going to be incorrect in my experience.

  3. Ellis Bell*

    I think there’s a big difference between something that can be construed as a personal rejection, like with a job applicant, and something that has been declined because of a very obvious and easy to understand practicality, like there not being a bus route to go with the proposed bus stop!

    1. duinath*

      yeah, tbh i think if lw had waited to answer they would have gotten a snarky reply back about taking so long to answer a simple question. like, i feel like a person who’ll send a complete stranger a rebuke about how rude and dismissive they are is always going to complain about your answer as long as that answer is no.

      1. Hudson*

        Yes agreed. There are some constituents who are never going to be happy. I would respond quickly and slowly with bad news, and clearly articulated reasons for that bad news, and some people would be mad no matter what. Ultimately, people want what they want and they don’t want you to tell them no.

      2. Knope Knope Knope*

        I mean, no bus route isn’t some immutable law of the universe. Bus routes can change. Presumably, that’s what the constituent wanted.

    2. Aquamarine*

      I took the request to mean that they wanted the bus route to go past their building – not that they wanted a bus stop for a nonexistent bus.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, I was wondering if the constituent in this case was annoyed because their question was slightly misinterpreted in a way that felt condescending – like “yes thanks I’m aware that the bus doesn’t currently drive down my street, I walk to catch it every day, I was asking whether that could be changed.” (Not to blame LW without seeing the exchange, it’s a good question either way – but if there’s any chance of your reply being read as “oh silly goose, that’s not where the bus route goes!” it’s probably a good context to signal that there was more thought behind it.)

        1. umami*

          I thought this, too. I had an interaction like that just today – I am actually helping a colleague with a difficult situation with a staff member right now, and to do that, I needed to ask another department about a form needed for a particular process. They responded quickly with information about the process that … I knew, because I established it! I had to email back and say, yes, I understand the process, my question was about the particular form they need for x part of the process. That’s when they went back and read what I asked and then responded with an apology for the misunderstanding and the link to the form I requested. It happens!

          1. ZugTheMegasaurus*

            I had a doozy of one of those a couple years ago. I can’t even remember the details, but it was some kind of really weird request at the tail end of a contract negotiation. It may genuinely have been the first time anyone had asked the question; there were no rules or processes even close to relevant, there were no clear contacts for it, and my boss and I spent over 2 hours trying to find literally anything anywhere in the company’s system to go on, but no luck there either.

            At that point, we decided to hit up a director in order management, who was part of our team in India and was always a great resource on these really nonstandard issues. And as far as we could tell, that would be the team most affected by the issue as well. I wrote up an email trying (and not really succeeding) to explain the issue and say, “Please let us know if this appears to be a problem for your team, or if you have any processes in place for this. If not, we’ll proceed as laid out in this email.” The director set up a call with us and one of his directs, and we all got on the phone.

            The first thing that happens, the direct report summarizes my email and then asks US if there’s any problem for our department! We were going, “No, wait, we were asking YOU, we have absolutely no guidance on our end.” Between the difficulty in explaining the highly nonstandard issue and the language barrier, it was like 15 solid minutes of conversation in which every participant was absolutely baffled about what was going on.

        2. Rose*

          This was my first impression too. I actually thought the LW sounded a bit condescending, although well meaning, in their letter.

          The person asked for a new bus stop. LW refers to the request as “confusion” because it would require a route change. That’s just… not confusion. Bus routes are changeable things. Correcting someone who makes that ask would feel extremely condescending.

          I think it’s very possible that there’s a lot more context that the LW didn’t want to include for brevity that would totally mitigate this. However the fact that I read their letter as condescending really makes me think the email might have felt that way, even if it was not actually written that way.

          Also, telling someone “ you must be confused if you want me to do X, that can’t be done” when X absolutely can be done (because moving a bus route is not impossible, and asking for a route change if it’s some thing that would be beneficial for a lot of people seems totally reasonable) might seem like you just didn’t read the email that carefully.

          I’ve also worked in customer service, and know very well that some people will yell at you if you don’t give them what you want, no matter how perfectly you phrase things. It’s just very hard to make inferences from the information given here.

        3. Ess Ess*

          That sounds like my annoyance recently with an answer that I received recently. I had rsvped online to a lecture scheduled to take place a couple hours away from my house. Over the next month (before the lecture date) the website showed only 2 people planning to attend. Since I was going to have to rent a car and get a hotel room, I wanted to make sure that the lecture wasn’t going to get cancelled at the last minute.

          I sent a message to the coordinator saying that I read on the website that the event would take place ‘rain or shine’ (since part of the lecture was scheduled to be outside) but I wondered if there was only 2 people planning to attend if the event was still going to be held. Did they have a minimum attendance needed to ensure that it wouldn’t be cancelled?

          I received back a relatively patronizing response stating that the event would be held “rain or shine”. A day later, I was cc:ed on an email from the coordinator to another event coordinator where the first one asked the second one to put on the website that the event would be held “rain or shine”. And the other person did a ‘reply all’ to respond to me AGAIN that the event would be held rain or shine. Then the first person forwarded the same response to me, and again informed me that even if it rains, the lecture would be held.

          At this point, I was pretty peeved, since that wasn’t my question. I was a little snippy when I responded back to all of them that they had completely ignored my actual question.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I’ve learned that with some people, if one wants a question answered, one cannot put anything not directly pertinent to the question in the email. They seem to only read the first sentence and make up a question based on that. They read the words “rain or shine” and assumed that’s what you were asking about and just stopped reading the rest.

      2. Selena81*

        That was my guess as well.
        Although it would be a bit weird if they didn’t specify a busroute to *where*? Their job? The local station? Changing an existing route to go past their home?

        1. Nina*

          In my town all bus routes except one (the one goes around the perimeter of the town) have one end at the transport station in the center so that doesn’t sound weird to me at all!

      3. Flossie Bobbsey*

        I agree with this interpretation of what the constituent was presumably asking. From the characterization in OP’s letter, OP’s response to the constituent sounds circular – the route can’t go by this building in the future because it doesn’t currently do so. I’d read that as rude too as the recipient.

        OP doesn’t mention telling the constituent anything about reasons why the route itself is set in stone or what the steps would be to change that. Those points presumably take more than a few minutes to research and write up, so a fast reply not mentioning them seems to indicate to the constituent that OP was indeed dismissing the likely true request (that the route be modified).

        Maybe OP didn’t understand the request, or maybe the constituent’s wording made clear that they were just asking for a bus stop for a nonexistent route, or maybe there’s more OP is leaving out from the letter, but I can definitely see OP’s response as coming across as unhelpful and condescending if the rationale was “can’t do X because we don’t currently do X,” especially when sent quickly.

    3. Lydia*

      True, but I work in city government, and I know exactly where the OP is coming from. Sometimes it’s actually more “helpful” to delay the response by at least a couple of hours, if not an entire day to give the appearance of careful consideration, even when you know what the answer already is. It’s only my opinion, but I think this is especially the case in government situations where you are hearing from people who feel a certain ownership over the inner workings of city hall/public transit/etc.

    4. Sparkle Llama*

      The reality is a large number of the no answers we give in local government are perceived as being personal. In this particular example by saying no to a bus stop there you are saying no to her getting to work. Most things are a big deal to the people asking for them.

      One of my goals this year has been saying no better. My department has been framing this as trying to find what we can say yes to. Not possible on everything but if you can convey you have truly considered their request (which I do think that not responding right away helps with) and try to understand the root issue and propose alternative solutions that is great. Heck I sometimes tell people on the phone who aren’t liking my answer that I will discuss it with other staff and get back to them and then call them back the next day without doing anything else in between and they are much more receptive to the no. It is very hard to do this on an ongoing basis when you have a job that means you tell people no 5+ times a day, but I think it is worth trying.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I have an internal customer that absolutely will NOT accept an answer you give immediately. Every single request I get from her I have to act like I went and checked with my boss or looked at policy.

        “Hi Gina — I doubled checked in the department Policy & Procedure and it’s against policy for me to strap a live dolphin to the roof of your company car.”

      2. Chirpy*

        This is very much like retail. Some people get pissed if you don’t go “check in the back”. Doesn’t matter if you know for a fact that item hasn’t been in stock all week or if a dozen other people have already asked today, they just want that bit of theater apparently.

        1. Ashley*

          Ha! So true. When I worked retail, I would get so annoyed when I was asked to “check the back” when I knew for a fact an item was out of stock. But then I realized I could run to the back, get some water, take a little breather, file my nail, check my hair in a mirror, and THEN go and tell the customer that unfortunately we do not have the item they are looking for.

    5. Raida*

      I would argue the request for a bus stop is not “the bus that goes down my street can stop at my house that way” so they need to be told there IS no bus.

      I would argue the request for a bus stop is a request for the bus route to divert to provide service via their street.

      1. Victoria Everglot*

        I definitely read it as “I want the bus I already take that stops on the street behind me to stop on my street right where I live”. Which isn’t necessarily wrong to ask, but you have to expect the answer is probably going to be no unless you can prove a lot more people will benefit. It’s pretty presumptuous to expect an entire public service can be altered just because *you* want it. I know around here sometimes school bus drivers will unofficially change the bus stop to help out a kid who has trouble making it to the real stop, but that’s different.

  4. Anonymous transit planner*

    Just chiming in to say I really feel you on dealing with the strong feelings that people have about their bus stops!

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      I too am a transit planner. There is no amount of reasoning or explanation that will convince these folks. I constantly deal with complaints from riders saying their bus left early when they weren’t at a timepoint. I can explain what a timepoint is until the cows come home, in ways I would use to explain to a child or an alien, and there will be no understanding. Simply explaining how public goods work and are distributed to the public is like explaining rocket science.

