The speed of modern communications makes responding to communications difficult, but even more imperative. Not doing so generates the negative perception of being unprofessional.
Only a lucky few haven’t experienced that deafening silence. The black gap, waiting for someone to respond! All the while badgered by the question: Isn’t everyone – within reason, of course – entitled to the courtesy of a response?
For companies to effectively perform, the timely exchange of 360 degree communications – whether information, knowledge or updates – is vital. The go-to form of business communications today being the humble email – over 100 billion of which fly around every day!
Technology and smart mobile gadgets deliver a huge potpourri of official, personal and social messages, liberally interspersed with very enticing spam! Instant and guaranteed delivery, literally into the palm of our hands pretty-much eliminates most excuses for not responding.
Well, that’s our world today! And there’s nothing that can be done about it except to accept, adapt and find ways to manage our personal-professional-social lives. It’s difficult enough balancing two, but imagine a weighing scale with three pans!
Something has to give – but it doesn’t have to be that professional communication, because a host of people depend on it. Because it’s part of the job and it affects the business and the organizational climate.
When communications that fall through the cracks, the mind goes into overdrive and repercussions take birth in advance:
- How lazy! Blithely procrastinating and wallowing in sloth! Maybe he’s bored of his job, disengaged...whatever. This is one person I won’t hire in my unit or this inefficiency will infect the team. Neither do I want my people and their linkages facing the same frustration as I am.
- How incompetent! Whether because of lack of training – or a hiring error – he’s frozen up, with no idea how to respond. Maybe I should put in a word to his boss about a training regimen – clearly he isn’t ready for a bigger role!
- How disrespectful! Probably the lowest any person can think of another. One thing everyone in the organization expects is respect – so the silence is painful – and reciprocal! The respect two people had for each other has just died.
- How arrogant! He’s operating on the exceedingly annoying principle: ‘if you need it bad enough, you’ll chase up!’ Just let him come to me for something! I’ll show him arrogance.
Oooh! We are a vengeful species!
But stop! Before exclusively blaming the (non) respondent, it may be a good idea for the information-seeker to do some soul-searching as well…
- Wrong address/person: Okay, while it’s a good reason for an instant reply, it’s an equally respectable reason – albeit an unacceptable one – for silence!
- Vague query: Not being able to quickly understand the question is a good reason to ignore a message. Or relegate it lower down the priority list.
- Over-communication: We have all encountered colleagues who write epic novels when a few lines could suffice! By the end of the message, the plot’s long been lost! Forget it; let’s try to make sense of it…tomorrow.
- Wolf, wolf: People are in the habit of screaming “URGENT URGENT” in the subject-line of every message. Realization quickly dawns… Chances are it’s not urgent at all!
So it can swing both ways.
But why give anyone the opportunity to miss a communication. Here are five must-do’s for a sure-shot response:
- State the expectation first: The subject, and the very first paragraph, should state what’s expected.
- Mention a clear deadline: A specific date is important to button down a commitment. Seek confirmation that this is doable.
- Give a reasonable timeframe: Everyone understands that some responses could take time and there are more pressing tasks on the person’s plate. So unless it’s an emergency, be reasonable!
- Keep a buffer for yourself and force majeure: To review what’s come back. Mistakes happen. So do unexpected delays and acts of god!
- Follow an escalation matrix: Dunning for a response is acceptable, but it shouldn’t continue forever. Allow for a maximum of two reminders before escalating to, or copying, the person’s boss. Yes, it sounds like tattling. To bad. Work has to be done!
In her well written column for Hospitality Net titled Top Ten Traits of a Professional, L. Aruna Dhir, a veteran Corporate Communications and PR strategist and writer, states that one of the most common grounds on which somebody is called a professional is that Professionals Respond and Resolve!
A no/late response attitude must be identified and checked! Even if it means including an ‘etiquette’ section in the email policy – and broadcasting it periodically. Ignoring it could create a negative chain that impacts organizational climate and performance, and result in a reputation of being ‘unprofessional’.
What a ginormous value destroyer!