Here, at Linguablog, we’ve explored various aspects of language. We’ve looked at how language intersects with culture.
We’ve delved into how certain words originate and how they morph over time.
And, we’ve talked about various grammatical rules that make English the beautiful, rich language it is today.
However, one thing we haven’t talked about all that much is subtext.
So, today, we are going to rectify that.
You are undoubtedly aware that sometimes what we say and what we mean are two different things. After all, who hasn’t heard their friend speak ironically or enjoyed a date’s sarcastic wit?
Even you use language in a figurative way, letting subtext do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
For instance, when you’re in a meeting but things aren’t going so well, you will rarely say, “Well, this is going horribly, so I think I am going to leave.”
Instead, you will probably say something benign along the lines of, “Look at the time!” You aren’t really asking your counterparty to look at the time. Instead, you are subtly hinting to them that it’s time to wrap it up.
That said, one of the biggest challenges with subtext is that it is very dependent on the context.
In other words, if you say something in a particular situation, your words might have a certain meaning, but if you use the exact same words in a different situation, your words will carry a completely different meaning.
This is why it takes some social acuity to understand subtext.
There are many phrases whose meaning varies according to the context. One such phrase is “Thank you for your understanding.”
So, before we can look at alternatives for this phrase, let’s explore its different meanings and how they vary by context. After that, we can talk about alternative phrases for each unique meaning.
The different meanings of “Thank you for your understanding”
When you say “thank you for your understanding,” you’re not really thanking someone for comprehending something. After all, no teacher has ever told his students after a hard class, “I would like to thank you all for your understanding.” That would just sound absurd.
So, what does “thank you for your understanding” mean?
It is mainly used when you are inconveniencing someone, somehow. It can be an apology, or it can be a demand that someone comply with your wishes.
To make matters clearer, we will focus on three key usages:
1. When making an inconveniencing request
Let’s say that you are at a store, paying for clothes at the check-out counter. When you’re done with your transaction and are about to leave, you will probably thank the cashier, right? Will you say “thank you for your understanding?”
You probably won’t because that would sound weird, and if you do, the cashier will most likely give you a look of bemusement. After all, they are only doing their job.
However, if, while paying for your clothes, you ask the cashier to split the bill among 10 credit cards, you are inconveniencing them by asking them to do extra work that is not part of their mandate.
The cashier may protest, but telling them that “you have your personal reasons for wanting this” should get the job done. In this case, it would be completely natural to end your request with “Thank you for your understanding.”
Basically, you are saying “I realize that my request might be inconveniencing for you, but I am sure that you “understand” my reasons for it and will gladly comply accordingly.”
2. When delivering a complaint
Anytime you complain about something, you are inconveniencing someone.
Think about it.
When you complain to a supplier about the quality of their latest shipment, you are telling them that not only are you dissatisfied with their work but that you also expect to be compensated somehow for your troubles.
With that in mind, ending your complaint with “thank you for your understanding” is a subtle way of saying, “I know that you “understand” my gripes, and I am positive that you will deal with them promptly.”
3. When apologizing for inconveniencing someone
If you are a supplier and your latest shipment was running late, you might want to apologize to your clients and let them know that this won’t happen again.
In this case, you might want to use “thank you for your understanding.” In fact, you could write them an email that looks something like this:
The coming shipment will be delivered behind schedule despite our best efforts. We hope that this isn’t too much of an inconvenience, and we thank you for your understanding.”
What you are essentially saying is “Even though we might have inconvenienced you, we hope that you “understand” that what happened was beyond our control, and we hope you can forgive us accordingly.”
Alternative ways of saying “thank you for your understanding”
Having investigated different meanings of the phrase “thank you for your understanding,” we can look at alternative ways of conveying each meaning.
We will also take into account the formality of each alternative phrase, which should give us a good idea of when it might be appropriate to use it.
Making an inconvenient request
[Keeping it casual]
The following phrases are the type you would use when communicating with a fellow colleague that you are familiar with.
