Life gets busy, and we all forget now and then to reply. Sometimes we plan to reply to a text or phone message and just don’t get around to it.
Other times, you think you sent an email but realize it is a draft on your computer!
Is It Rude to Reply Late?
54% of the people we surveyed said they felt a late response was rude. At 46%, slightly less than half of the respondents didn’t think this was a problem.
Replying late is considered rude by just over half of the 106 people we polled in the USA.
Better Late Than Not at All
The golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated can be applied to replying late.
It is better to reply late than not at all. You don’t want the other party to feel that they don’t matter or that you ignored them.
You don’t want to ruin personal or business relationships because you didn’t answer something in time.
What to Say:
“I realize this is late, but wanted you to know my thoughts on it. I hope it helps even if I didn’t get it submitted in time.”
“I feel so bad that I just saw this and didn’t reply back in time. I hope your event was fun and everyone had a blast! Thank you for the invite!”
“I know the deadline is over but I didn’t get back to you and I want to apologize for that. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me and ask for my feedback on the subject.”
“It appears my juggling act isn’t going so well, as I dropped the ball on this and didn’t respond timely. I hope you aren’t upset about that and know that I have just been overwhelmed, it is nothing personal.”
“Yikes! I really thought I replied to this but apparently, I didn’t. Lesson learned to double-check next time.”
Don’t Make Excuses
People will respect you for being late and being honest versus telling them a story or making an excuse. If they feel like you avoided them or you didn’t make them a priority, it can cause them to be mad or hurt.
Don’t make excuses if you reply to someone late. Accept the fact that you didn’t do it on time and hopefully you can both move on from it.
What to Say:
“I know it isn’t right that I am responding late. I definitely need to get organized to stay on top of everything.”
“I wish I had taken the time to reply when I first saw your message. I forgot about it until much later, and that is something I regret. It is a lesson for me to learn from.”
“I don’t know that this reply will matter now that it is so far beyond your given deadline. I feel like I should at least reply back, even if it is late.”
“Don’t take it personally that I didn’t reply on time. I dropped the ball this time around, no question about that.”
“I just saw that my intended reply to you ended up in my draft file. I feel foolish for not seeing that outcome until now.”
It is fair and it is respectful to apologize to the other party when you reply late.
It can help soften the blow that you didn’t do in time. It can help smooth things over and prevent them from assuming you didn’t care enough to reply.
Don’t burn bridges where a simple apology can keep things moving forward with someone.
What to Say:
“I am sorry I am replying to this so late. I didn’t want you to think it wasn’t important to me.”
“I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, I realize this is extremely late, and hope you will understand.”
“I didn’t mean to put this off, but time got the best of me. Please forgive me for not responding when I received it from you.”
“It was careless of me not to make sure my reply was successfully sent to you. Technology is wonderful, but I have to do my human elements for it to work correctly too! I feel terrible it happened though.”
“I really didn’t mean to ignore your email or not reply to it timely. I am very sorry that it slipped my mind and I am just now getting back to you.”
Sometimes, a late reply can still have value. It can be a chance for you to share your thoughts with them.
It can be a chance to continue to build that relationship with them. It all depends on what took place and what you missed by not replying to them on time.
What to Say:
“I wish I had gotten back to you before the deadline to submit questions for the meeting. I had a few things on my mind about it that I would like to still share with you. Perhaps someone else also brought them to your attention and you can share those answers with me?”
“I am sorry I didn’t get back to you if I was going to attend or not. I hope your retirement party was amazing! You have worked so hard and deserve it. I heard from others it was a fun event and the cake was delicious. Can we schedule a lunch date soon to celebrate since I missed the party?”
“I am sorry I am replying late. I think the project has many challenges but you have handled them with grace and determination. I am in awe of all you have done to get it to move forward. If you need help with anything as it moves forward, please reach out to me. I promise to reply back promptly next time!”
Offer Something to Them Since You Replied Late
If your late reply means you missed something, do what you can to make up for it. The other person will appreciate that.
What to Say:
“I am sorry I missed your deadline to reply to the charity contributions. It is a great resource and I would like to see if there are any other options for me to go ahead and contribute in some way at this time to them.”
“I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet with you because I failed to reply back to you in time. The next time you are in town I would love to take you to do something fun and for us to spend some time visiting.”
Matt Vargas is an author and public speaking coach with a degree in sociology and more than ten years of practical experience. Matt is responsible for the empirical surveys at everyday-courtesy.com, is a passionate recreational musician, and blogs here about his experiences in the field of interpersonal communication.