      1. Anna*

        Do you think sometimes they understand, but disagree with the approach? Like, for example, they think that all stops should be timepoints? Sometimes in dealing with the city on similar issues about bike lanes, parking, whatever, I understand what they are saying, but I’m trying to express to them the negative implications that has on residents/users.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          No. People who truly understand how fixed route public transit works would never consider that all bus stops should be timepoints. That would be madness. Someone who complains about something that they’ve been told is a result of their own choices (not getting to a bus stop early enough) are not reasonable and cannot be reasoned with.

          1. Selena81*

            Busses in Europe seem to somehow avoid this terrible faith.
            If they run more than a minute or so ahead they will wait at that stop, even if it is not one of the ‘big stops’ like a station or a mall.

            1. Unkempt Flatware*

              Yes, bus drivers here hold time at bus stops not considered time points because their metrics are measured by arrival time as well as departure time at timepoints.

            2. londonedit*

              Buses in central London are so frequent that we don’t really have the concept of them being on time or late. Nowadays there are live updates at most bus stops, and on the TfL and Citymapper apps, so you just look at the screen or look at an app and it’ll list the buses for the nearest stops and how long they’ll be. It’s invariably less than five minutes. The bus routes here are fixed, though, and have been for years/decades, so it would be a very odd thing to write to the council or to TfL and ask for a bus route to go somewhere it doesn’t go. The response would definitely be ‘No, the 266 doesn’t go down that road so there’s no way we can put a bus stop there’.

              1. bird bird*

                You know that TfL consults all the time on bus routes and they are changed regularly? TfL just recently did a big structure of the central to south bus routes and ran a huge consultation activity asking people to right in with how they’d be affected and route considerations.

            3. amoeba*

              Yes, seconding this! I’ve travelled a lot by bus in several European countries and have never heard of this concept – if the bus is early, it will wait at the bus stop! Honestly, the alternative sounds extremely annoying and inconvenient to me…

            4. Been there*

              In my country buses can pass as a stop as much as 5 minutes early. Doesn’t always make sense to wait at a stop if the bus is running ahead of schedule if you know traffic is coming up.

        2. Selena81*

          I definitely think all stops should be timepoints: it’s incredibly annoying when a bus-company expects you to show up way before scheduled arrival just so they can run a few fewer busses and shave off pennies.

          The obvious exception to the above is when transit goes so frequently (every 10 minutes or so) that nobody uses timetables.

          1. Unkempt Flatware*

            Oh dear. All stops being timepoints would double, triple, quadruple, quintuple the travel time. Drivers would be holding time every couple of minutes. Whoa. The horror.

          2. Nina*

            I do tend to disagree, but a bus I usually take has 12 timepoints and 48 possible stops (possible stops? why yes, they don’t stop at all if nobody is waiting there or getting off) on a 12 km route, so it’s not as big a deal as if you have to be at the stop 15 minutes early.

      2. doreen*

        Do your public materials only give scheduled times for the timepoints? The online/printed schedules for buses where I live apparently only give the timepoints but back when I took buses every stop had a sign with a bus schedule and map. And if the sign says the bus is supposed to be at this stop ( or leave from this stop) at 12:17 explaining that it’s not a timepoint isn’t going to be helpful – it just makes me question why someone put a time on the sign at the bus stop instead of “once every 10 minutes” or not having the time at the stop at all.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          Yes, the schedules only show scheduled timepoint stops. If a time is given at a particular bus stop outside of the printed timepoints, in this the year of Barbie, it is using geofenced data to determine the position of the bus relative to the stop. I can’t speak to your experience from years ago.

        2. Anonymous transit planner*

          Yes, this is an issue that’s cropped up over the past decade or so as real-time data and transit apps have become a much bigger part of the customer experience. In order to publish bus information electronically via apps, many agencies will provide a scheduled time for each bus stop, even if the timepoint stops are the only ones the bus is truly scheduled for and the intermediate stop times are just interpolated estimates. If agencies don’t provides those estimates, some apps will do that estimation anyway.

          You’ll never see a transit agency wanting to treat all stops as timepoints – it doesn’t make sense operationally. But agencies should be trying to improve the arrival estimates for intermediate stops to the extent they can.

          1. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

            Whoa I had no idea some of the “scheduled times” on the One Bus Away app are fake! That makes so much sense; I had thought the rule was it they’re more than 5 minutes early they have to wait no matter what stop, but if they’re 1-5 mins early they can take off if no one else is at the stop. My friends and I have gotten so mad arriving 5mins before the bus time and discovering it took off 8mins early!

            Didn’t use to be such an issue before Seattle cut frequency on some key routes.
            Thanks for the explanation!

            1. Anonymous transit planner*

              I’m sorry you’re dealing with that!

              In many cases the estimated arrival times are pretty good, but there are times when the travel time and distance between timepoints aren’t even (a long stretch of higher speed road, a congested intersection) that can throw things off.

              I haven’t heard the “rule” of having to wait if the bus is more than 5 minutes early – I can picture the operations pushback about locations where the bus is on a two-lane road with no space to pull over and waiting would block traffic, or the stop is shared with another route and the bus would be blocking access to the stop, or whatever. It may be an “if safe to do so” rule at some agencies, which means it’s at the judgment of the driver.

            2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              That seems to depend both on the app (like One Bus Away or Transit) and the location/network in question.

              In Boston, I think the only real timepoints are at the very beginning of the run. And even those can be misleading, because that bus I see leaving three minutes early may officially be the previous bus leaving eight minutes late, after getting caught in traffic on its way to the starting point.

              The app tries to distinguish between “the schedule says a bus should be there in three minutes” and “the transponder says that a bus will arrive in three minutes.”

      3. ina*

        To the time point thing, I didn’t even know this was a thing until one operator kindly explained it (over the intercom, lol) while we waited at one since we were 5 minutes early.

        Honestly, more communication on how transit decision are made would be very useful for the average rider – not sure how much you give in your area, but where I live it’s zero to none. So, by the time you’re explaining it, it’s like “Well, I’m already upset! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?! /piles onto the ‘this office is incompetent & poorly communicates’ mindset.” The things that make sense to a person who’s 9-5 is addressing and thinking about this are alien rocket science to someone who is the end user.

        Although, in my specific region, I am convinced the people who work in the transit office do not take the bus or train themselves. :s (Half joking, but some of the choices in the last 5 or so years have increased commute times for many people and only decreased it for people who live along the train line – the amount of single occupancy vehicles has increased in a manner inconsistent with population growth).

      4. Jessica*

        This whole thread is fascinating. I’ve never heard the term “timepoint” before, and I don’t feel like anyone has tried to explain to me the thing I’ve learned by inference in reading these comments. Does your city’s transit website contain as clear and direct an explanation as you’re able to muster for how this all works? If not, that’s part of the problem. The public can’t understand things if the specialists who work with the things don’t try to communicate the explanation.

      5. Ray Gillette*

        Does the frequency of the route affect how angry people are, in your experience? I understand timepoints and always aim to get to a bus stop at or before the timepoint prior to my stop in the route, but sometimes the bus still departs early. Like let’s say I’m three stops ahead of a timepoint stop and the bus is scheduled to depart the timepoint at 10:12, I arrive at my stop at 10:08 to see the bus pulling away. If the buses were every 10 minutes I wouldn’t bother complaining because it’s not much of a wait, but if they’re only every half hour I am going to be pretty upset.

  5. juicebox*

    When I worked in a call center, this sort of thing happened all the time. If I already knew the answer to something was no and explained it right away, people would get mad. But if I put them on hold for a few minutes and then came back to give the exact same response, they were less upset overall because they perceived that I made more of an effort even though the policy would have been the same regardless.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I spent some time in customer service – not a call center, but we did answer calls, emails, etc. And I would frequently spend a minute or two on “oh, let me look that up for you” or “let me double check with my coworkers” or what have you even when I knew exactly what the answer was – because it made them feel like I’d really considered and put some effort into it.

      1. Endorable*

        I spent a soul shrivelling month in chat based customer service, and even if for some reason the queue had no customers waiting and we were only dealing with one at a time, instead of two or three, we were told to take our time with our responses ‘to manage customer expectations’ because that situation is NOT normal and they’d expect that speed of response in the future.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Related to that – they had a new giant Ferris wheel at the WI state fair a few years ago. We were waiting in line and noticed they were leaving every third carriage empty.

          My husband, the engineer, was convinced it was for load and balance.

          I looked at the long line ahead of us and the long line behind us and said, Nope, it’s to keep the line long.

          My husband didn’t believe me, but I said that they could easily have filled every single carriage and reached perfect balance but they wanted the line long so that passers by would see the line and wonder what was going on and think it must be something good if people were willing to wait in line.

          1. Phony Genius*

            Interesting. P.T. Barnum had the opposite opinion because he thought that long lines deterred customers from coming in and spending money. That’s why he added several “This was to the egress” signs to his sideshow exhibit, to keep people moving. (At least those who wanted to see what an egress was.)

            1. doreen*

              It’s really both – there’s a spot in between where the line is long enough that it looks good but not so long that it’s not worth the wait. Also depends on what other lines are around – if food stand #1 has a line and stand #2 doesn’t , I’m probably going to stand #1

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      In retail, I was taught to always go to the stockroom to “check,” even if we knew for a fact that we didn’t have what the customer wanted. You would look in the returns on the off chance someone had brought on back, but otherwise, just hang out for a bit, then go back to deliver the bad news. It kept people from feeling dismissed.

    3. Sally Rhubarb*

      This is why the mythical “back room” exists in retail. Even if you immediately know that you’re out of llama shampoo, somehow the customer is happier if you walk to the back, chill there for a few minutes and then walk back up and apologize that sorry, we are in fact out of llama shampoo.

