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Have you ever received an email that rubbed you the wrong way, so you wrote about your irritation on social media and ALL your friends commiserated? Whether it’s asking for a favor, saying no to a request, or responding to a mistake, it seems like a lot of people forget their manners when they’re behind the keyboard. It can be annoying, but honestly, it can happen to anyone. The problem is that tone and intent are hard to convey, and your own mood can affect your message.

I’ve been an online business owner for 15 years and spend half my day writing and responding to emails. Some days I’m in a great mood and have a generous spirit so my emails are instinctively kind and thoughtful. Other days I want to yell and throw things. Even though it’s harder on those days, I still write polite emails. My secret is having a cordial hook that sets the tone for myself. With this, the rest of the email can fall into place.

How to Ask Nicely

One of the best things about the craft industry is that people love to collaborate on projects, promote each other’s work, test products, write reviews, and sponsor events. If you’re doing one of these things and need help, don’t be afraid to ask. I get a lot of these emails and can tell you that most of them are very gracious asks which I welcomely receive. A great pitch is important, but it’s also a good idea to say something friendly and personal as well. (You know what they say about flies and honey.)

In addition to receiving these emails, I send a lot of them. I’ve had a collaborative blog for 12 years, so it is literally my job to work with people I admire and respect. These email requests come easy to me because I’m sincere. No matter what, it helps to start with a kind phrase and let the rest of my email flow around it. A few examples:

  • I really love what you do. It would be an honor to work with you.
  • I’ve always been a fan, so when this idea came up I immediately thought of you.
  • You don’t know me, but you’ve made a big impact on my career. I’d love to work with you.
  • It would mean a lot to me if you’d say yes.
  • I’m fully aware of all the work you do. With everything from (A) to (Z), I know I’m asking a lot.
  • I want this project to include the best of the best, so I’m reaching out to you.
  • This prize list wouldn’t be the same without your awesome product.
  • This product has been something I’ve poured my heart into. I really value your opinion and I would be so grateful if you’d take a look.
  • I’ve looked everywhere for this information and have been unable to find it. You are very knowledgeable about this, so I was wondering if you could help me.

Exit Opportunity: It’s a good idea to let people know that they won’t burn any bridges with you if they say no, so try something like, “I understand if this won’t work out for you at this time. Hopefully we can collaborate in the future.”

How to Politely Decline

Saying NO is very hard. Whether the proposition comes at a bad time or is not a good fit, it’s never easy to turn someone down. Sometimes the inclination is to delete a request rather than respond (guilty!) In the spirit of Don’t-Burn-Any-Bridges and Put-Yourself-In-Their-Shoes, however, I encourage you to send a polite reply. Here are a few phrases around which to craft your gracious “No.”

  • I’d love to, but this is not a good time for me. Could you check back with me in a few months?
  • I wish I could, but I have too much on my plate. Please keep me in mind for future collaborations .
  • I’m not able to do that, but I could offer you this instead. Would that help?
  • I really appreciate your enthusiasm, but my calendar is full. I will make sure to follow you and look for other ways to promote your work.
  • I’m trying to find balance in my life and my work load is tipping the scale, so I’m going to decline. I truly appreciate the offer.
  • Even though I can’t do it, this is a fantastic idea. I hope you find the right person to work with.
  • Although I’m not able to do this, let me offer you a couple of resources to get you on the right track.
  • I can’t, but are there other ways I can support you?

How to Offer a Non-Defensive Apology

James Joyce once said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Take.It.To.Heart. Also, a mistake is an opportunity make things right and gain a loyal customer. While I was developing a kids’ clothing brand and running an online fabric shop, I had plenty of disgruntled customers. I actually went to classes to learn how to handle them. My best advice? Put your ego aside and apologize humbly. Short, sweet, and authentic is usually the most effective response. (Also, see my article about non-violent communication.)

  • I can understand how frustrating that must have been. I’m very sorry.
  • I apologize for the mistake. What can I do to fix it?
  • I can tell you’re disappointed. I would be too.
  • Here’s what happened. It’s not an excuse, but an explanation of what I learned so it won’t happen again.
  • I’d appreciate the opportunity to make it up to you.
  • I’m still learning. Even though it’s hard to hear, I appreciate your feedback.
  • I know it’s a small gesture, but please let me send you this thing as an apology.
  • I was wrong. I regret what I did, and will do better in the future.

By adding a few of these phrases to your toolbox, you’ll have your polite and gracious email off to a great start.

Email Etiquette: How to Say Please, No Thank You, and I’m Sorry

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