Skip to content

A Polite Nudge When People Don’t Respond

In the past two weeks I have taught six classes in three states, along with travelling to Florida (from Seattle) to help my father clean out his house to sell. As you can imagine, it's been very hectic.

Yesterday morning, when I was in California getting ready to teach a class, I got this brief email from our graphic designer, Deborah Esposito of Mirror-Doc:

Good morning, you two! [She sent it to my husband-business partner too.]

Just a little nudge to say "Don't forget this isn't quite finished. . ."

That was all Deborah said, above a message she had sent on May 3 asking for my response to her questions about a design project she is doing for us.

To me, Deborah's message was a perfect little nudge.

What is wonderful is that Deborah left emotion out of the email. She might have said, "You are the one who was in a hurry on this project, Lynn!" and she would have been correct. She might have said, "I carved out time to do this for you. The least you could do is respond promptly!" and she would have been justified.

Instead, Deborah behaved like the professional she is, and just gave me a nudge.

I promise to get back to Deborah today. Now that my life is settling down, I will start blogging more often too.

But enough about me–what do you think of Deborah's approach?

Syntax Training

Posted by Avatar photo
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

13 comments on “A Polite Nudge When People Don’t Respond”

  • I had a light bulb moment with that one. It’s easy to want to throw in your emotion to prove that you are not at fault. But I’m sure the nudge approach works a lot better!

  • I usually nudge by phone – even if it’s just a message. Speaking instead of writing makes the nudge more diplomatic and personal – and indeed lets me introduce some positive emotion that might be missing from the email nudge.


  • George, thanks for adding your helpful comment. A nudge by phone makes perfect sense as long as one can control one’s tone. As you noted, a phone call creates the opportunity to communicate positive feelings.

    Deborah sent her message at 7 a.m., which is probably the reason she wrote rather than phoning.


  • Hi Lynn,

    “Noodge” is a word I grew up with–a person who’s pushy. I believe it’s Yiddish. Great use of it in Irene’s comment.

    Regarding your graphic designer, she took the correct action of gently and politely reminding you. As busy business owners, it’s people like Deborah that we treasure.

  • Hi, Paula. Thank you for informing me about “noodge.” I believe I need a Yiddish dictionary so I can consult it when I hear great words that sound fresh yet familiar.

    I appreciate your comment. I hope all is going well at Sign-A-Rama Vermont.


  • I think it is always essential to leave angry emotions out of business dealings, even when you are really frustrated! Like George, I also find a phone call is a useful way of moving things along tactfully.

  • Nice style. I have a question for you. I often have to email people with things I need done. They don’t respond and don’t get around to doing what is being asked. Often this occurs with bureaucratic companies. I’m trying to find a word or phrase that describes this passive unresponsiveness as a way of avoiding accountability. so far I have “Ostrich-ing” “email impotence” love to hear any suggestions

  • Hello, Mal. I am not sure they are simply avoiding accountability. People do not respond for many reasons.

    I like your “ostriching.” Keep at it, and you will think of more good ones.


  • When I’ve asked for a response and even given a deadline and people still don’t respond, I use the phrase “I’m not sure how to interpret your silence . . . help me understand.”

Comments are closed.