      1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

        I was once looking for a product that was in a box on a high shelf (I am very short). I asked a worker if there was any in the back, and was very embarrassed when he thought I meant the back of the store! I corrected myself and he reached into the shelf and found one at the back of the shelf!

    4. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

      People who are mad at not getting what they want will try to hang their hat on any detail of the way they were told “no” instead.

  6. Jesshereforthecomments*

    I agree that you should give it 15 minutes at the very least. Also, I trick I use when saying no is to soften it in the beginning in way that aligns with your role. Like, “that is understandable that a closer bus stop would be easier. Unfortunately… blah, blah, blah.”

    But then again, some people will be upset no matter how or when you respond if they’re not getting what they want.

  7. Hiring Mgr*

    I could see how to someone who doesn’t know how it works, a quick response might imply you didn’t really give in any thought. But more likely they’re just unhappy there won’t be a bus stop and you’re the logical one to vent to.

  8. Governmint Condition*

    I actually am often assigned to reply to requests like this. One thing that’s important is to determine exactly what the constituent is really asking. If they would like a bus stop somewhere that the bus does not run, it is a fair assumption that they would like the bus rerouted to that location. So for your particular example, as part of the response I would refer the constituent to the agency that determines where the bus routes are (assuming it is not your agency). Under certain circumstances, my upper management may request that I pass the request directly to that agency.

    The reason we do it this was is because this approach avoids the appearance of dismissiveness. In this example, it both explains the situation to the constituent and helps get them in contact with whoever can presumably best address their request.

    Unfortunately, it is common for agencies to assign such responses to employees who have not been trained in public relations, even when there is a dedicated P.R. officer or group. My knowledge of how to handle these matters has come purely from having been assigned to do them. My only training has been that my draft responses are reviewed by upper management before they go out, so I make note of their changes and try to adjust for next time.

    And, yes, we typically wait to send out responses to non-urgent matters. Usually 1-3 weeks.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Right, it seems to me the person in this specific case was annoyed by this answer because it seems a bit self-evident to me that they were hoping a bus could be added to pick them up. The don’t understand the distinction that seems obvious to you as a bureaucrat; they just want a bus (I say this without meaning offense, I am also a bureaucrat). I assume they know there’s not currently a bus there. They want one. So answering this way, while technically correct, doesn’t address their concern and feels almost like a logical fallacy (“you can’t have a bus because a bus doesn’t run there. Have a great day!”). You might have said, to request the transportation authority review the bus routes or to suggest a new route, contact X / Fill out this form / whatever.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Luckily, telling a constituent that their next step for convincing the powers that be to put a bus stop there is going to their legislator takes all the wind out of their sails.

    3. Frickityfrack*

      Wait, you guys don’t send responses for 1-3 WEEKS? Jesus, I’d get fired if that was my normal response time (I also work in municipal government). I do my absolute best to respond within 1 business day, even if it’s just to say, “I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m following up and will let you know asap.”

      I’m with you on the rest – this person wasn’t going to be happy to be told no, regardless of when that no arrived, but referring them to whoever is in charge of bus routes would’ve probably softened the blow.

      1. HonorBox*

        Yes, I was also shocked by the 1-3 weeks thing. Government or not. If someone is sending in a request it may not be urgent, but it is definitely important to them and sitting that long is as dismissive as sending a “too quick” response.

        1. Governmint Condition*

          The requests that are assigned to me are often already a week old. Here’s how the process will typically work: Someone sends a request to the governor’s office. Then somebody in that office will read it and decide which state agency can best answer the question and send it there. Next, someone in the main office of that state agency will then decide if this is a main office issue or one for a regional office. If it’s a regional office issue, it is sent there. In the regional office, someone has to review the request and determine which group within the region should address it. It goes to the manager of that group who then may assign it to one of their employees. All of those people I just mentioned have jobs where about 95% of their work does not involve requests, this process alone can take a week. Add to that the required information gathering, composition, and review, and you see why it can take that long.

          Also, if we send a draft response too quickly, we will be questioned by management if we thoroughly checked the accuracy of our response, since they know our workload makes it unlikely that we can respond same-day.

      2. Governmint Condition*

        The 1-3 weeks is because we are in a very heavily-populated area, and we get a large quantity of requests from various sources (e-mail, website, U.S. Mail, etc.). Many requests require information from employees in various departments, who have their regular duties to do. Sometimes, it can take a significant amount of time to review something to compose an accurate answer. Also, if the request is from an elected official, we usually speed up the process, but it can still take up to 2 weeks due to the nature of the request. In those cases, a government relations officer may reach out to the elected official first. (And responses to elected officials require more complete answers and many more levels of review, which add to the response time.)

        1. Frickityfrack*

          That’s interesting, and honestly sounds like your employer is understaffed if it routinely takes that long to get responses out. I’ve worked at all levels of government except federal, and none of them would’ve been ok with that being the standard. For more involved things, of course it can take longer to get a complete response, but it was always the standard to at least get a “working on it” message out within a few days at most. Responding to constituent questions and requests *is* part of everyone’s regular duties for pretty much everyone I’ve ever worked for.

          1. doreen*

            That kind of depends – if you wrote to the governor’s office about something related to my agency it would take anywhere from two weeks to a month to get to me. It had to go from the governor’s office to my commissioner’s office to the deputy commissioner’s office to the assistant commissioner’s office to my regional director’s office and finally to me. If you wrote directly to me or my regional director, it was much faster.

            1. Frickityfrack*

              I can see there being a delay when requests are coming in to the governor’s office (and I really hate when people do that because it doesn’t change the answer, it just makes it take longer to get one), but for 1-3 weeks to be a standard timeline across the board seems kind of crazy. If staff has so much to do that they can’t find the time to respond to a constituent inquiry within a day or two of receiving it, I’d still argue that that’s a problem. Even the busiest offices I’ve worked in have said 2 business days max for some kind of response to the requestor, even if it was just to tell them it’d be a little longer.

              1. Yorick*

                It honestly can take that long just for the request to get to the right person, but the response might be very soon after that. If something comes to the governor’s office, they might know right away to send it to my agency, but even within my agency many people don’t know to send it to my team. So data requests bounce around for quite awhile until finally someone who knows us gets it and sends it to us.

        2. Happily Retired*

          But do you not (I’m sorry, I realize that you didn’t make the policy) at least send an acknowledgement that their request has been received, and that in order to properly research the answer(s), they will probably get an answer in 1-3 weeks? One of the reasons that people get so angry is because they have no idea if anyone saw or heard their message.

          Sending messages and requests to governments or any other big entity frequently feels like shouting down into an empty well. I genuinely (and STRONGLY) feel that your agency should at least look at this quick “got it; working on it” email. It could even be generic and automated. Just so that the constituent knows that someone, somewhere, has looked at it.

        3. Sparkle Llama*

          This makes a lot more sense to me. I currently work in local government where we aim for 24 hours and have worked in the governors office where we took months. And depending on the situation the response may need to go through 5+ different people for approval.

      1. Alice*

        If this approach is the reason why I am still waiting for a public records request that was supposed to be handled by August 10, I will be really upset. And do – well, nothing, because what can I do?

      2. amoeba*

        Eh. To be fair, for a non-urgent question such as the one in the letter, I’d be perfectly fine to have a reply within 3 weeks! (Although it would be nice to have some kind of auto-reply set up in addition to that…)

  9. KHB*

    There was a post a while back on how soon is too soon to reject a candidate after an interview. My thought on that was that if the candidate came to you for an in-person interview, you should wait at least long enough for them to be able to get home, change out of their interview clothes, and decompress. Interviewing is an intense experience, and it would sting a lot to realize that it was all for nothing when it isn’t even completely over yet.

    I think a similar logic can apply here. Gathering up the courage to write to your local government can take a lot out of some people. So if you can give them a little time to feel good about themselves for having finally done it, before you reject their request and take the wind out of their sails, that would probably be a good thing to do.

    As for the specific request about the bus stop: Could it be that the constituent was asking if a bus route could be modified to go past her building? I do understand that it’s not feasible to make that kind of change for just one person, but maybe at least pretend to be keeping track of requests like this so you can consider them later? “It’s absolutely impossible to put a bus stop in front of your building because there’s no bus route that goes by your building, end of story” is the kind of rigid inflexibility that people think of when they think of stereotypically narrow-minded municipal governments.

    1. Lily Potter*

      I remember being stunned by commenters that thought it perfectly acceptable to immediately send a rejection email… as the candidate is leaving the building! Some on the interviewing side were all “I’d rather know the absolute minute a decision is made!” and there were HR types that said that it was too much work to wait and reject people the next day. I say, give people plausible deniability and wait at least a day if not more before circling back – let them think “well, at least they gave me a fair shot.”

      1. Alternative Person*

        Seriously. At my job, especially at the individual contributor level, decisions are often made very quickly, within an hour of the interview finishing is very common but we usually wait a day or two to get our notes submitted into the system and by the time the process completes it is usually another day or two after that. Certainly, our system builds in the time between the interview and receiving the results but if I didn’t have that, I’d at least use schedule send to put in a few days.

  10. MK*

    Eh, this person is probably unreasonable, because her request is completely unreasonable, and I am surprised OP doesn’t find it so. Where I am from the placement of bus stops is decided based on urban planning studies, not upon request by citizens; even if there was a bus route on the street, you don’t just add a stop because a resident wants one in front of her door! Constituents can certainly make a case for such a thing (if, say, the distance between stop A and stop B is too long and the public would benefit by an intermediate stop), same as they could request a change in bus routes or even an additional route if their area is underserviced. But not simple say they want a bus stop to accommodate them.

