One of my biggest pet peeves is the nebulous professional email, text or direct message that pussyfoots around. The sender vaguely hints at needing your advice or help with a project but doesn’t come right out and say so. Instead, it takes three or four rounds of back-and-forth messaging to unearth exactly what they want.

Assuming people can read your mind is a surefire way to have your messages ignored. If you want your requests fulfilled, clarity is key.

Following are four ways you might be sending vague messages, why it’s puzzling to recipients and how to clarify your requests.

Why you want to grab coffee. Everyone knows that in a professional context, “I’d love to meet for coffee sometime” means the inviter wants something from the invitee. Getting a vague request like this can be off-putting, especially if you’re pressed for spare time. You don’t know whether the sender seeks mentorship, employment, a peer to shoot the breeze with or something else.

Coffee-date makers, there’s no point in burying the lede. If you want someone’s advice, ask for it (and then make the appointment on their timetable and terms, not yours). If you want to build a squad of like-minded professionals, say so. If they’re not interested, better to hear “no” sooner than later.

Why you want an informational interview. Kudos for being proactive and wanting to learn more about your field. But don’t send a vague note to someone who inspires you requesting an informational interview. Give some specifics on your industry experience and what exactly you’d like to know.


Are you curious about the person’s daily responsibilities? How they made the leap from their previous role to their current one? How they like working for their employer? How you might fit in there should an opening arise? You’re asking someone to take time away from their already busy workday. Telling them what you’d like to learn makes them more likely to meet you.

What you want to hire someone to do. I get a lot of vague requests for my services on LinkedIn. People want to talk about “collaborating,” or an “opportunity” they have for me (almost always these “jobs” pay in glory rather than dollars). Otherwise, they want to talk about hiring me for a project but offer no details about the nature of the work, the timeline, the budget or anything else that might encourage a quick reply.

An easy way to charm the freelancers and vendors in your life is to provide as many of these details as possible from the get-go. If you don’t have much of a budget, don’t kid yourself that playing it coy with seasoned service providers will work. Doing so will only waste everyone’s time.

Why you called that team meeting. No one likes getting a vague meeting request. At best they invite speculation about how much of a time-waster they’ll be. At worst they raise concerns about whether you plan to deliver bad news about the project or company.

Your colleagues are likely as busy as you are, juggling multiple meetings, projects and priorities any given week. Give them the courtesy of making your meeting requests as clear as possible. Explain why you need to meet when you do and include a brief summary or list of topics to address. Bonus points for adding your assurance that you’ll make the gathering quick. Your meetings will be better attended and more productive for it.

Moral of the story: Don’t make people guess what you mean. Be direct and everyone wins. If you don’t get a yes, you can move on to the next resource that much more quickly.