A reader writes: “Dear Ronnie Ann: I hope you can help me with my problem. My boss doesn’t respond to emails. I know she’s always in meetings and gets a lot of email. But when I need to let her know about something I get nothing but crickets.
I’m afraid to bother her when she seems so busy. But I’m tired of not being able to get any answers. It makes me feel invisible. Not sure what to do. Please can you help me? ~ Lara”
My response to Lara
First, let me assure you that you’re definitely not invisible. 🙂
But I can relate to having a boss that makes you feel that way. I once worked with a person who was known for never answering anyone’s emails … even though she was the one you had to get approval from for any new projects. It drove us crazy!
As with most things, there can be all kinds of reasons for a person to act in a way that seems odd to us. If your boss doesn’t respond to emails, there actually might be things you can change about the way you write the emails. But there also may be a need for you to go above and beyond normal office communication channels.
First let’s look at those emails
You pinpointed a key factor: your boss is busy. I know someone who gets hundreds of emails on a light day. There is no way he can get through all of them. If your boss doesn’t respond to emails, her inbox may be overflowing.
And with meetings all day and countless emergencies, one day’s emails pile into the next. So after just a few days, hundreds can become a thousand or more. The person I knew who never responded decided to use the “DELETE” method.
I know. It’s an awful thing. But unless it was from her boss or something she was expecting, poof! And all the people waiting would continue to wait. Hopefully your boss is not resorting to that. But still you have to make sure she quickly gets that the email is important and why.
Some email tips to help increase chances of a response
- Come up with a clear, crisp subject line — not just things like “Important” or “Please read”.
⇒ EXAMPLE: “Need budget approval by Tuesday.”
- Get to the point quickly. People with voluminous inboxes don’t need flowery language. Let them know what you need, any key factors, and a due date if appropriate.
- If you do need to give some details, help the reader by adding some kind of an Action Summary line, so they know what you need. After going through dozens of emails, they all start to blend.
- A single follow-up is fine if response is urgent, but don’t pepper your boss with lots of reminders. Imagine how quickly 100 emails could become 500 emails if everyone did that.
- Work emails aren’t casual chats, unless your office works that way. Even so, make sure you aren’t adding needless busywork for your boss, even if you think your boss isn’t all that busy.
- Help them learn that your emails will be short, purposeful, and to the point. Much more likely yours will get read (and hopefully answered) if they can trust your email skills.
- Don’t copy people on your emails unless necessary. Again, that just clogs their inboxes and makes you more likely to get the delete treatment in general.
What else you can do if boss doesn’t respond to emails
Sometimes no matter how perfect your emails are and how much you try to stay within normal communication lines, you have to find another way. So what else can you do?
- Well, if the situation is critical or getting that way, you need to pick up the phone. “But she’s soooo busy!” Yes. And she’ll get busier if your critical situation blows up.
- If no response and you absolutely can’t speak to her in person and you have to make a decision, make it. But also send an email “Decision made: XXXXXX” so she at least knows and can scream at you if needed. Then you can tell her you tried and ask for a better way to communicate in such cases.
- On that topic, it pays to sit down with your boss and discuss the email situation. And, see if you can come up with a better way together. Maybe she just needs to delegate more.
- Send a telegram. OK. I’m mostly kidding. But if your boss doesn’t respond to emails, and you need to make that point (especially if they have a sense of humor), this might do it. Once again, at least a way to stress the need for a better communication structure.
- With those ideas in mind, offer to help her come up with that new way of communicating. If her inbox is overflowing day after day, that’s a miserable work life for anyone. Everyone can benefit from bringing this into the light.
What if your boss is a control freak & refuses to change?
Unfortunately, control freak bosses are more common than we would wish. If you bring this up, and they react badly or blame you for filling their inbox with meaningless emails, then you’ve done what you can.
Let them know you understand, and back off for now. At some point, you still might ask them what things they want to be informed about and who else might you contact if you need feedback or answers. But tread gently if you think they are done with the topic.
If so, simply use the email tips mentioned earlier, sending only when needed. And don’t be surprised if you still don’t get any answers. To help yourself, you might want to create your own internal communication support network, bypassing your boss where legitimately possible.
BUT … if you wind up always taking the blame even after trying again and again to get answers (luckily you’ve documented your efforts in your emails), then there is one more answer you need to come up with. Is this really the job for you?
Good luck, Lara! ~ Ronnie Ann
⇒ MORE: Do You Feel Invisible at Work?
More posts to help