    1. Alice*

      How much creativity does it take to think, hey, maybe this person is not literally asking “I would like you to start building, in front of my building, a bus stop shelter that will never be visited by a bus” but rather asking “I would like the nearby bus to be rerouted down this block with a stop in front of my building”?
      Now, maybe that underlying request is unreasonable. But let’s not pretend that every resident knows what form they are supposed to fill out or how to make the case for a civic improvement in a way that you will see as correct.
      Is the goal to run a good bus system that takes constituent feedback into account? Or is the goal to get the constituent to never write to the bus authority again?

      1. MK*

        I think it took rather to much creativity to assume I interpreted the request as an ask for a useless stop. I know the constituent wanted the bus rerouted, and that was the request I found unreasonable as stated. And, sure, maybe they don’t know the process, but you know how one finds these things? They ask the municipal employees. Not make random demands of them and then start name-calling when they don’t get their way.

      2. L-squared*

        The problem is, when you try to answer a question that wasn’t asked, that can also upset people.

        Constituent asked a specific question, and OP COULD have answered a different question than what is asked, but that is still a gamble to what the reaction could be.

        1. umami*

          A good rule of thumb is to answer the question as you understand it (Can you put a bus stop here? No, because X reasons), then add additional information that would be useful if they did, in fact, want to request a change, i.e. No, because X reasons, but if you would like a bus stop to be considered either there or somewhere closer to you, you can fill out this form/call this department/other actionable information.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      From the resident’s perspective it isn’t unreasonable.
      They probably don’t know what’s involved in changing a bus route.

    3. Amh*

      It’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of people DON’T know how these things are decided because it has never come up for them. Obviously in this case, with no bus route on the road currently, it was an unreasonable request on the face of it. But let’s take your point that constituents can make the case for such a thing – they may not even know where to start, and an email to their municipality with the request is a reasonable starting point.

    4. Frickityfrack*

      To be fair, a lot of those studies happen when we start seeing a lot of similar requests from residents. On a smaller scale, the city I work for has an application for traffic calming that residents can submit, along with a handful of signatures from neighbors in the affected area, and our public works department will do a traffic study there to determine what, if any, calming methods are warranted. It’s not totally unreasonable to think that asking might change something.

    5. Alex*

      True, but also, if there is a forum for “comments and suggestions” and no one ever says they would really like a bus stop at X point, how would the transportation authority know that bunches of people are secretly wanting a bus stop at point X?

      I say this as someone who wrote to my transportation authority requesting that a bus stop be moved, AND IT HAPPENED! Now, I don’t know if I was the direct cause of it–maybe my suggestion was obvious and they were going to move it anyway, or 100 people wrote in with the same request, but I like to think I had a hand in this improvement.

    6. umami*

      To be fair, OP’s question isn’t really about bus stops, but about whether responding too quickly contributes to someone feeling like their request is being dismissed or being given a canned response.

    7. Rose*

      Asking to add a new bus stop is in no way unreasonable. Bus routes are not immovable things decreed by the bus gods. Treating questions this way is a great way to get a rude email back every time you say no.

      1. Student*

        I think it really, really depends on the location. I’ve lived in places where this would potentially be reasonable. I’ve lived in places where this would be rather insane, possibly downright hazardous. It depends on population density, traffic density, road complexity. I think we should take the OP’s word that it’s not at all feasible, given the OP has all the relevant info to make that call and we don’t.

        Like, I lived in a suburb for a while. The roads were a windy, directionless mess, but the traffic was low. Moving a bus stop a block in any direction, anywhere, would have little to no ripple effect along most of the routes, most of the time.

        Now I live in a city, with a rush hour that is cutthroat, roads that are a pretty strict layout with one-ways mixed in and high vs low density roads. Moving a bus stop a block in any direction could: add several minutes to the route to navigate one-way road restrictions; create an actual hazard to people and traffic by stopping rush-hour flow on some of our busy roads (the cars will not wait patiently here during rush hour – they will rush around the bus, crash into each other, crash into the bus, honk like maniacs, potentially hit pedestrians trying to get to the bus); spoil the intended routing where there are dedicated bus lanes; move a stop away from a well-designed spot made for the bus (with a nice waiting area and space for the bus to idle without impacting traffic) to a spot with no such design work to accommodate residents and drivers, or add significant time to large numbers of commuters who switch from one type of transit to another (changing bus routes, swapping from light rail to bus, etc.) by spoiling pre-planned route links. It’s just not going to happen on a resident request, ever – it’s got to be based off city-level transit planning considerations.

        1. Blue*

          I believe OP that it wasn’t feasible, but I also don’t think it was inherently unreasonable of the resident to ask, which is what the commentor at the top of the thread is saying.

    8. Lydia*

      This does not even raise to the level of slightly out of touch for requests to governments. The vast majority of people who are asking if something can be done by their local government are actually asking in good faith. “Can this be done?” because they genuinely don’t know if it can or can’t. Don’t assume the asker is unreasonable just because the response is no.

    9. Yorick*

      Sure, they do urban planning studies. But if 200 residents of a particular apartment building emailed and asked for a route to go by their building, eventually that change would be made. For that to happen, they have to all send emails that might individually sound silly.

      By that same logic, we shouldn’t all write to our representatives to ask them to vote for a bill. They’re not gonna do it because one person asked!

  11. Autumn*

    Sometimes it’s worth while to ease the No with the info of why it’s no. Example

    “ I received your e-mail about a bus stop in front of 604 Whitehall Street, sadly there isn’t actually a bus that runs on that block of Whitehall St. Bus 10 runs on nearby Guthrie St and stops at Guthrie and Whitehall, just a half a block from you at 604 Whitehall St. I hope that helps.”

    1. Squirrel*

      it sounds like OP did just that : “responded with a note saying why a bus stop isn’t possible and pointed them to the closest bus route”

    2. KatCardigans*

      It kind of sounds like OP did that? I took “responded with a note saying why a bus stop isn’t possible and pointed them to the closest bus route” to mean she gave info on why she said no.

    3. Rose*

      I agree w others that this is what OP did but I also think this is exactly why the person for frustrated. “ we can’t make the bus go there because the bus doesn’t currently go there,” is frankly a crappy non-answer.

    4. Lydia*

      This. My approach to helping the people I serve is, if I have to say no to your actual request, I’m going to try to get you as close as I can to what you want while still following the rules. It’s not always possible, but it’s my job to serve the public and that means helping where I can.

    5. ClaireW*

      I mean, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the person writing to OP already knows where the buses are? I would find this an insanely patronising response personally – *obviously* I would not be asking for a bus-stop to just be put on a road that a bus doesn’t go down, the fact that a bus would be routed to that stop as part of it’s route is a fairly blatant thing that would be implied, I would think. Pople aren’t asking for redundant bus stops where there are no buses, or not grasping where the buses currently go.

  12. Another Academic Librarian too*

    Sometimes the answer isn’t the one to this specific question.
    If I asked for a bus stop in front of my building, its not that I am ignorant that it isn’t on the bus route. Its that I want a bus stop in front of my building and I didn’t know how to ask the real question.
    The real question is “How do I get a bus route to go past my building to go downtown? I need one within a block of my apartment building. I am unable to walk to the one you suggested. (a steep hill, a dangerous intersection, runs infrequently) We have over 100 seniors in this building and it would be a community benefit. Who do I contact or how do I make that happen?
    So yes, I would say it doesn’t matter how much time elapsed between the question and the answer. Its that your answer didn’t help me with my problem on getting a bus stop in front of my building.

    1. hbc*

      Yeah, the “not asking the right question” is more common than people think, even with questioners who don’t complain about the answer they got. I think the top level explanation is pretty good (any bus would have to be majorly rerouted or a new route added), but something to address the reason for the question would be good. Maybe along the lines of:

      “Bus routes are designed based on [population density/businesses/etc] and aim for no more than a half mile of walking from any address. It looks like you’re within that distance, but if there are factors that aren’t obvious such as blocked pedestrian paths, please contact [department] for review. If that’s too far to walk, see [link] for senior and disability transportation services.”

    2. kiki*

      Yeah, I think one of the skills I developed most after working with the public is figuring out what folks’ actual question is, what their actual need is. It can be hard and more time-consuming, but taking the time to figure out if somebody has a deep community need (as illustrated by Another Academic Librarian too’s example) is important– I’d say more important than a super-quick response time.

  13. Lily Potter*

    Reminds me of the letter a few months back where someone interviewed for a job and got a canned email rejection before they left the property. Yes, sometimes its best to give the illusion that you gave serious consideration before rejecting a person (or an idea).

  14. Heidi*

    I wonder if the constituent was expecting the OP’s office to change the bus route so that it stopped outside their building, which would justify the need for a bus stop.

  15. Isben Takes Tea*

    It could also be that it wasn’t solely the speed of the response, but whether the essence behind the request or question has been addressed; in your example, for instance, if the question was “Can you add a bus stop to Line X outside of my building,” an answer of “Line X doesn’t run on your street” doesn’t address the essence of the request, which is “I would like more convenient access to Line X.” The answer may be the same in both cases (no), but answering “Bus routes are carefully planned by the city, and we unfortunately are not able to adjust bus routes at this time” or “If you’re interested in having input on bus route adjustments, here’s who to write to” both seem less dismissive than “There is no bus route on your street.”

  16. MicroManagered*

    I think a person who writes the city to ask for a bus stop outside her door, when there’s not a bus route on that entire street, may have found fault in any response that wasn’t a yes. She probably doesn’t understand that what she’s really asking for is a whole new bus route or a significant change to an existing bus route, which is probably a much bigger ask than adding a stop along an existing route.

    Don’t worry about it!

