I have a question: What is a better way to check in than saying, “Just checking in”? I have removed the word “just” because I read that article about how women use “just” much more than men do. But what’s the best way to check in?
Emma: Is Just checking in what you actually want to say? If the answer is yes, then I say go for it. “Just checking in to see if I can help you on that hard thing you’re working on.” That’s not a meek or apologetic email. It’s so kind, so caring!
Andy: I want to get that email.
Emma: But so often Just checking in is mindless — the ummm of emails. We don’t even realize we’ve written it.
Andy: Or it’s a stand-in for some other more potent emotion: Why the hell haven’t you gotten back to me yet? Or, I have so much anxiety around your lack of response that it’s crippling.
Emma: Or, I realize I should have set better expectations in the original email, but I didn’t and now we’re here, I’m sorry please don’t hold it against me. And in those cases, there’s always a better, more accurate thing to say.
3 Ways to Stop Just Checking In
1. Skip to the real question. It’s usually waiting in the next sentence, right after the “just checking in” softener. We recommend also adding a sentence that answers why we’re checking in so we’re all operating in the same universe — one where I’m not an anxious micromanager and there is a real reason I’m doing this that we all understand and care about.
Before: Just checking in to see if you’ve sent in the expense report.
After: Have you sent in the expense report? I just got a reminder from Accounting that anything we don’t send in by 3pm will get pushed into next quarter’s expenses.
2. Bump it and be direct. If you want to point out that this is not the first time you’re asking, use Following up or Bumping this and then ask the question. Bonus points for making it yes/no. The easier it is to answer, the more likely you’ll get a response.
Before: Just checking in to see if you can send me the style guide.
After: Following up: can you send me the link to the style guide?
Before: Just checking in. Hope you’re free to meet on Friday!
After: Bumping this. Does 2pm Friday work for you?
3. Share your urgency. Sometimes you don’t really have a say when or if someone will get back to you. Provide context for why it’s important they do. (Hopefully you did this in the first email, but if you forgot, do it in the follow-up.)
Before: Just checking in to see if you’ll have a chance to look at my essay!
After: I have about 2 weeks before I’m going to submit My Great Essay to the CalArts scholarship contest and would love to have your feedback on it before then. Thanks again for taking a look!
Emma: There is unfortunately no standard for following up on an email — everyone plays email with different house rules.
If you’re in charge, you get to set those rules, and you should be explicit about them: “I need this no later than EOD tomorrow” or “Please let me know when you’ve done the thing I’ve asked. Deadline is 3pm.” The key is setting the expectations that you actually want. If you’re going to follow up at noon to see if they are going to do the thing you want by 3pm, then you’ve set the wrong expectation.
Andy: I hate getting that Slack: Hey did you see the email I sent? I’m always like yes, eye-roll emoji, the one that says I have until 3pm to respond?
Remember, an email can be the beginning of a cycle of horror for the person on the other end, especially if they’re guessing your rules. You’ve got to grasp the weight of your email, and that you’re setting your team up for failure if you don’t tell them how to play the game.
Emma: If you’re not in charge, your mission is to get a sense of the other person’s house rules on following up. And then choose how much you want to operate within them. If I’m debating whether or not to send a follow-up email, I like to ask myself — and I often gut-check with a co-manager or a friend — three things:
- Has this person had a realistic amount of time to do what I asked them to do?
- Will I see them in person soon? (Unanswered emails are great 1-on-1 topics!)
- Is this necessary, or do I just want put my mind at ease?
In most cases, though, I’m gonna bump ya in one week.