There are occasions in life — both business and social — when you need a deadline. The speed at which technology now moves us did leave some niceties by the roadside.
However, sometimes we need to know something by a certain date. In some situations, we need to know how to ask nicely. Why does politeness matter, though, when we ask?
A recent study from the University of Connecticut found that “. . being polite “. . . can make people more receptive to your ideas.  ” Further, even “. . . the way a sentence is written becomes especially important . . . “. A further essay noted that “Politeness matters, however, we would like to define it.” 
Human nature sometimes makes it hard for us to ask for things. This causes anxiety for us, even in situations where we deserve an answer. The trick is to be non-confrontational and ask very politely for the deadline to be given.
Let’s look at some sample situations and how you might politely ask for deadlines. Here are some examples and suggested phrases you can use.
Imagine you have applied for some jobs. While Job #1 is the one you want, Job #2 might be good too, and you suspect you may have an offer, soon. How do you give your top choice a little nudge?
Here is a phrase you can use:
“Dear (Recruiter), Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview with your company. Because I have been on the job hunt, I believe I will soon have an offer. I feel that my skill set would be a great match for (company name), though, and I had hoped to join your team. Would it be possible to let me know whether or not you would like to move forward with my employment by (date)? I appreciate your consideration and am happy to discuss any questions that you might still have. Best, (signature)“.
Being on good terms with your neighbors is important, but sometimes it can be difficult. A common issue is that a neighbor’s tree may encroach onto your property.
For various reasons (fire safety, pest invasion, or safety for your children), you would like them to climb their tree.
How might you (politely) ask for this to be put into motion? Try to talk to your neighbor, first.
Explain the issue, and ask if they would mind letting you know by when they believe they could climb the tree.
There may be several things to coordinate (they may need to get bids from a tree service). If you are dealing with an absentee owner or managed property situation, you may need to track down the property manager or owner and put your request in writing.
Helpful phrasing could be:
“Dear Property Manager: We are the owners of a home at 123 Maple Street. We understand you manage the property at 125 Maple Street. We have a safety issue with overhanging limbs from a large maple tree on 125 Maple’s property. Would you please let us know by when you will address this issue? Sincerely, 123 Maple Street.”
If you don’t get a response, check your state’s laws. In most, cases, you may trim branches up to the property line, yourself. Having tried to handle it amicably will have been documented if your neighbor suddenly objects.
In today’s office, it’s just a fact: People blow off deadlines. The excuses are usually something along the lines of, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t see your email. It must have gone into my spam.” Or: “Oh, sorry. I was pulled onto another project.”
Ring a bell? Another increasingly common one: “I didn’t get to it.” (No excuse given; they just didn’t do it.) It’s exasperating! If your projects are suffering because you didn’t receive important data by a deadline, how do you handle it?
If you are asking for something and you need it by a certain date, be crystal clear.
“I will need your data by August 13th, by 1:00 p.m.”
First, write the email or send the task reminder. Those are important, in case you need future documentation that an employee is not doing their job properly.
The second part of this is human contact. It’s so easy nowadays to blow off the technology. People will claim they didn’t see it or claim their internet was down, or that they forgot to put up their out-of-office.
So if it’s vitally important to you, make HUMAN contact. Pick up the phone and talk to them. Or, if they are in a shared office space, go and talk to them. Explain. Nag a little if needed, but use the human touch to explain what you need and by when you need it.
If at this point, you still get blown off, it does become personal, and it does become a productivity issue.
Constructions or Repairs
You want to put a deck on your house, perhaps in anticipation of a party, you are planning. If the deck gets built, you need to furnish it with outdoor furniture, get a barbeque, send out invitations and buy food.
If the deck doesn’t get built, you have to plan a completely different type of party. How do you get your contractor to respond with a deadline?
In this case, it’s business, and it’s not so much about politely asking, it’s about telling.
But: politeness is always the best way to start.
“Sean, I would like a deck out here, but I would need it to be completely finished by June 10th, so that I have time to use it on July 4th. Is that a realistic possibility? If so, I would like to hire you, and I would like to put it in writing.”
Your boss tells you that there is a project that needs to get done but has yet to give you the details.
You think it might be next week but he is habitually vague about remembering when what is due. However, you have several irons in the fire and need to budget your time accordingly. How do you politely get a deadline out of him?
Start by trying to get that deadline in writing:
“(Boss), thank you for letting me know about that project that is coming up. Could you please confirm the deadline for me? I have several projects going so want to be sure that I get your data to you in plenty of time.”
Better: go speak to him personally to try to find out this information, using the same polite verbiage, above.
If all else fails, try to research it yourself. Is there someone up higher you can ask? Can you find it online? If nothing else, make sure you document your attempts to find out when things are needed.
You want to go to a new restaurant, but you have to make a reservation. Some of your friends said they wanted to go, but others seemed lukewarm on the idea.
Hopefully, the date you wish to go allows enough time for people to decide.
“(The restaurant) requires a reservation. I will be booking it when they open tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. If you want to go, please let me know by 4:00 p.m. Hope you can make it! The food sounds amazing. Here is the link, if you want to check out the menu and prices.”
And then, go. After all, if it’s something you want to do, go and enjoy it!
For the last semester of your degree, you need to do an internship. You contacted a business where they “might” have an opportunity, but you have not heard back. If you don’t find out soon, you will have to research other places. You need to complete this to graduate.
Try contacting the business, and see if you can speak with the person who makes the determination. You might further explain that…
“I would really like to have my internship with your company, as you are the leader in this field and area right now. I understand that my being there will use your resources, but I believe I can eventually ‘give back’, as I hope to eventually begin my career with you. Would I be able to get an answer by next Tuesday?”
Asking for deadlines shouldn’t be painful. It’s largely about your approach, as you can see, above. Reasonable people should respond in a timely way. That is what we term to be “good manners.”
However, real life is such that sometimes they just don’t. They may have good reasons. They may also be worried about hurting your feelings or coming off as being confrontational. If you are unsure about how you are asking, try writing it out, or rehearsing your (polite) request for a deadline with somebody you trust to give you honest feedback.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.