  17. Susan*

    Well, there’s this: The constituent likely already knows that the bus doesn’t come down her street. So what she’s asking for is not a new shelter for a non-existent bus, but for the bus to be rerouted to stop at her building.

    If you had taken longer to read and respond, would you have understood the request better?

    (Reposting, as I didn’t mean for this to be a reply, but that’s where I put it.)

    1. Heffalump*

      I’d certainly know the difference between “make the bus run down my street” and “add a stop for this bus, which already runs down my street,” but that’s me. Some people have poor judgment or poor communication skills.

    2. That Coworker's Coworker*

      Exactly. In this case the original poster responded to the email so quickly that it doesn’t seem there was time for it to dawn on him or her that there was a subtler implied request. By taking the request so literally it did indeed read as a flippant response. I don’t think this was the OP’s intent, but taking a few hours or days to mull over the request probably would have avoided that impression.

    3. KatCardigans*

      If that’s the true question, then the constituent’s response to OP’s email should have been “oh, you may have misunderstood me, I meant that there needs to be a route there, too,” not to tell her that she’s rude and dismissive.

      It’s a lot to expect that municipal government employees, who are presumably pretty busy, correctly identify and respond to subtext.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I think the point was more if OP took a little more time to read and reply, they might have been able to craft a better response. Doesn’t mean OP was rude, and maybe the woman would have been upset regardless, but this is what OP asked us to discuss.

      2. Helewise*

        Yes, this. And while a lot of the commenters seem really clear on what the email they didn’t read themselves obviously must have meant, that is very often not the case – it’s really easy to assume incorrectly and spend a lot of time crafting a response to a question that wasn’t asked. Some of us are spread really, really thin.

    4. Maisonneuve*

      I think the assumption that the person didn’t understand the question is unfair. It might have been a question they get a lot, so they had a prepared response they personalized. This is the case for the I work for the government office I work for.

      Second, interpreting questions beyond face value can be tricky for government offices. The legal team in my office has made it clear we need to answer the question asked or refer the writer on if it’s not in our mandate. We have limited leeway to provide extra information addressing what we think the writer means but hasn’t asked. It would be up to the writer to clarify what they meant after our response.

  18. Summer*

    Regarding a speedy rejection, I applied to a posting late in the evening and received a rejection notification at 6 AM the following morning. I felt hurt because I felt like it wasn’t seen by an actual person. How could I tell if this rejection was a decision made by a human or an applicant tracking system that decided I wasn’t the best fit for role and filtered out my resume?

  19. RYNE*

    I sometimes delay responding when I am asked one of those annoying things by a coworker that I can easily answer very quickly but the asker could and should get the answer another way. Like if I’ve already explained something a bunch of times or there is a resource or documentation they should be using, or whatever. I try to wait at least a little longer than I think it would take them to answer the question themselves.

  20. Furious Green Dreams*

    Jim Halpert and Pam agonized over a text to his boss to say he couldn’t go to Florida. Robert California responded in 2 seconds and it was understood as a power move.

  21. Addison DeWitt*

    I had a client (advertising) who if they raised an objection, and you responded quickly, felt that you had anticipated their argument and had a dismissive answer ready. I quickly learned to answer “Hmm, that’s interesting” and not actually respond for a day.

    The reality was… I’M GOOD AT THIS AND I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!

  22. A Poster Has No Name*

    This is an interesting question in the big, but for this particular case, this was not a ‘you problem’, LW.

    Most people would take “Sorry, we can’t put a bus stop where there is no bus route” as a prompt to smack their forehead and send a “sorry to bother you, thanks for the quick reply” message.

    This not that person, and I don’t think time would have made a difference, here.

    1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      The requester isn’t stupid, by “bus stop” she means she wants a bus route on her street so that the bus will stop nearby.

    2. Raida*

      If a citizen asks for a ‘bus stop’ they generally mean ‘bus that stops here for me to get there’

      Which could certainly be better phrased as “Requesting a review of local bus route 573 to travel down Smith Rd”

      But that doesn’t mean their intent is hard to grasp, nor that they, as the not-transport-expert should be expected to phrase things in the best way. Just that the person on the receiving end should figure out the possible meanings, and offer them at the least the best way to contact the correct office in charge of transit planning, along with information on how to get to their nearest bus stop.

    3. Yorick*

      Why do y’all think she asked for a bus stop there? Do y’all think she just wanted a pretty bus sign and shelter? Or maybe that she wanted the bus she takes to pick her up closer to her home? Sure, she could have worded it better. But this probably seems to her like willful misunderstanding just to avoid having to help citizens navigate the process of trying to make local changes.

  23. L-squared*

    I think a lot of people are getting WAY off the point of this letter.

    What OP wants to know is about timing of letters. I don’t find all of the “well, if you dug deeper and tried to figure out what they REALLY wanted…” None of that matters. WE don’t know OPs role, but either way, they answered the questions.

    Too many people are trying to argue with the fact that OP answered the question as written and didn’t make some random assumptions and answered a question that wasn’t asked.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I think it’s fair to point out that there may be some reasons other than the speed of the reply that made the constituent feel it was rude.

    2. hbc*

      I’m guilty of that, but I think it’s because it’s weird to ignore the example given. So yes, sometimes it’s better to wait, but no, a delay probably wouldn’t have helped much in this case.

    3. doreen*

      I’m not going to say the OP should have made assumptions (although in this case, it’s not that much of an assumption)- but when I worked at a government agency , I made an effort to clarify the question rather than give this sort of answer. Because this sort of answer would almost certainly have at least doubled my work. I might or might not have received a reply stating that I was rude and dismissive – but given the population I worked with, the next email would likely have gone to my boss. Unless the person complained to their legislator – in which case the email would have gone to someone two or three levels above my boss.

      1. RunShaker*

        It is speed on how quickly you answered for many people. I work in finance, wealth management and have found that providing a quick answer for my clients that are upset/not happy about something proved to be the wrong move. And that’s even if I know the answer! The client feels like you didn’t take the time to “listen” to them and research their issue. Even if I knew the answer, I would let them know I’ll research and get back with them and it was typically the same day. I found this cut down complaints by 90%. The client feels like you took the time to take a look. If you can’t response, let me research and get back with you, a response later in the day could say “my apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I researched your request for complaint/issue and this is what I found.” I’ve been doing this for years and even for majority of upset clients, it helped.

    4. Gondorff*

      But the interpretation of the speed of the reply, which was the point of the letter, is or can be dependent on the situation, and in the case of constituent services, customer relations, PR, etc., there are good reasons to take longer to reply to something, much like in this case, which is what a lot of these are getting at.

    5. Andrew*

      I agree, especially given that we have neither the original text of the letter nor the OP’s response.

      (I’ll also admit I, as someone who has worked in transit, am personally a bit cranky at reading all the responses along the lines of “bus routes are not immovable things decreed by the bus gods.”

      Transit planners are not idiots who don’t know how buses work! I’d invite commenters to reflect on the fact that perhaps transit planners know how complicated it can be to make network changes — bus lines don’t operate in isolation, moving a bus line will add service in one place but likely remove service in another place, schedules/shifts have to be updated, new timetables have to be written, local politicians often need to be on board/mollified, etc.)

      1. Helewise*

        Same. We’re about to start a route study to evaluate the efficiency of our routes, and it’s a big deal. This is a frustrating thread.

      2. Shan*

        Hard agree. “Bus lines aren’t immovable” – yes, and the one way street that’s annoyance to me every morning could also be changed to go both directions, but that doesn’t mean it’s an small ask.

      3. Yorick*

        Right, but the answer to the person making the request would be different based on whether they want to add a stop between 2 existing stops or whether they want to change a route. How would someone go about campaigning to change a route? Give them that information. If not, at least explain a bit about the timeframe for routes to be analyzed and changed.

        1. Yorick*

          To clarify, I understand the answer would probably still boil down to “no.” But the current answer does seem dismissive – the person likely knows there isn’t a bus on their street, so to say “no, we can’t add a stop there as there isn’t currently a route that goes by” sounds like the person has willfully misunderstood what you’re asking for.

    6. Tommy Girl*

      I think a lot of us have dealt with really dismissive local officials, so there may be some of that here . . .

    7. Dahlia*

      Whether or not you’re giving a question a thorough response is certainly a factor in how speedy your response is!!

    8. Raida*

      And I think, after working in public transport for 15 years, that anyone responding to ‘I want a bus stop’ with “There’s not a bus on your street” would be bloody well reprimanded and told if they don’t want to do the work to get the right answer then they should forward such questions to the Network Planning team.

    9. ClaireW*

      But I think the fact that the OP might not have answered the ‘real’ question is a big part of it. Like there’s a difference between answering a very simple email in ten minutes of receiving it – “Is this event still running tonight” “Yes” – and something more complex. If someone answers a question in a way that feels patronising, or that they didn’t really care to actually read what I wrote, then the fact that they replied so fast is going to feed in to that feeling of not being listened to.

      I think it’s like, when I call my ISP as a tech person – it’s frustrating when they ask questions I have already answered because I can tell they’re not really taking in what I’m saying and just going off a script. If they re-asked a question during a genuine conversation, or misunderstood while clearly trying their best to understand, I’d be a lot less frsutrated. The timing plays into the overall impression the person got from OP’s response, it wasn’t jsut the timing and it wasn’t separate from the timing either..

    10. Yorick*

      But the possible misunderstanding of the question makes the timing matter even more.

      If I email someone and get a response 5 mins later that completely misunderstands my question, I’m gonna be super annoyed. I’ll also be annoyed if the same response is a day later too, but at least I won’t think they were in too much of a rush to actually read my message.

  24. kjolis*

    I once advocated for someone on my team to get a raise, so I sent an email to the Vice President of my division. I had carefully collected information from this person’s performance reviews, work and education history, as well as Bureau of Labor Statistics data to show that this person was deserving of a raise not only on merit, but to meet market rate.

