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5 Ways to Get People to Follow Up Don't take it personally when you don't hear back, but don't stop trying to get in touch.

By Jacqueline Whitmore Edited by Dan Bova

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Tom Merton | Getty Images

Frustrated. Annoyed. Ignored. These are the feelings you may have felt the last time you phoned or sent out an email or text and never received a response.

It's extremely irritating when a request goes unanswered. How do you follow up without being a pest?

There could be myriad reasons why you did not receive a response. Perhaps the recipient didn't see your message, or got too busy to respond right away, or saw it and forgot to answer -- the list goes on. To help, here are some guidelines for following up.

1. Always assume the best.

Don't take it personally. There is most likely an innocuous reason why the recipient hasn't answered. Nevertheless, bring it to their attention that you're waiting for a response, especially if you have a deadline. You might write something like, "I hope you received my email. I haven't heard back so I wanted to follow up on my previous message."

Quell the instinct to lash out with anger, upset or accusations as in, "It's been five days. Why haven't you responded?"

Related: 7 Tips for Mastering the Fine Art of Following Up

Give the recipient the benefit of the doubt. I remember being frustrated by suddenly not hearing back from a colleague after a flurry of emails. When she finally got back in touch, it turned out she had been called away to care for a sick parent and simply didn't have the energy left to devote to our program.

Life happens so try to be understanding.

2. Give the recipient an easy "opt-out."

If you have not received a response despite your follow-up efforts, kindly let the person off the hook. One time a client asked me to send him a proposal. After I did not hear back from him in three weeks. I wrote, "Please let me know if you would still like for me to hold the date for your business etiquette program. If I don't hear back from you, I'll go ahead and close your file."


Almost instantly, I heard back with a kind, "Thank you, but we've decided not to proceed with the program at this time."

Or you can write something like, "I know you're busy, so I don't want to keep contacting you if you have decided to move in a different direction or if you have selected another vendor. When you're ready to reach out again, please do. I'd be happy to resume our conversation."

3. Appeal to a person's passion.

According to a DMR study, an office worker can receive an average of 121 emails per day. One way to break through the clutter is by mentioning a person's passion. The next time you follow up, mention something that you both have in common. For example, if the person is a football fan, mention the latest football game. If they like to travel, share a story about their latest trip. You can often learn a person's interests through their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, through their company website or blog, or just by talking to them directly.

Related: 8 Never-Before-Published Follow Up Ideas Unveiled

4. Make contact at different times of the day.

Vary the times of day you correspond and see if one time of day is better than another for receiving a response. Most important people start their day very early and end their day late, after everyone has left the office.

5. Use the "three times and you're out" rule.

Follow up at least three times before you give up. Allow a week or two in between your messages so that you don't look like your harassing the person. Just like in baseball, three strikes and you're out.

Related: 5 Secrets to Mastering Sales Follow-Up

It's important to remember that most people are extremely busy, yet that's no excuse for their rudeness or lack of consideration. Try not to take it personally. Instead of fretting about it, just move on and concentrate on cultivating business with clients who value and respect you.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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