Note: this is not a situation I am currently facing, but I have faced in the recent past. I apologized afterwards, which helped, but I'd rather learn how to fix the problem before it even occurs. My location is Netherlands, but an answer working for various cultures, mainly western, is preferred.

The scenario

I have a situation I need a quick answer to. This person I don't know personally has the answer. I sent an email to them. This gives the impression that the situation is not urgent and they may wait with responding. Actually, they did, since it has been half an hour and I need this answer within an hour!

Meanwhile, I acquired their phone number. I want to instant message or call them to explain the situation and get the answer I need, although I'm afraid that makes me seem demanding, nagging, harassing or makes them think I consider myself too important. What tactics can I use to defuse their negative feelings towards this situation?

  • 7
    How did you 'acquire' their phone number? Is the person you're trying to contact likely to be concerned over how you got it? If it's a publicly available number, such as a company phone line, it wouldn't be so unexpected.
    – user8671
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 9:45
  • 1
    @Kozaky In this case, it was a private person, but they were aware that their contact details had been given to someone (me) by a company they are a client of and they are contractually required to offer me the answer to my specific question. (Housing related)
    – Belle
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 14:11
  • is this work related or is this just you are messaging a friend of a friend and then called them up after?
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 16:30
  • @ggiaquin16 it’s housing related. I’m looking for a house.
    – Belle
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 16:34

5 Answers 5


Call them right after you send the mail.

At the beginning tell them that you sent a mail about the issue, but you want to ask them about it. There is nothing preventing you from calling since you sent an email. The mail creates a papertrail, and gives them a heads up about before the call, or allows them to look at it while taking the call if they choose to do so, but then you get the benefit of taking care of the issue quickly on the phone.

Rather than asking them to respond to you, you just just open a medium of communication that gives a natural quick response, so there is no need for them to get upset by you continuing asking them for a response.

I do this almost every day at work -- I get to speak about it normally as if I had called first, and I've never had the other party complain or get upset about it. In fact, some of my contacts have started doing the same to me.

  • Might be worth pointing out that if you've sent an email, then call, without mentioning that a call is required or urgency is important in the email itself, it's quite possible from my experience that the recipient says "oh. just take a message, I already got an email from them" and won't take such a call directly. At that point you would have a chance to reiterate the urgency, but I agree with others who mention to put something in the email itself to reserve a call in the event of urgency.
    – Darren
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 12:54

Tell them honestly what happened.

(That you sent them the email and then later realized that a call would be better.)

Hey! Its so and so, I've got a quick question about [thing]. I sent you an email about it a little while ago, but then I realized that I'd be better off calling you. ...anyways, I was wondering..."

It only takes 2 extra seconds, but by keying them into your thought process, you prevent them from making any assumptions about your attitude. By providing a quick, concise, and polite explanation, you're minimizing any potential embarrassment over what happened.

Source: I have made this mistake before, and have found that people are far more sympathetic when they know that you're trying to be as polite.

  • 5
    I like this approach but I would add the urgency as the reason for the quick follow up ".... then I realized I'd be better off calling you because I need an answer within the hour"
    – Dragonel
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 23:39

If it is as urgent as you said and you need the answer within an hour, I would suggest to call them and then say something like,

I emailed you about this 'x-minutes' ago but it is extremely urgent and I need to have the answer within the next 30 minutes because 'insert your reason here'.

If you feel like they feel offended by the call because they were busy doing their work or something like that, just apologize but make clear that this was only a one-time event because of the urgency.

When I need something of extreme urgency and I have other ways to contact them except email (like in this case the phone number) I do what I suggested above. If the person that has the information I need is my boss though I tend to just wait it out or - if possible - talk to them personally.

Also keep in mind that my suggestion may be considered to be not polite but here in Germany that's how everyone I know is dealing with such situations.

  • Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? We require that answers provide some sort of backup, such as personal experience or an external source, for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that.
    – Mithical
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 10:40
  • 1
    Oh okay sorry, I'm new to IPS stack exchange, will edit the answer straight away
    – user18596
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 10:44

Being that it is housing related, there shouldn't be any concern about appearing to come off rude. Especially if the person you are contacting is involved in the business of home buying/renting. Deadlines happen and employees of the industry know that some aspects of the process need an immediate response.

I have found that sending an email marked urgent (this can be done even with Gmail) as well as putting the word urgent in the subject line can help show time is of the essence. In the body, I would conclude by saying something like "I need a response by 14:00 today (6/7/2018). If I don't hear from you, I will attempt to call you to discuss the matters before the deadline.

This allows you to set the tone that you need an immediate response, you gave them the time frame for which it needed to be done by, and you informed them that should you not receive a reply, you will call them. That way, all your bases are covered in the email.

This way if you call, they are aware of the urgency should they have read the email. If they have not read it yet, you can quickly say you sent an email about the matters but due to the deadline being at 14:00 today, I wanted to make sure we were able to get the matters settled before then.

Again, most professionals in any working field understand deadlines and urgent matters. There have been several times at work where I sent an email and then 5 minutes later was calling up that department. There have been several times where no sooner was I reading an email, I had that person standing at my desk to talk about it.

So I wouldn't feel bad about appearing to come off rude, but definitely make sure that you do your due diligence to inform the urgency/importance of the matter.

  • 6
    People usually understand deadlines and urgent matters, but there's a reason why you can get the phrase "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine" printed on shirts, mugs, signs.... A liberal sprinkling of "I just found out" (it wasn't my fault), or "I'm SO sorry, I know I shouldn't have procrastinated", whichever is appropriate, goes a long way. Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 21:58
  • 1
    It was not actually an employee but a tenant I needed information from. I don't want to be rude to employees but especially not to another tenant like me. I'm never sure how well they are accustomed to deadlines like that. Especially considering this tight deadline was caused by the landlord and not by the fellow tenant or me.
    – Belle
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 7:39

It sounds like you are worried that it is inappropriate to both call and send email. I would not worry about that; It is a good practice actually. TLDR: Put it out of your mind. Lead the conversation with the time urgency of the matter.

The reason it's a good practice is each mode is better at different things. Email supports a lot of detail and structuring it for readability, in ways you cannot possibly communicate over the phone. Whereas a phone call is instant and interactive in ways email cannot (simply because it takes time to write emails).

If someone gave you a hard time about it in the past, then their real issue may have been something else, like they resented being disturbed about the matter at all via any channel. That's a different problem.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.