    It only took 2 hours for me to receive a “No.” I was at least thinking my VP was going to come back with “let me review this/speak to the president/etc.,” even if the answer was ultimately going to be no. The 2 hour turnaround was very deflating.

    Fortunately, I was able to get my direct report a raise eventually.

  25. Something Wicked This Way Comes*

    At a previous job, there was some sort of monitoring software that reported how long it took people to reply to emails and if your average time was less than an hour you got into trouble.

    1. That Coworker's Coworker*

      In my industry there’s one insurance company that covers almost every firm in the region, and we all have to go to the same annual training about written communication, where they hand out the same email cheat sheet every year. One of the things on it is “Wait! Think!” – they recommend taking a day for anything non-urgent, and 20 deep breaths before anything immediately urgent: maybe that would work as a rule of thumb for the original LW.

  26. Over It*

    This is a fascinating question, and looking forward to reading other responses. There’s definitely no foolproof way to get it right 100% if the time. I used to manage a public program where the official policy on turnaround time for requests sent to the shared inbox (that I alone at the time was managing) was 1-2 business days, but I nearly always responded within 30min-2 hours because otherwise I would lose track of requests. I finally hired a program coordinator who took the 1-2 business day response time to heart, and it caused a lot of tension because I had trained people to expect a response ASAP! But my employee is technically still responding in a reasonable timeframe, and the people making requests need to chill. All that is to say though that if you always respond right away, it both trains people to expect immediate responses if they correspond with you regularly, and it will make them think you didn’t put thought into things if you tell them no (even if your reasoning is sound). So yeah, I wouldn’t wait days or weeks to get back to someone if you know the answer to something right away, but there can be real value in waiting a few hours or the next business day to respond in certain contexts.

  27. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Hey! Also in municipal government here and my standard practice is to try not to leave folks with just a “no”. I doubt they would have been happy with your response no matter the timing though they might feel more justified in being annoyed if you respond too quickly, that doesn’t ultimately make a difference in the outcome for anyone.

    In my experience, softening the blow of the no matters a lot more than the timing. For something like this I would assure them that we would love to be able to provide them with additional transit options but we don’t have the resources to deliver a bus stop at that location right now. You generally don’t even need to include specific reasons because people aren’t really interested in that, but it’s important to let them know you’re happy to explain if they want to learn more or link them to a page with that info.

    I would also connect them with other services we have to help them get around town if those are available and finally close with a reminder that I’ve shared their interest with the Transit planners and give them info on how they can get involved with Transit decisions, like joining a commission or making comment at a Council meeting or filing a petition. Generally this response is better received from someone actually in the department in question, but if that’s not how your system works I generally try to at least copy someone from the department.

    Speed is one way thoughtfulness is conveyed, but it’s not the only way!

    1. Gerri’s Jaunty Hat*

      I agree that in this kind of public service role, “no, but” is a lot better than just “no.”

    2. Raida*

      This is exactly what I would expect – tell them that their request is forwarded to the planning teams to include in future network reviews, give them information on their nearest service, give them information on additional services available, and thank them for letting us know.

  28. Sparkles McFadden*

    Yes, many people do think answers that come too quickly are knee-jerk responses. I would often write replies to certain emails right away, and then let them “age” in my drafts folder (like a fine electronic wine) and send them closer to the end of the day (or early the next morning).

    There were also a handful of people where they’d ask a non-time-sensitive question which I could have answered immediately, but I’d say “I’ll get back to you in a bit” because I knew they wouldn’t like my answer, but they’d take it better if they didn’t feel I was dismissing them on the spot.

  29. knitcrazybooknut*

    My best supervisor presented the opposite problem. I would come up with process improvements, and craft very cool emails listing the current process, why it sucked, how I wanted to change it, what it would take to do this, etc.

    He would respond, “K”.

    Long-standing joke that he would try to use as few characters as possible, but that didn’t keep me from (jokingly) going back and saying, did you even read my masterpiece??

  30. pjm*

    As part of my job, I used to send email inquiries to a woman who sent shockingly fast responses to my emails. It used to make me wonder how she could have possibly even have read the e-mail that quickly, never mind respond to it so fast. Here is the thing, in her effort to respond so quickly, there were times that she gave thoughtless or incorrect answers to inquiries and on a couple of occasions she took incorrect actions on things that took a lot of effort to fix. I always suspected it was because she didn’t carefully read what was sent to her, like she was too focused on sending back that super fast response!

    1. pally*

      I learned not to include more than two questions in any one email to the boss. He NEVER answered beyond the second question. Didn’t matter how it was formatted (separate question on each line), bolded, underlined. Questions 3 and beyond were not responded to.

      1. Workerbee*

        Oh, yeah. This.

        That particular boss then devolved into “Just leave me a Post-it note on my desk!” – a smaller-sized one for single questions. Then it became “Remind me to read the Post-it notes!”

        I decided that if he was going to put so much energy into not being accountable, who am I to harsh that game?

  31. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Sometimes, “Your response was rude and dismissive” just means “You told me no and I don’t like that.” But I try not to reply to emails too fast, in any case. I don’t want people to start expecting me to do that every time.

    1. Lydia*

      And, really, we should entertain the thought that it was rude and dismissive. The answer would be the same. Take some more time to respond, even if the answer is the same.

  32. umami*

    It depends. In a case like this, when what I have to share isn’t going to make the requestor happy, I would first email to say I would be happy to look into it and get back to them. Then, I would follow up with the information about that location not being on a bus route, but that there is one nearby, and to let me know if that information is helpful. In other words, make it feel more like a conversation than a transaction. I worked in municipal government years ago, and most of the time, people just want to be heard and have their requests feel valued. If they feel like their request was worthwhile enough for you to give a thoughtful response, most people will be OK learning that their request can’t be accommodated. It’s less about timing (just wait 24 hours and give a no) and more about taking the time to a) acknowledge the request and that you want to look into it, and b) follow up with the answer in a way that leaves them feeling good about interacting with their local government.

  33. Not Mindy*

    I was working on something that was entirely new to me. My teammate Giles was supposed to be my backup and be available to answer any questions I had. Unfortunately, Giles was the type to respond to every email quickly, if possible. He probably read each one as it came in. On the other hand, I only look at my inbox every hour or so, unless I’m waiting for something specific.
    Giles is a great guy, and very knowledgable, but he is not a good mentor. He responded to emails before I even had a chance to look at them. And given the amount of work my team has, it doesn’t make sense to do the doublework that would have been required for me to formulate my own answer.
    I eventually talked to our boss. I didn’t want to throw Giles under the bus, so I started by saying how great and helpful he is, but then went on to say why he is a horrible mentor. We decided to leave it as it was for that project, but going forward we’re going to do things a bit differently.

    1. L-squared*

      Did Giles want to be a mentor, or was it foist upon him?

      Because I guess I can easily see where he is coming from. His routine is he answers emails as they come in. That is mine too. If he is expected to let his email backup until you had the chance to look at it too, as opposed to just getting it done, I understand that logic. If he offered to mentor you, that is a problem. If it was just put upon him, I don’t think totally disrupting his flow is good.

  34. Schnapps*

    I worked in municipal government for a long time (onto non-profits now! much happier!). My experience is that if you answer too quickly, it’ll likely generate conflict, and if you take too long, you get “No one at this city ever answers!” (which is usually untrue, but the route that people go). So the trick is to find that sweet spot.

  35. thelettermegan*

    I agree that the constituent was overreacting. But scheduling non-urgent emails for later can have great psychological benefits.

    From their perspective, they were probably have certain expectations of municipal agencies – requests going into a file to be reviewed by three commitees next quarter in an arduous process of budgeting compromises and various politically stuffs that won’t get resolved for a year at least.

    During that time, the constituent can feel like they are ‘doing something about it’, having sent the email and waiting for a reply.

    The quick response essentially took away that opportunity for a little satisfaction with their efforts to track you down and write the email.

    Meanwhile, you have actually done the work requested! At some point, the municipality considered the bus routes and made those decisions. This work was done long before the constituent weighed in, which is why you can respond so quickly. But the constituent usually can’t see that work and isn’t aware of when those things are reviewed, if they are reviewed regularly.

    What you might want to do is to put together a canned email that explains that every constituent is important and your concerns are valid and we will totally look into this.

    Then add the relevant information (there’s a bus stop on the next street) and see if that will meet their needs while their request is being considered. Shoot out an email at the end of the next month saying their request was considered but you won’t be moving forward.

    Now your consistuent can say that ‘at least they tried’, or write back with a deeper explanation and get to the crux of the issue, if there really is one that the city can solve. If nothing can be done, they can at least put it to bed in their mind.

  36. Ink*

    I wonder if you’d also get better reactions if instead of “there’s no bus route there, here’s the closest one” you added something about adding their email to a file for when bus routes are next reviewed, so that you have indications of where there’s demand. People often appreciate the forces against their request more when it’s framed as being taken into account as part of a complicated process. It implies that behind the scenes their request is in conversation with other priorities and needs, which people feel better about even if they assume that means it’s a no. Plus, easier to set up form responses!
    (does this file exist? up to you, how reasonable that’s actually going to be probably depends a LOT on your area. it may just be the circular file)

  37. learnedthehardway*

    I respond quickly on questions for which I need additional information. For example, in the OP’s situation, I would have responded with “there is not a current bus route that goes past this location. Are you asking about how to get a bus route implemented for your street?”

    If they said yes, then I would point them in the direction of how to advocate for one. In fact, I might have included that information in my reply with a note that I am assuming they are asking for a bus route to be implemented in this location.

