When I teach business writing classes, I often ask attendees about their pet peeves as readers. These are things that slow them down or drive them nuts as readers. The other day I heard a pet peeve for the first time, from a bank employee I will call Kay. I think her pet peeve is worth passing on.
Kay said something like this:
"It drives me nuts that people start their emails with 'Sorry to bother you, but . . . ' or 'I don't mean to be a pain, but . . . ' The things they are asking me to do are MY JOB. Why should they be sorry to ask me to do my job? I am happy to do it. It is no bother at all."
Are you surprised, as I was? I would never have thought "Sorry to bother you" could elicit a negative reaction. But if Kay reads it regularly, I can understand how the remark could irritate her. After all, why should people be sorry to ask others to do something that is part of their jobs?
I believe we write or say "Sorry to bother you" to be polite. We do not want to create extra work for someone. But if it is the person's job, it's not extra work–it is simply their work.
Below are polite alternatives to "Sorry to bother you." They would come after "Hi Kay" or a similar email greeting.
- I would appreciate your expertise.
- There is a task I need to ask you to do. . . .
- I need _______ [figures, photos, etc.] for the Johnston proposal. Can you get them for me please?
- Do you have time today to find a _______ [report, piece of data, etc.] for me?
- I have a new assignment that I would be grateful for your help with.
- Can you _______ [do something] as soon as possible? Suddenly the client is asking for it.
- I need the _______ by tomorrow. Can you please handle this for me?
Can you relate to Kay's comment? And what do you think of my replacements for "Sorry to bother you"? I welcome your thoughts.