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These are the magic words you’ll need to apologize for a late email reply

We’ve all been there: You get what feels like zillions of emails a day, but only have the time and mental capacity to respond to so many of them. Ok, maybe not even half.

Here’s what to do when responding to someone’s email after it’s been a while.

Think about whether to apologize or not — then say this

Daniel Potter writes about this in a Grammarly blog post.

“If you work in a fast-breaking, deadline-driven profession, you routinely email people back instantly. But that’s not always a realistic expectation, particularly when what’s at stake is the opposite of urgent. Being human doesn’t always necessitate an apology.

“Say you get an email along the lines of ‘Hey friendly contact, could we meet up for coffee next week and free-associate about our industry?’ While connections like this can be valuable, they probably won’t wither if you take a couple decadently unhurried days to respond.

“In such cases, charitably assume these people get it. Skip past ‘sorry for the late reply” and cut straight to what matters: ‘Sounds good, and thanks for reaching out — How’s Thursday?’ ”

Think about how time-sensitive the email is

Sara McCord, a staff writer/editor at The Muse, writes in Mashable that you should think about whether or not the messages are “still relevant.”

“If the request is fairly evergreen (e.g., someone asked you if you’d ever like to meet for coffee), you can write back apologizing for the delay and then share if you’re interested. However, if someone had asked for your notes on a letter that went out a month ago, she clearly doesn’t need your feedback anymore.

“In this case, you have two options. The first is to reply, saying sorry for letting this fall off of your radar and offering future assistance. The second option, if let’s say, you realize you accidentally dodged an email from someone you have — or would like to have — a strong working relationship with is to fold this into a different email, or even a phone call. It can actually serve as a great ‘excuse’ to reach out to someone.”

There is another way to respond late to social emails

Freelance writer Aja Frost of Hubspot’s Sales Blog writes in The Muse that you can use the following example for “‘friendly’ emails that don’t technically require a response,” but that you haven’t yet responded to.

Hi Amy,

Thanks so much for your kind note last month! Yep, it was definitely exciting for our team to get the Wall Street Journal mention—things have been crazy here ever since, which is why I’m so late in answering your email. (I apologize!)

I saw your company recently announced its launching a new marketing division. That’s so awesome, congratulations! How’s everything been going over there?

Thank you again, and I hope to see you at another meet-up in the future.

Best,

Aja”

Frost mentions that while time can slip away from you, it’s still worth sending a reply, and that it helps to apologize and show you care about what the recipient has going on.

Discern what kind of situation you have on your hands, then move forward with your response.

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