    People ask questions that they know how to ask – eg. the person requesting the bus stop likely doesn’t know anything about bus route planning or scheduling, or what is involved at all in getting a bus stop. All they know is that they want a bus stop. Sometimes, you have to go beyond the question to figure out what the need/wish really is all about. That’s good customer service, and is what citizens should expect from local government administration.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This exactly — pointing out the missing puzzle piece and saying “that change is beyond what I can authorize; you could try talking to [correct decision makers]” would be a very helpful deflection.

    2. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

      This sounds like the reference interview techniques librarians use – we know the person who asks the question often doesn’t ask the question they really want answered but an adjacent question that they think will answer the question they really have. For example, they say that want books on llamas, and you use the reference interview to determine whether they are interested in the history of llamas as pack animals, want to start grooming llamas for fun and profit, or they need two peer reviewed articles for a class assignment.

  38. Workerbee*

    From here it sounds rather like the person was going to be disgruntled for any other answer other than a solid, “Yes.” Folks like to throw labels around such as “rude,” “dismissive,” “Karen,” etc., when it’s really just that they didn’t like the reality of the situation.

    (Tangentially, I think it’s well past time we get past being cowed by name-calling, whether adjectival or proper nouns.)

  39. Pet Jack*

    We apparently sent an insurance denial notice very quickly to a claimant and they were very offended because they felt it was “too fast” and didn’t get the time they deserved. It absolutely was an excluded thing on the policy and it was obvious, but they would have liked to get their denial slower I guess.

  40. Tommy Girl*

    For the LW, I mean this really nicely, but your question itself came off as rather dismissive. My city government is notably bad (and I’ve had a lot of dealings with them), so maybe I’m sensitive. But with the person asking for a bus stop at their place (with no bus line), you call it “This kind of confusion happens sometimes”. Why are you assuming that he/she doesn’t know there isn’t a bus line near their house? Perhaps they are actually asking for a bus, to stop, close to their house? Yes, that could mean re-routing bus lines, but is that so crazy a request? A citizen wanting accessible bus options shouldn’t be called “confusion”. If you’re casually dismissing that many of citizen requests, are you actually providing good service? Maybe it’s not the timing of your responses, maybe you should actually be spending time thinking about if the request may be possible?

    1. Flossie Bobbsey*

      I agree. To me it sounds like OP didn’t understand the person’s request. The confusion seems to be on OP’s part, which contributed to the dismissive-seeming response.

  41. M*

    In this comments section:
    1. She’ll realize how stupid she is once she’s reminded that there is no bus that would go to her requested stop
    2. Of course she wants a bus to go to the stop she wants added
    3. Government workers should/should not be able to figure out her real request
    4. Constituents should/should not know the appropriate avenues to make requests and how to make their case

    If you quickly read an email and think “wow this person makes no sense and this is obviously banana pants,” you should probably take the time to think over if that’s what they’re really saying, and maybe talk to someone who thinks differently than you do or ask a clarifying question. It is too quick a response if you could have missed their meaning. Both sides here could improve their communication skills.

    1. ina*

      Good points. I do think LW might be able to elaborate, but I agree now that I think about it. There could be a need that is not being met considering there is no bus along a road that seemingly has office buildings (it’s not like it’s a residential road). For instance, how far is the closest stop? What does the terrain look like? The assumption is that this is a wild “WHY ISN’T THERE A STOP HERE FOR MY NON-EXISTENT BUS!!” when it’s really “Can we get a stop here somehow? Can we connect this to transit because I know about that other stop, of course I know about that stop as I take the bus and that’s why I am emailing you, and it’s not working?”

      Honestly, it could be both. I feel for the LW, who has to field these questions all day from people who see a public government email, a suggestion for questions or feedback, and then decide it’s time to write their treatise on how the city should be run. Sometimes it feels like the requests from regular folks with thoughtful feedback & questions is few and far between.

      For instance, the transit authority near me is proposing to eliminate a route that goes up a steep hill, telling people “there is another bus stop, less than 1 mile away” as the reason for the elimination — which was on top of the hill, without considering that uphill treks are not do-able for a lot of people, particularly that neighborhood where there were a lot of elderly. Of course, ridership data is showing a story where people aren’t using it as much as other routes that needed more service but the discussion around this is thoughtful so far and tempers have cooled as people discuss transit needs (still ongoing, too).

      I appreciate the thoughtful take on this without jumping to the ‘I know better’ trap, which is REALLY easy to fall into so it’s not me saying this as if I am better or anything. I truly did have a change of mind after reading your response and thinking about it.

      1. Raida*

        Excellent example of looking for the whole picture instead of looking for the closest answer at hand – “there’s a bus stop on the map” does not equal “there’s a bus service that you can access”

      2. Cheshire Cat*

        My thoughts exactly. It seems there’s a reason that the constituent has trouble getting to the closest existing bus stop. Maybe she has to cross a 6 lane road to get there, and the pedestrian crossing light times out before she can cross the whole street. And drivers on that street take off from the light as soon as it turns green, whether there are people in the crosswalk or not. So possibly what she really needs is for the timer to be lengthened.

  42. nonny mouse*

    In my current organization, this is a hot button issue and one without clear rules of engagement. I am in a role with high influence/low authority & I’ve been scolded for replying “too quickly” to threads where I’m a clear stakeholder because I wasn’t the “right” person to reply first. In fact, one of those scoldings happened this morning. But it’s really situational and if you are issuing a standard reply to a frequently asked question, and you have no real power to change the standard reply, I don’t know that you gain a lot by delaying a response for more than 10 – 15 minutes. Maybe you could soften the language in the response a bit to make it clear that you understand their concerns, but again, that’s very situational and you may still get pushback from people who believe that you did not amply consider/escalate their issue.

  43. SereneScientist*

    This is an adjacent example, but there has been research in software that shows if an application or program completes a step “too quickly,” the user sometimes feels like something must be wrong–hence the proliferation of status bars, “spinning progress” bubbles, and even slowing down of software because the perception of effort is almost more important than the actual effort required. Fascinating stuff!

  44. ina*

    I think the level of detail in the response and how personal it seems helps make it seem less dismissive and “no, because I said so! Bleh!”

    Otherwise, some people are just gonna react poorly to ‘no’ because they want service now!

  45. Anon bureaucrat*

    I’ve worked in local government for 15+ years doing basically exactly your job and have had this exact same experience many times. I definitely recommend waiting a day to send this kind of response. They still won’t like the answer but they seem to feel better thinking you took some time to look into it. I will even add something like “thanks for waiting for me to get back to you. I wanted to take the time to look thoroughly into your request”

  46. Dahlia*

    I’ve gotten very, very fast rejection emails from literary agents I was querying, and not gonna lie, that does sting a little!! It’s like, “Oh, THAT fast, huh?”

    It’s not personal, obviously, but we are human so it can feel personal.

  47. Orora*

    THIS. This is probably the #1 reason I use Schedule Send — so they don’t think I’ll always be available for quick answers.

  48. sara*

    If I’m declining something (especially something easy/small) because I’m too busy, I tend to schedule the email to go out at least a couple hours after I get the email. My ability to stay on top of incoming emails doesn’t really change based on how packed my schedule is (and actually I’m probably more organized with things when I’m super busy). But it just feels like people would find it odd that I’m tackling emails as they come in but can’t do whatever thing for them.

    But I’m also bad at saying no to things so I’m definitely overthinking this…

  49. beware*

    i once wrote an email and scheduled it at like, 11 at night to send the next morning. my boss told me he can see what time i originally wrote it. so scheduling it doesn’t always hide when you wrote it

  50. Raida*

    “In this case, a constituent asked for a bus stop outside of her building.
    This wouldn’t be unreasonable, except there is no bus route on the street in question.
    This kind of confusion happens sometimes, so I quickly (within 10 minutes of receiving the initial email) responded with a note saying why a bus stop isn’t possible and pointed them to the closest bus route.”

    I work in public transport, and mate, when someone asks for a bus stop they mean ‘bus to stop here’. They don’t want to be told “Yeah the bus is over there. So it can’t stop here, see?”

    They want to be told “Thank you for your feedback, I’ve passed it to the Network Planning team for the region to be included in future public transport planning. We appreciate your suggestion for a location for a future bus stop, it’s always nice to know ahead of time when residents are not going to block bus stop installation near their homes” AND “The bus route is not being reviewed at this time, according to our public transport section the next time this area is scheduled for review is [quarter]. Every region is reviewed regularly in turn, for fairness we do not divert those budgets without significant community needs, which [council/department] hopes you agree is a responsible approach to handling your rates in regards to the provision of public transport and related infrastructure.”

  51. Student*

    Look, you are delivering bad news to the constituent no matter what. You are not gonna be their favorite person for the day. You might get a small reduction in their dissatisfaction by waiting to deliver the bad new. You have no way of knowing which constituents want their bad news to come slightly slower, or how long of a wait will make them feel better about it.

    Is that small, hypothetical, and unpredictable reduction in ill-will worth it to your job and your own happiness? You’re still getting ill-will back, because you don’t have the answer they wanted. Do you figure this particular person might’ve gone from a -8 to a -7 if you’d waited? Do you think you could’ve gotten a shift all the way to a -4? Does that kind of shift help move your numbers, or is it a drop in the overall bucket compared to responding to more people, or getting to more requests where you can actually help? I don’t know the correct answer for your job. I don’t think there’s a universal correct answer. But maybe this helps you think about how to work through making the call.

  52. Reality.Bites*

    Most people are aware that there’s no bus route on their street, so I’m going to guess there really wasn’t an answer that would work.

