This interesting question arrived in my email this morning:
I am a recent college graduate who regularly communicates with managers over email. At least once a week I receive an email with the opener “I apologize for the delay in replying,” followed by an explanation for the late response.
How should I respond to this manager’s courtesy? Ignore or acknowledge it?
Would you like to respond to Joseph’s question before I weigh in? How do you respond to people’s brief apologies?
Here’s a sample opening apology I received just moments ago:
My turn to be embarrassed for a very delayed response! Lousy excuse, but my son just arrived for his spring break on Friday night and I’ve been busy showing him our lovely city.
What’s your view? Ignore? Acknowledge?
After you consider your view, read my ideas below, along with the excellent comments from readers. Those reader comments came in before I wrote my response to Joseph.
I’m pleased that Joseph, as a recent college graduate, is thinking about courtesy in messages. Here’s my advice to him:
Of course, you will respond to the email, but the question you asked is about the opening apology. The way you respond to it can build your relationship with the writer. Your response can communicate that you paid attention to the message and care about the person.
For example, if the manager wrote, as my professional friend did, “My son just arrived for his spring break on Friday night and I’ve been busy showing him our lovely city,” you might begin with “Thanks for your reply. I hope you are enjoying your son’s visit.”
If the person wrote, “I was out sick with the flu,” an appropriate response might be “I hope you are feeling better.”
For apologies that communicate how busy someone is, you may just open with thank you, as in these examples:
If the individual wrote, “Sorry, I have been slammed with requests,” you might begin “Thanks for taking the time to respond.”
If the opening was “Please accept my apology for dragging my feet on this,” you might say “Thanks for getting back to me.”
If the person said, “Sorry but we were slammed with end-of-month issues,” you might respond with “Thanks for your reply. I hope things have calmed down over there.” However, that response would be better for a peer or someone you know well. It would likely sound presumptuous to a manager.
If the person gave no reason–for example, “Sorry for the delay”–it would make sense for you to respond without reference to the delay or the pseudo-apology.