You’re the best
You might have seen this phrase before on our blog if you have read “15 Different Ways to Say Thank You in The Business World.” It is extremely informal and is only appropriate with close friends with whom you work.
Obviously, the implication here is that your friend is the “best” because they are willing to carry out your inconvenient request even though they are not obligated to.
This is an excerpt from a hypothetical email you might send your friend from work:
“Hey, I might not be able to make it to the meeting today. Can you cover for me? Thanks, man. You’re the best.”
I owe you one
Another phrase borrowed from our article “15 Different Ways to Say Thank You in The Business World,” “I owe you one” indicates that not only do you understand that your colleague is inconveniencing themselves for you but that you are also indebted to them and are willing to repay them someday.
Using the same email above, you might opt to send this instead:
“Hey, I might not be able to make it to the meeting today. Can you cover for me? Thanks, man. I owe you one.”
[Being more formal]
Most of your professional interactions will be with individuals with whom you are not familiar. These will include your boss, your suppliers, and your clients.
And, telling any one of them that you “owe them one” will sound strange, to say the least. Nevertheless, you may very well have to make a tough ask of someone, in which case you should know how to thank them formally.
I am grateful for your support
Normally, if you would ask someone to give you an alternative phrase for “thank you for your understanding,” “I am grateful for your support” wouldn’t be the first thing that would pop in their mind.
Yet, this is why subtext is so important: In this particular context, one where you are thanking someone for carrying out an inconveniencing request, it works.
Let’s look at a case where you are asking one of your suppliers to expedite a shipment to help your company make a deadline. This is an excerpt from an email you might write in this scenario:
We realize that this might mean that you will have to work overnight to expedite the shipment, but making our deadline can be good for all of us.
We are eternally grateful for your support in the matter.”
I will be forever indebted to you
This is the formal version of “I owe you one.” However, you shouldn’t use it all that often as it may come on too strong.
Instead, reserve it for those special occasions when someone does do you a big favor, one where a simple “thank you for your understanding” just wouldn’t be enough.
Let’s use the above example, the one where you needed a supplier to expedite a shipment, but we’re going to add an extra caveat.
We’ll assume that not only must your supplier expedite your shipment, but, to do so, they must also delay the shipment of another important client, pushing you ahead of the cue.
In this case, because your request can be very inconveniencing, the following would be totally fine:
We realize that this might mean that you will have to work overnight to expedite the shipment, and we are also aware that doing so might cause you to inconvenience some of your other clients. Yet, given the urgent nature of the matter, we can see no other way around it. Furthermore, we are confident that making our deadline will be good for both of us.
Should you manage to aid us in this matter, we will forever be indebted to you.”
Thank you for your cooperation
If you’ve seen Robocop, then you’ve probably heard this phrase muttered by the tin man himself. It’s a simple expression that is significantly more direct than “thank you for your understanding.”
That said, the expression “thank you for your cooperation” can afford to be direct because it is usually used in situations where even though the request can be inconveniencing, the person to whom you’re directing the request is expected to oblige all the same.
Let’s say that you have a pool of freelancers working with you. Your collaboration structure works as follows: You post jobs on a job board, and different freelancers can pick up the job that suits them best.
However, if you know the talents of each freelancer, you might choose to assign specific projects to specific individuals. In this case, you could write the following note on the job board:
“This project is for Melissa. Thank you all for your cooperation.”
[Bringing out the professional in you]
This is the heavy caliber stuff, the sort of wording you would use with the president of your company or the mayor of your city.
I would be grateful if you could oblige me in this matter
This expression is too stuffy to use with a supplier, let alone a close colleague. Nonetheless, there are several things working for it.
For starters, unlike most of the other expressions so far, this one doesn’t make any assumptions.
For instance, you don’t assume that the other party will oblige you automatically. Another thing is the use of the word “oblige,” which clearly indicates that the other party is doing you the favor.
Let’s assumes that you are writing a letter to the mayor’s office, asking her to give you special permits for whatever reason. However, what makes this request inconveniencing is that you need the permits tomorrow and they take a few days to be issued.