    1. LJ*

      I think some of the other commenters have answers that would work – “we’ll take your feedback/community feedback into consideration when we’re planning routes next year”, not “no silly, the bus doesn’t come to your street”

  53. Sneaky Squirrel*

    If I’m saying no to someone because policy is pretty clear, I will sometimes give it a few hours to not let the client feel like I’m dismissing them outright. But I think more important is that explanation at how we came to ‘no’. People want to feel like someone understood their request and put in some real consideration.

  54. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    This is my job seeker anxiety speaking, but does Alison’s line about knowing within 15 seconds if someone is a fit or not mean if someone from HR doesn’t respond within a day or so to a job application, most people should consider themselves passed on?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No! Sometimes applications sit for one week, two weeks, or even three weeks (or longer!) before someone looks at them, especially if they’re not doing interviews on a rolling basis (in which case they might not look at all until the application deadline).

    2. ClaireW*

      I know Alison has responded too, but if it helps to get more perspectives – in my company, once you send in an application it will be reviewed by HR, then sent to the hiring manager for the relevant team, and sometimes even then to someone on the team with a particular knowledge of the role and experience needed. Each of these transitions can take a few days in some companies – it’s painful, but at times it’s taken well over a week in my role from the HR person looking at an application, to them confirming it’s worth interviewing the person, and then they start contacting the applicant. And if multiple people have applied, even longer!

  55. WillowSunstar*

    I have, in the past, set a one or two-minute delay on my email just to catch things like oh my gosh, I made a typo. Also if you have one of those coworkers who really pushes your buttons, it can be good to delay emails to that person by a few minutes so you don’t put your foot on your keyboard, so to speak.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      There’s a hilarious multi-page digression in Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” about this exact thing!

  56. Nebula*

    I once got a rejection from a job only minutes after applying. I assumed they were using some kind of CV-scanning software – interesting to know someone may have looked at my CV and immediately decided to bin it. Not great for my self-esteem, but interesting to know regardless.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Sometimes the near instant rejection is for other reasons, so don’t let it affect your self-esteem. If you answered a knock out question, that could take you out of the running immediately (e.g., if they need someone to work nights and you answered that your availability is during normal business hours, that could knock you out without someone reviewing your application further). If they already hired someone, got your application, and then realized they forgot to close the job listing (or it just hasn’t been removed yet by Indeed or wherever), they might auto-reject you for that reason too. A quick rejection may mean you weren’t what they were looking for or it may mean your resume wasn’t in the format they liked or needed to be able to see instantly that you are a great fit – or it might have literally nothing to do at all with your skills, application materials, etc. So try very hard not to take it so personally.

  57. Orange You Glad*

    I agree with everyone overall. I think an instant response can sometimes come across as if the sender didn’t really read or process my message – even when that isn’t true. I think the scheduled send is a good idea.
    I respond to a lot of internal requests at my job. I always fear that if I respond too quickly, I’ll set a precedent that I can always drop everything to help them so I write up my response but delay sending it for a bit. This has the added benefit of giving me extra time to review my response before hitting send.

  58. tmp*

    The letter writer likely knows the bus route as well as the city employee and was asking for a CHANGE in the route that included a stop in front of her building. If this is a pattern the city employee is seeing I would suggest they are misunderstanding the request and the quick, simple but misapplied answer is dismissive to the citizens. Good communication is key – seek first to understand the question.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      True. Sounds like they wanted an exception made. “Can you have a bus come down Main Street and stop at the Bank building.” To me, it seems odd that “we don’t have a route on that street already so you can’t have a stop” is a weird response. I’d want to hear “we need to do a study to determine if it’s of value to add another street to existing routes. We’ll let you know.” Not a “nope, no bus on that street so no stops.”

  59. Workfromhome*

    Excellent advice and I think it can be applied more generally than just bad news or good news. or externally.

    If something is time sensitive “Can you email me the location of the key because I locked myself in the office and cant get out” then of course respond immediately.

    For most other things consider what kind of precedent you are setting. If you always put everything aside and create report and email when someone asks you for one even if its not time sensitive you create the expectation that people will get instant service and response.

    In my old job we created access IDs and had a promised turnaround of 7 days. We had one client that sent us a few requests during a particularly slack time. So the requests all got done within a day. A month went by and things went back to normal. They sent more requests and after 24 hours we were bombarded with emails where is my access. We had complaints coming into the boss that we were slacking and not meeting our SLA.
    We ended up pointing out to them that the 7 day turnaround was right on the form which was quite an uncomfortable conversation.

    Point being set the expectation in how fast you respond so that when you do need to provide an exceptionally fast response its seen as exceptional not the norm.

  60. kjkjlkjklj*

    The rejection should be made as soon as a decision has been made. Its really unfair to candidates for you to keep them on hold because it makes you feel better to wait to send the response. Especially in todays job market.

    1. Little beans*

      I disagree. If sending rejections too quickly generates angry emails in response and causes ill will toward your organization, then the smart thing to do is build in a small delay. You shouldn’t assume you’re getting any job anyway, so the delay of a day or two in finding out really shouldn’t make a difference.

  61. Michelle Smith*

    I appreciate a fast response, even when it’s not what I want to hear. I do, however, want to say a few things that make a rejection easier to deal with, even as someone with rejection sensitivity:

    – Be kind, but not patronizing. Don’t lay it on thick with the “I’m sorry”s. It just sounds disingenuous and can sound like you’re making fun of me. Just be polite and direct.
    – Explain the answer. Don’t just say “no, we can’t do this.” That sounds like “we maybe could do this, but we don’t want to because that would require work we don’t want to do.” Instead, take the extra few minutes to say why. “We can’t do this because of zoning regulation B1.45.” or “We can’t do this because there hasn’t been sufficient demand to extend the Purple Line past Nearest Stop – but if we heard from 100 of your neighbors on Avenue C that they also want this stop, we could raise this issue with the governing board.” If I understand that the problem is out of your control, I’m much more likely to accept your answer. It will make your life easier, if nothing else.
    – Don’t be patronizing when offering “solutions” either. If my issue is that I’m disabled and can’t walk to the bus stop on the nearest line, you pointing out where the nearest bus line is like I haven’t looked into that already is infuriating. Just don’t. It’s not actually helpful. I’m asking for the bus stop in front of my building for a reason, but I might not have disclosed that reason to you – so don’t assume.
    – Instead, tell me who or what to blame so I know how I might continue to pursue my own solution to my problem and can decide whether it’s worth it to me. Not in a weird, pass-the-buck kind of way, but in a straightforward and honest way. If the group with the power to decide to extend the bus line is the city council, tell me that. (I’ll look up my representative’s information and the next council meeting information on my own; you don’t need to find it for me.) If it’s your boss, tell me that, forward my message to them, and let me know if there is any way for me to contact them directly. If I need my neighbors to also lodge a request with you/your office in order to get my request considered, tell me that and I can decide whether it’s worth it to me to start community organizing on this issue.

    Really, all things considered, I think it is far less likely to be the speed of your email response that caused the issue, but rather the pointing of the person to the nearest bus line, that they almost certainly already knew about, that garnered you the response you received. I know you thought you were being helpful, but it honestly got my blood pressure up just reading about it. Next time, I’d just stick with saying why it isn’t possible and directing the person to someone/something else they can do to try and change that impossibility, whether an elected official or someone else.

  62. Petty_Boop*

    That is SUCH a truly thought provoking question! I have on occasion received an email and thought “Jeebus, did you even bother to consider it?” But, I’ve also sent an immediate “No, sorry we can’t do that,” because we considered and rejected the idea 6 months ago without thinking that the recipient might think the same thing! I’m going to definitely be thinking of this in the back of my mind as I’m reading and responding to emails today!

  63. Molly Millions*

    Sometimes it’s the tone that’s the issue, rather than the speed. I’ve done correspondence replies in public service settings, and it can be easy to slip into curt, jargon-heavy language that you might use with your colleagues.

    Warmer salutations and sign-offs (“Thank you very much again, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any other concerns”) can go a long way.

    If there’s a practical reason the request was denied, explain that, in layman’s terms (e.g. “The city did look into putting a bus stop in that area, but found it would cause traffic problems because of how many businesses use the street as a loading zone” sounds more reasonable than “It would conflict with the city’s Public Transit Plan.”)

    If there’s a way to make a record of the request for future consideration, do that and inform them (e.g. “I have forwarded your concern to the Transit Authority so they can take it into account next time they are reviewing bus routes”). Ditto if there’s someone else they can contact to escalate the issue (e.g. some departments have an Ombudsman who has more leeway to find a solution, if the issue is serious).

    Even if the answer is still no, you’d be surprised how many people will go away happy if they feel they’ve been heard.

  64. Yorick*

    If someone’s question or request seems silly or dumb, I think it’s good practice to save it and look at it again a little later. There’s a possibility that you’ve reread and it’s actually not silly or dumb (or at least not in the way you thought). I definitely agree with other commenters: OP thought the request was to add a stop on an existing route and then realized there wasn’t a bus route on that street at all, but the request was probably to change the bus route so it would stop at that address.

  65. Renee Remains the Same*

    I regularly need to tell people something isn’t going to happen. I have found that if I stall and say I’m looking into it (even when I know the answer is no) and follow up later with a no, I get a much more appreciative response. And the “scheduled send” button is my best friend.

  66. GreenDoor*

    As a 25-year veteran in public service/constituent relations, it’s not the speed of your response that is the problem. (Had you waited 24 hours to reply, rest assured, they’d be complaining about that!). It’s that your response was basically, “Nope. Can’t be done. Goodbye.” The average resident does not understand all the nuances of why things do or don’t happen in government. They assume if the answer is no, it’s because you’re just being a paper-pushing bureaucrat. You have to give an answer that gives more of the “this is why” aspect and also an answer that expresses gratitude for them reaching out in the first place.

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