How to Say “Sorry for the Late Reply”

person typing on his computer

One of the “truths” about technology is that advances in tech make our lives easier, more productive, and provide us with more leisure time.

It is also true that technology has fundamentally changed many aspects of daily life.

One excellent example of how tech has changed culture can be seen in the workplace.

Until recently, business communication was carried out either in person, on the phone, or via regular mail. Today the use of person-to-person communication, whether face to face on by phone, is decreasing while the use of e-mail and text messages is increasing. In fact, almost 90% of business people state that e-mail is their preferred means of communicating with clients, suppliers, business leaders and organizations and staff.

This change has resulted in the average worker receiving an exponentially higher volume of messages on a daily basis. The sheer number of messages received means that workers need to learn new skills in terms of prioritizing and responding to emails, plus learn the skills and best practices for dealing with the inevitable delayed response.

email cube

The average office worker receives about 90 emails a day and typically generates 40 outgoing messages. This volume, which has been steadily increasing year after year, makes it impractical for workers to respond to each email right away.

Most workers have an informal system in place for dealing with emails. Typically, the worker will set aside emails, which can be answered in the next day or so. Sometimes this turns into the next week, or embarrassingly, the next month. While it may be tempting to simply not respond rather than to contact the sender after a somewhat inexcusable about of time, modern business etiquette generally requires a response.

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While other aspects do contribute to how you address a delayed response in general the main factors are who the sender is and the subject of the email or text.

Here are some examples for responding to specific types of emails and texts in business English, along with some tips to help manage your inbox to reduce the chance of missing an email.

Response to casual business contact

Networking has become an important part of today’s business environment. If a casual contact reaches out to suggest meeting over coffee to discuss business in general and just catch up, the odds are that a slight delay in responding is acceptable.

When answering, it is fine to basically skip an apology and suggest a day to meet.

Emails from former clients or colleagues

It is not unusual to get a note from former clients or colleagues that fall into the “just checking in” category. Often these emails will be congratulatory in nature or reference some new work project. These emails do not cry out for an immediate response but should always be answered.

Here a direct response is best.

Thanks for you note from last week [month]. This new project has me a bit overwhelmed so I apologize for the delay.

Then turn the conversation back to them by asking about a specific project they are involved with or news about their business and how you would like to hear how that is progressing.

Request for information

While we try to answer requests for information right away, these can and do fall through the cracks.

Your response to these emails requires your apology to be upfront and straightforward, something along the lines of “Sorry for the delay in responding, your email was lost in the shuffle.” Follow up by attaching the documents or information they requested with the response.

Response to a Business Text

Text messages are generally very informal yet most senders seem to expect an almost immediate reply. How you handle the response depends a great deal on the sender, but in general it’s best to simply apologize for the delay with any relevant reason, such as not having your phone with you, being overwhelmed with a project, or the simple fact that the message was lost in your inbox.

Tips for handling email

One of the best ways to avoid having to send “sorry for the delay” emails is by using the best practices for handling email.

Here are some tips:

  • Set aside some specific times of the day to read and respond to emails. Many professionals will handle email three times per day; such as at 9AM, Noon, and 4PM. Otherwise they leave their email program closed. Some so as far as to have and auto-reply set which notes the times they check emails with instructions to call if the need is urgent.
  • Delete mailing lists subscriptions that are not relevant or request a daily or weekly digest rather than multiple emails per day.
  • Set up folders for emails that require additional time to handle. For example if a co-worker, manager or client requests information, respond that you are working on the request and will have the information as soon as possible or at a specific time. Then place the email in your “pending” folder.
  • Check your spam folder. It is not usual for legitimate business email to end up in a spam folder. Be sure to check it at least once per day.
  • Use the delete button a lot. Delete promotional, spam, or irrelevant e-mails immediately. Set up an archive folder for those, which should be saved for your records or future reference.

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