I had a housemate in college who’d leave messages on my answering machine like this:
BEEEP! “Hey, just checking in, I was just wondering what you were planning to do with the spaghetti pot and some of the other stuff you left out on the counter. I’d clean them myself, it’s no big deal, but with the big pot, I wasn’t sure whether you were saving the spaghetti in it or if you just kind of forgot to clean it last night. I mean, the noodles are all hard and stuck to the bottom, so I doubt you’re planning to eat it, but I just wanted to check. Also just wanted to check if you bought more toilet paper. I think you said you were going to, did I make that up? If not, I’m happy to do it myself as we’re almost out and I wouldn’t ask anyone else in the house, they all do so much. Lemme know!” BEEEP!
That’s what and who I think of when I see the words “Just checking in.”
Not everyone has lived with a pathologically passive-aggressive college housemate. But you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who actively likes and responds well to the phrase “just checking in.”
We’ve all emailed it though, right?
“Just checking in to see if you got my invoice.”
“Just checking in to see if you’re coming to the party.”
“Just checking in to see if you were able to read my manuscript.”
“Just checking in — do you have any time to reschedule?”
When we say “just checking in,” we’re trying soften the real message: “I need an answer, bitch!”
But everyone knows that’s what it means.
What are you supposed to do, though?
How can you follow up without being a passive-aggressive nag?
My friend, a journalist — we’ll call her Lisa — was feeling discouraged because she’s scheduled a meeting with a top magazine editor, a connection she was excited to score, and the editor has cancelled three times.
Lisa was still waiting to hear back from her last two emails asking to reschedule.
She was wondering how she could follow up a third time without coming across like a psycho. Or, at best, what we refer to in Yiddish as a “noodge.”
First of all, I told Lisa, let’s assume the editor, rather than deciding that Lisa isn’t worth meeting with, is like me.
Being like me means you’re
1) Addicted to checking your emails, many of which you open while in line at the grocery store and usually flag as unread but sometimes forget to even do that, especially when you realize the cashier is yelling “next customer in line” and it’s you. So even if you meant to answer that email when you got back to your desk, it’s now buried beneath all the new ones.
2) Overwhelmed by all the things
3) Glad, rather than annoyed, when someone reminds you — in a guilt-free way — that they’re waiting for an answer.
“That makes me feel better,” Lisa said. “So should I say something like, ‘Hey, just checking in…’?”
I wrote up something for Lisa that I think is way better. She said I should sell it. I’m not sure what I’d charge for 90 words, so here’s her custom script for following up — for FREE.
Hi [FIRST NAME],
At the risk of being a noodge/ nag/ pest [CHOOSE ONE], I’m floating this back to the top of your inbox.
I know how much you must have to get done before you leave, and I hope I can get my idea in front of you in that time.
If an in-person meeting is tough to schedule right now, would it be easier to hop on the phone? All I need is [NUMBER] minutes, and I can be available at any time that works for you.
Looking forward to hearing back.
Thanks so much,
UPDATE: It worked! She has a meeting for next week. Assuming the editor keeps it…
Lisa’s exact script may be a little specific for you, but here are the elements you can always use:
HI [FIRST NAME].
At the risk of being a nag/ nagging/ bugging you/ driving you nuts/ being overly persistent [CHOOSE ONE] I’m circling back/ following up/ moving this to the top of your inbox/ putting this in front of you again/ cheerfully hunting you down [CHOOSE ONE WITH APPROPRIATE TONE].
I know how busy you are with [FILL IN WITH SPECIFIC DETAIL IF POSSIBLE].
[OPTIONAL: ADD COMPLIMENT LIKE, (By the way, I loved your recent post/ talk/ interview/ centerfold spread in Superfly Success Stories Monthly. So inspiring!)]
Would love to make this as easy as possible for you. Would it be better if we [SUGGEST ALTERNATIVE WAY TO COMMUNICATE]?
Looking forward to hearing back. [OPTIONAL, TO OFFER AN EASY “OUT”: If I don’t, I’ll assume it’s a pass for now/ If this isn’t a good time, say the word and I’ll circle back next month.]
Here’s another trick I suggest, because it works on me (intentional or not):
Like and comment on that person’s social media posts. It’s a great way to remind someone you exist, while validating their existence. (What, you don’t rely on social media notifications to confirm your worthiness as a human?)
Happens to me all the time. Someone will comment on my FB post, and I’ll remember, “Shit, I owe her an email.” And then, on a good day, I might even follow through!
For clarification, I am NOT suggesting you comment- and like-bomb the person you’re chasing, or post on their timeline, “I sent you a message last month. Check ur emails.” Be subtle.
And if this is a close friend you’re trying to get an answer from, forget the script and go with the good ol “BITCH, ANSWER ME!”
Just don’t say “just checking in.”
How do you follow up when you don’t want to be a psycho-nag?
Got a script of your own?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
ps – This college housemate? Whenever one of us was pulling a desperate all-nighter studying for an exam or writing a final paper, she’d wander into the room and say, “Hey. I’m so bored. I finished my studying and my paper like two weeks ahead of time, so I don’t know what to do with myself.” She always flapped her arms like a penguin on that last part, body language of “I give up, I’m hopelessly productive!”
To me, boasting that you finished your work weeks ahead of time is the worst college crime there is (not counting actual felonies). It even ranks above frat boys peeing on their girlfriends’ sweaters in the middle of the night. You’d be surprised, this happened constantly. It seems there’s a certain level of drunk where you think sweaters are a urinal. It was never books or stereo. Always the sweaters.