We understand that most permits take a few days to be issued, yet we were hoping that you could aid us in this matter.
We would be forever grateful if you could oblige us in this matter.”
Your cooperation in the matter is appreciated
If this feels too similar to “thank you for your cooperation,” don’t worry; it’s still more professional. You see, one way to make anything sound more professional is to write in the passive voice.
By removing yourself or any other active agent from the equation, you sound more objective and less emotionally engaged.
This is why most writing manuals will actually advise you to write in the active voice instead of the passive voice.
The active voice elicits emotions and makes the writing dynamic. But, when you’re being professional, you do not want emotional, dynamic writing.
This is an excerpt from a hypothetical letter sent by the government to a company:
We ask that you submit your financial statements for the fiscal year of 2019 to be audited.
Your cooperation in the matter is appreciated.”
Delivering a complaint
[Keeping it casual]
Usually, most of your complaints will be directed towards someone with whom you don’t have a relationship. Nevertheless, there may be occasions where you do complain to a good friend or acquaintance, in which case the following phrase will come in handy.
Thanks for listening
Sometimes we just need to vent, to blow off a little steam. And, when we do, it’s good to have a friend there at the other end of the line.
Obviously, in this case, you don’t expect anything to be done about your complaint. Yet, it is still reassuring to know that someone understands you and is aware of the burden you carry.
If your boss just gave you a hard time, you might feel that you need to vent to someone. So, this might be an excerpt from an email exchange between you and your colleague in the next cubicle:
I understand why Mr. Burns was agitated, but he still had no right to talk to me that way.
Anyway, thanks for listening. I know I can always count on you.”
[Being more formal]
As we said, you will probably direct most of your complaints to someone you don’t know that well. So, here are a few phrases to help with that endeavor:
I appreciate your dedication to looking into this matter
When you file a complaint with a company, it would be unreasonable of you to expect them to capitulate on the spot. Instead, the company will do its own research and get to the bottom of the problem you have just highlighted for them.
Let’s say that you are complaining to one of your suppliers about a shipment that was missing a few essentials. This is what your email might look like:
The missing items are essential for us, and without them, our supply chain will be detrimentally affected. Ergo, we appreciate your dedication to looking into this matter.”
I am thankful for your commitment to working this out
Some complaints may be hard to stomach, and fixing them may require a lot of work. Hence, thanking someone for sticking it out and working with you to make right their wrongs is just good business.
(It should be noted that “I am thankful for your commitment to working this out” also works in case you are apologizing to someone for inconveniencing them. Basically, in this latter scenario, you are thanking the person you have inconvenienced for being patient with you and helping you rectify the situation.)
Let’s return back to that supplier who has provided you with products of subpar quality. In this case, you might have this in your email:
The products we received were below the quality terms set in the contract, which is something we are positive you will rectify. Accordingly, we would like to thank you for your commitment to working this out.”
Bringing out the professional in you
Thank you for your time
Even though this seems extremely simple, almost too simple to be a professional way of saying “thank you for your understanding,” it actually works. Hear me out.
You can use “thank you for your time” when the person you are reaching out to is in a position of authority and you have no leverage in the situation.
In other words, if the person receiving your complaint has the power to ignore and has no compelling reason to heed it, then the best thing you can do in this scenario is to thank them for their time and for hearing you out.
If you are a citizen who is fed up with the state of the parks in your city, you might choose to send a complaint letter to the mayor. But, beyond a complaint letter, there is really little else you can do. So, you will probably end the letter like this:
The parks are an integral part of our community, and bettering them should be a priority for all of us. I hope you give the matter your attention, and I thank you for your time.”
Apologizing for inconveniencing someone
[Keeping it casual]
In everyday life, you are bound to mess up. And, as Herb Cohen would put it, the best strategy then would be to fess up. Here are some phrases you could use if you inconvenience a friend or close acquaintance:
I appreciate you sticking with me
If you inconvenience a client, they can do one of two things: They can either stick it out with you or leave for another competitor.
