sending emails

Requesting information when people don’t want to share it

In the business world, we often have to request information from people who, for a variety of reason, are reluctant to share it with us. This happened to me rather frequently when I worked as an analyst for an international firm in the US. I would have to request information from people from across the country who, although we worked for the same company, had no idea who I was or why they should share anything with me. Sometimes they felt the information would make them look bad, other times they knew that they hadn’t been keeping the information up to date. So how did I learn to deal with the inevitable pushback I received?  By learning from my colleagues, talking with stakeholders and a lot of trial and error I identified 5 key behaviors.

  1. Anticipate and accept the pushback. After the first couple of times, I realized this was to be expected, so I planned for it. I also learnt to not take it personally.
  2. Save time with templates. Since I was sending out information requests several times per week, I decided it best not to re-invent the wheel with each email. I developed very polite email templates. This also freed up my time for other tasks.
  3. Apply gentle pressure. I spoke with my manager who then spoke with their boss. Together they came back and asked me to cc their boss. I did this so that they knew my request couldn’t be ignored. I got quicker responses this way. Any questions I received from their boss I passed on to my manager, as she had requested.
  4. Say thank you. I immediately wrote a thank you email as soon as I received the requested information. This feedback from me meant they (hopefully) remembered me the next time I needed something, and the pushback would no longer be there. I also stopped being the annoying guy and became the friendly guy.
  5. Mix it up. I needed a lot of information from a lot of different people. Calling them each and every time was impractical BUT I tried to mix things up and call people some of the time. This helped to keep things human.

For my email template, I included three things.

  • I explained why I needed the information.
  • I acknowledged they were the experts that had the information I needed.
  • I thanked them in advance for taking the time to respond to my request.

Here is an example email:

Dear Steve,

My name is George Barse, and I work in the xx location. I am currently during a report on zz, for which I need information on yy. I have been told by a colleague that you are the contact person for this information. I would greatly appreciate it if you could provide me with aa as it will help me in the report I am writing for tt.

Thanks in advance for any assistance you are able to provide in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

George Barse

I also created a template for the short thank you email I sent after my request was fulfilled.

Dear Steve,

Once again, thank you for your quick response in providing me with the information I needed for my report. Your help is greatly appreciated. I was able to effectively use the information in my report on zz.

Please let me know if I can help you in any way in the future.

Kind regards,

George Barse

21 Useful phrases for making a request via email:

Here’s some phrases you could use when making a request. The first is very friendly and the last is possible, but not going to make you any friends…

  • Is there any chance you could send me…?
  • Can you just drop me a line to let me know if you can send……?
  • This is just a friendly reminder to ask you to send ……
  • This may be lying at the bottom of your “to do” list but could you possibly send…..?
  • Could you send me…..?
  • Could you kindly let me know whether you can send…….?
  • Could you do me a favor and send me ……?
  • Could you please send me ….?
  • Please could you send me …..?
  • You’d really be helping me out if your could send me….
  • Look forward to receiving the ……It would be great to have ……
  • It would be helpful if you could send……
  • I would really appreciate it if you could send me …..
  • I would appreciate a prompt response and look forward to receiving ….
  • I would be so grateful if you could send me …..?
  • Would it be possible for you to send me…..?
  • Would you kindly send me …….. by Monday?
  • We urgently require the ………… today / within 24 hours
  • If you do not send me ……, I will have no option but to escalate the matter to Mr / Ms…
  • Should I not receive the …….., unfortunately I will be forced to contact ….