Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How to Say That You Can't Meet a Deadline in English

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 @ 12:18 PM

how to talk about deadlines in English  dartboardDo you work with clients in English-speaking countries?

Do you have a hard time communicating your point of view regarding deadlines and the amount of work that can be done in the time frame that they request?

Your client might expect something that is completely unrealistic because he or she doesn't understand how the work gets done.

In this case, you want to be honest and tell the client the truth, but you also don't want to lose the client's business, right?

So how can you do that in English, considering American cultural norms?

In today's article, I will give you a few polite and professional ways to say that you can't meet a deadline.




#1) "I apologize, but we can't complete this work by the date that you have requested"


deadlines and computers in EnglishWhen you begin a sentence with "I apologize," it's a great way to set a professional tone, but it's also useful here because it opens up the opportunity to deliver bad news.


Other ways to say this:


  • "I am so sorry, but we won't be able to complete the work by the date that you have asked for."
  • "I am sorry to have to tell you that it won't be possible to finish the work by the date that you want."




#2) "Unfortunately we won't be able to meet your indicated deadine."


Using the word "unfortunately" is not as polite as "I apologize" but it does indicate that you are going to say something that the listener might not like, so it prepares them.


Other ways to say this:

  • "We are certain that we won't be able to meet your required deadline"
  • "We know that we can't meet the deadline that you have set." (more casual, less polite)




#3) "Unfortunately the indicated deadline can't be met"


deadlines man with hands in the airThis example is very similar to #2, but here we can use the passive form instead of the active form.

By using the passive form instead of the active form, we take the individuals out of the situation and we don't place blame on the client for setting such a tough deadline.

Using the passive de-emphasizes the person who is doing the action and emphasizes what is or is not being done.

It makes the statement less personal and more about the facts.


Another way to say this:

  • "Unfortunately, the work can't be done by the target date that has been set."




#4) "Due to potential problems with the project, the target date is unrealistic"


Here you are giving the reason that you can't make the target date by saying "Due to potential problems..."

This method could take the emphasis off of you, as the professional, and put it back on the potential problems that might come up that could slow down the project.


Other ways to say this:

  • "Because of potential problems with the project, the target date is not possible."
  • "Considering possible problems with the project, we can't guarantee the target date."
  • "Considering problems that might occur with the project, we won't be able to meet your target date."




#5) "The timeframe for this project is not reasonable. Could we reassess the milestones?"


deadlineThe word "timeframe" is another way to say the amount of time that you have been given to complete a project.

Here you are asking the client to work with you as a team to create some new "milestones" or "deadlines."

If you can indicate that you want to work together with the client and that you are on their team, you will have more successful exchanges with them.


Other ways to say this:

  • "The timeframe for this project is not reasonable. Would it be possible to reassess the milestones?"
  • "The amount of time alotted for this project is not sufficient. Is it possible to work out some different dates?"




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Topics: English Conversation, Cultural Competence, Intercultural Communication, Business English Vocabulary

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