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I have a habit of taking a very long time to reply to emails and messages. Since some of these are from friends with whom this is my main form of contact (i.e. unless it is organised via messages and/or emails, I will never see or speak to these people), it's important to me that I keep these channels of contact open.

After a while, I will realise that it's taken me too long to reply, and I should put it right, but I then find myself having to explain why I took so long to reply. Since the reasons for my terrible response times are usually a bit stupid, difficult to relate, and could potentially offend people (e.g. "I got super obsessed with a writing project for a couple of months, and I kept not getting around to it"), I usually end up delaying the reply even further until I've "thought of a good way to explain".

Since I never (or very rarely) do think of a good way to explain, the delay just increases, until it seems to me that no explanation of how long I took to respond can possibly be adequate and that I have probably already offended - and almost certainly been disrespectful to - the original message sender.

What can I do at this point to reopen communication, and reassure them that I didn't mean them any disrespect?

To clarify, I'm talking about communication with friends, here. Usually these are friends that I'm not close enough with to see very regularly, but close enough with that I want to keep in contact and occasionally spend time with them.

  • We need some more details to be able to adequately address this. What sort of relationship are you in with these people? Where are you in the world? There may be conventions depending on where you are. How formal are these contacts? Was the communication time-sensitive? – Catija Jul 20 '17 at 17:44
  • I've edited the question to clarify the nature of the relationships. I'm from the UK. Sometimes the communication is time sensitive, sometimes it isn't. – TheTermiteSociety Jul 20 '17 at 17:54
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    Maybe a quick "Hey, I let things slip in getting back to you, but I wanted to, and I hope this email is worthwhile." People who need too much of an explanation aren't worth it, and people who don't need an explanation don't need to be bored by it. – aschultz Jul 20 '17 at 23:34
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    Have you tried the honest approach? s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/e6/e3/3d/… – ESR Jul 21 '17 at 3:12
17

An explanation for the delay is often unnecessary

I second what LMGagne said, an explanation is unnecessary (unless they specifically ask for one), and will only cause more attention to be drawn to the delay.

Imagine the other way around, imagine it's you waiting for them to respond, and ask yourself; what would you prefer - them responding to your actual message or giving you excuses for the delay?

I'd prefer to hear the actual response to my message even though it's delayed, and I'll simply assume that they had something more important to pay attention to.

Keep in mind that this is only about responding to friends.

For a professional setting, delayed responses from you may leave a bad mark and affect your job.

17

Over the years I've found that it's usually unnecessary to explain a delay in situations like this. More over, that offering an explanation draws attention to the delay and away from the actual message.

You might consider, where appropriate, mentioning whatever you've been working on or otherwise involved in lately without offering it as an excuse for your delayed response.

8

This is a habit of mine as well, and I can relate to the feelings of anxiety that arise, which often lead to further delays.

I take ownership of my part, by using "I" statements, and leaving out excuses or justifications. Instead, clarity and brevity are my best tools to get back to a balanced relationship with the other person.

Simply stating, "I apologize that I have taken so long to get back to you, please don't take it personally. I'm working to improve, and appreciate your patience.", covers saying you're sorry and taking ownership. After that, there is no need for explanations, since you just made instant amends for your behaviour.

Think about working on forgiving yourself for this, and anything you may be getting down on yourself about. When we can let go of guilt, the results can be freeing ourselves from the need to make excuses, over explain, or feel "less than" others.

  • Welcome to Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange! Thank you for your answer; feel free to take the tour and check out the help center to learn more about the site. – HDE 226868 Jul 21 '17 at 3:33
1

It also depends on the urgency of the email/message that whether you need to mention an excuse for delay or not.

If an email is kind of urgent, you might need to include a reason to explain delay. However, there is no need to give a detailed reason.

In the rest of the cases, as other mentioned, there is no need to include a reason because it will unnecessarily draw attention to delay.

Anyway, try to reply without too much delay in order to not have a bad impression and keep the contact open.

1

It happens to me something similar:

I tend to be too perfectionist and I tend to delay my answer if I do not have enough time to develop it at its best.

This happens to any other ambit of my life such as organising picture albums or even sharing some of them in facebook with my friends.

You are asking how you can reply in the case that you have delayed your answer a lot of time, but you can avoid this by simply avoiding the delay.

If you are delaying your answer it is because you have read what the other person has written you but you have decided not to answer it. Try to analyze the situation and wonder if a simple and quick answer can be given.

1

I would not apologize, and more importantly, I would not feel bad about it. I assume that you are an adult and busy with work and maybe family life. Most people start to get overwhelmed by those two factors somewhere in their 30's or 40's. At those ages, in my experience, when you don't actively work on keeping channels to friends open (by using said channels), they tend to die off.

So. If there is a mail they sent you long time ago which you did not respond to, so far, then just go ahead and respond.

If there is no mail to be had as a reply, then just send them a little something (e.g., "Hey, we haven't talked in ages, how are you?")? It may sound superficial or shallow, but in my experience most people know exactly what you want to achieve with such a question - you want to keep the channel open.

Oh. And don't overthink. :-)

1

In addition to all the fine answers already given, I would only point out that a friend who understands your personality, habits and attitude would not be offended by your delay in replying to their message. So no apology is required although you may write a line of explanation. My favorite (and truthful) expression:

Sorry for the late reply: you know how I never open my email except once a month!

When we need to explain ourselves to a friend with a complicated and defensive apology for our actions, it should be a sign the friendship is not so mature and not so deep.


Note 1: I understand exactly what you mean: I don't keep in much contact with the very few people I am really close to (apart from my immediate family) but when we interact again after a long gap it is never awkward, because they know me inside out, and know I dislike any mode of communication except direct face-to-face interaction, or the very occasional phone call; also that I am fair to all and that therefore the 'radio silence' has no significance to the relationship. Some people are like that only.

This means that your friends ought to be aware of the typical reasons for your delay in replying, and more than willing to excuse you without any formal or detailed explanation, considering all your good or endearing points that make you their friend in the first place!

Note 2: I maintain the strict policy that a 'friend' who does not understand my personality and is not willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, is entirely entitled to take offence at my lack of communication, but they would also be entirely responsible for thus misinterpreting my actions.

For people not really close to you, who are also unlikely to understand, the apology as such might not be convincing to begin with, but the fact that you eventually replied would mean something. It is then up to them whether they want to keep open the channel of communication, but all things considered -- your delay in replying and their possible misinterpretation -- you should not greatly regret the loss of contact with such a person.


Note 3: if somebody finds this question and this answer strange in the era of facebook, twitter and instagram [as in, do people even use email to keep in touch with friends anymore] just kindly remember that not everyone is interested in social media!

  • Thank you @NVZ, and friendly reminder that I expect a lot of activity from you at Interpersonal.SE, such as your excellent answer to this question! – English Student Jul 22 '17 at 8:53
  • You really only open your email once a month? That seems very unusual. In the world of smart phones I'd guess the average person checks their email multiple times daily. Perhaps that is why you aren't getting any votes here? – Catija Aug 19 '17 at 13:47
  • Exactly what I am saying, @Catija. That's the entire point of my related meta question. As I said to NVZ in chat, I wouldn't ask this at English.SE because I am sure about my competency in English, but interpersonal skills is not my strong suit. – English Student Aug 19 '17 at 13:52

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