Similarly, when you put one of your colleagues in hot water, they can either stand by you and help you fix your mistake or abandon you altogether and leave you to your fate.
If the quality of your company’s products has been shoddy lately, you might send one of your clients the following email, especially if you have a strong relationship with them:
We understand that the quality of our products hasn’t been up to the standard that we have always set for ourselves. And, we also appreciate how this might have affected your business.
Consequently, we appreciate you stick with us through this trying time, and we promise to turn things around.”
I appreciate your flexibility
Sometimes, even when you inconvenience someone, they will still be accommodating and happy to oblige. In these scenarios, you want to thank them for being so accommodating and for giving you certain allowances when they didn’t have to.
Let’s say you had a meeting with a close business acquaintance, but you had to postpone the meeting for some reason. If they are fine rescheduling, you should send them a thank you email. Here is something you could use:
I realize that you had set a certain time for me, which is why I appreciate your flexibility in rescheduling.”
I want you to know how much I value your understanding
This is as emotional as you can possibly get in business writing. It’s a personal statement that isn’t only an apology but also goes to show the other person how much you value the relationship itself.
However, because it can come on a bit too strong, you want to reserve it to occasions that warrant it, situations where you made a serious mistake or where the other party is livid.
Let’s say that one of your best and oldest clients is threatening to leave you because one of your employees was impertinent towards them. You might send them an email containing the following lines:
I ask that you give me enough time to investigate and get to the bottom of what happened. Until then, I want you to know how much I value your understanding in the matter.”
[Being more formal]
When you inconvenience a friend or colleague, they will most likely forgive you, even if you forget to apologize. However, the same can’t be said for clients and superiors that don’t know you that well.
So, here are a few phrases you can use to smooth out the relationship:
Thank you for your compassion
When we understand people, we are able to be compassionate with them. In that same vein, when you make a mistake and expect them to forgive you, it will be much easier if they feel compassion towards you.
Ergo, by thanking people for their compassion, you are essentially asking them to forgive you and reminding them that you are only human.
Let’s say you are giving a prospective client a presentation, and, in the middle, a technical error occurs, bringing the whole thing to a halt and forcing the client to wait patiently as you fix the glitch. This is what you could write to them later that day:
We hope that the technical issues experienced today weren’t too much of a problem, and we were enormously thankful for your compassion on the matter.”
Thank you for your patience
When you do inconvenience someone, it can take a while for you to fix things. It can even take a longer while to figure out why things went wrong in the first place in order to ensure that the mistake never happens again.
All the while, the aggrieved party has to be patient and wait for you to correct things.
Now, let’s say that you are a supplier who has just received a strongly worded email from one of your clients, complaining about the quality of your latest shipment. You may respond with something along the following lines:
We will investigate the matter fully and get back to you as soon as we know something on our end. And, should this problem have originated from us, we will be more than happy to give you a 30 percent discount on the next shipment.
Until then, we humbly ask that you give us the requisite time to carry our investigation to the fullest. We thank you for your patience.”
[Bringing out the professional in you]
The thing about apologies is that they only work if they are personal or come from the heart. That said, if you are looking for a very professional way of apologizing for inconveniencing someone, here is an arrow you can keep in your linguistic quiver:
Your understanding in the matter will not go unnoticed
This is a very stuffy phrase, yet it is the epitome of formality. If you would like to soften it a bit, you could use “your understanding in the matter will be much appreciated.” To soften it more, you can go for “your understanding in the matter will mean a lot to me.”
The phrase you choose will depend on the context as well as the emotions you wish to convey.
Let’s say you are the president of a large company, and one of your employees has been wronged.
You feel that it is your responsibility to handle the matter personally, so you send them the email asking them to hold off taking any legal action until you’ve investigated the whole matter thoroughly:
Even though you may feel distraught, it is worth bearing in mind that your understanding will not go unnoticed.”
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.