Nonresponsiveness is my pet peeve, closely followed by the failure to use media/technology appropriately. Both behaviors create obstructions to effective communication. Why is it that we don’t take more care when we are trying to convey a message?
It’s understandable that people may choose to ignore communications from unknown sources or simply delete them as spam. What isn’t clear to me is why it seems so difficult for people to take a couple of seconds to acknowledge the receipt of information from a trusted source. When is a nonresponse supposed to be interpreted as a “no” versus “I don’t know?” Even more curious, or at least a very striking coincidence, is that the same people who consistently ignore email requests or refuse to acknowledge receipt of information seem to expect an immediate response when they make a request from others.
People’s actions or inactions, and their choice of technology or media, create more issues than not.
This isn’t new. Years ago, voicemails went unreturned. Voicemails became emails, and they went unanswered. Now we can add texts to the list. We could also blame technology for some percentage of the communications that simply vanish. But more realistically, people’s actions or inactions, and their choice of technology or media, create more issues than not.
Everybody is busy. That’s as true as saying water is wet. To what degree each of us considers “too busy” is certainly relative. People seem to believe that reading something and then deleting it is all that is needed. More and more requests go unanswered, issues stay unresolved, and data is lost. The question remains, is being “too busy” a valid enough reason to be unresponsive or outright discourteous? I can’t count the number of emails I resend each week to ensure the recipient has what they needed. A number of times the response (when asked for the third time) is: “oh, yeah, thanks” or “I didn’t know the answer.”
Not knowing is understandable, and a response stating so would be courteous. It ends the whole discussion, and each party can continue about their business. Not saying anything leads to redundant requests of “didya get it?” which only creates many more unnecessary emails. Job applicants experience the stone silence from recruiters more times than not when they have been eliminated from consideration or an opening has been frozen. (It’s become pretty widely accepted that a candidate should not expect a recruiter to return an email or call, because we all know they are much busier than any other business person and their time is much more valuable.)
Is being too busy also a good reason to use the handiest technology to convey a message versus the most effective method? Overall, with more and more social media and communication portals to manage, our communications seem more incomplete, less effective and more convoluted than when we had fewer options. The addition of social media has allowed us to share information quickly and broadly. That can be good, and that can also turn out very badly if the wrong messages are sent without thinking. (Remind you of anyone?) We all need to be aware of how we contribute to ineffective communication and confusion.
Selecting the most effective technology for communication is just as important as what you say. Too often I receive long-winded (yet important) business information via text or a Facebook message that would have been more appropriately sent via email. Conversely, when a call or text would have been the most immediate way to reach me with an urgent message, I’ve gotten emails with time-sensitive information that was viewed long after it was relevant.
A good practice is to think of the audience before choosing a method of communication. Call, email, tweet, text … whatever it is, consider what your audience is working on or involved with and how much time they might have available before you dial or hit send. Think of what you need and what will be the quickest way to get it from your audience, based on their needs. Allowing the reader the option to respond with something brief like “OK” or “thanks” is much more likely to elicit a response. Wading through lengthy emails leaves too much room for miscommunication.
A thoughtful communication is much more likely to get a personal or thoughtful response. If we can find some point between saying too much and saying nothing at all and use the most appropriate method of transmission, we would all waste less time on redundant or broken communications.
If you’ve been unclear about what effective networking looks like, it might be time to assess your expectations and your approach. Random networking produces random results. Imagine what networking with the right people in the right way can do for you. Figuring out what “right” means requires thought and preparation. Approaching networking with a strategy for getting what you need and allowing yourself time for preparation will ensure you get better results from your efforts. Having a strategy behind your actions will also help you stay focused when opportunities seem unclear.
Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network.
Start with a goal in mind. Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network. Your goal will help you determine what you need to learn or gain from others. (If you think you have nothing to learn, then there’s a problem brewing before you begin.) If you only vaguely or generally know there are things you need to learn, then it’s important to take the time to get more specific and make a list of what you need.
Review your needs and compare them to your expectations. What do you need? Who is likely to be able to help? How will you meet/communicate with those people? Are you working with assumptions or are you clear about which people are realistically going to be able to help you with what you need? How soon do you need information or actions?
Prepare what you will say/ask. Many people believe that attending events with lots of people will automatically produce some sort of imagined outcome. You may think if you just attend enough events, you will miraculously run into someone who will immediately see/hear your value (through a spontaneous conversation) and offer you a job or refer droves of customers to you. That’s assuming, of course, that the people you run into are mind readers or care enough about you and not what is already foremost on their minds. Your strategy needs to take into account who you would be most likely to run into at any given event. It also needs to consider what might be of interest to them at that event. Once you have considered your audience, then you can prepare a short statement that allows you to introduce yourself (not a 5-minute dissertation) and enough questions to help steer the conversation in the right direction.
Be prepared to follow up. People often make lots of promises in the excitement or heat of the moment when meeting new people. They may be sincere about wanting to help, but their own issues may move those thoughts to the back of their minds, and all action stops. If someone has promised to provide you with information, then it is your responsibility to let them know you will follow up with them. Agree on what the action is and the date you will check back. A ‘thank you’ email that confirms what they offered and the check back date you discussed should be sent within one day. Waiting weeks for someone to come through wastes time and puts you in an awkward position. Agreeing to what has been promised and also managing the process makes it easy for the person to follow through.
Manage your time well. I don’t know anyone who likes having their time wasted. Thinking ahead and determining who to ask, what you need and when you need it is all part of strategy. Asking people for immediate help (when it is not an emergency) because you just got around to it isn’t likely to produce positive results. Plan ahead to get what you need, and allow ample time to account for miscommunications or introductions to third parties. Don’t expect others to turn themselves inside out to help you. Make it easy for them by providing enough information and time to allow them to do what they need to do. Waiting until the last minute (e.g., the day before an interview or the response to an RFP is due) is likely to lead to a lot of running around with no results. In the same vein, planning ahead to know who you want to speak with or what you want to learn while staying aware of time constraints for in-person events will help you get more out of your investment. Attending an event with no prior thought and no plan can still end up being a fun experience but perhaps not as productive as you need it to be.
Stay in touch. Being connected to people through a social or professional network is only as useful as you make it. It’s important to plan times to communicate with others and stay aware of their circumstances. Reaching out to others only when you need something is really bad form. Everyone is busy, and we all can feel like there isn’t enough time. Make the time to nurture your network and you are much more likely to get what you need when you need it.
Building a solid and useful network requires thought, time and effort. Contrary to what many people think, networking can be more than “the luck of the draw” or “happenstance.” You have plenty of ways to control how your network grows and what it can produce if you are willing to develop a strategy for accomplishing what you want.