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.
Everyone has dreams. Have you wished for an increase in pay or a better workplace? Dreamed of travelling to foreign lands? Aching to buy a house or build a treehouse? Without thoughtful consideration about what it will take, it’s unlikely that your dreams will come true, short of stumbling across a genie in a magic bottle … a pretty unlikely scenario.
It’s probably safe to say that people who establish goals and action plans for achieving their dreams are far more likely to realize them than those who don’t. So why then do so many people believe that all they really need is a lucky break? With some effort and longer-term planning, there is more within your own power to help you get where you want to go than you may think. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and trackable) goals can provide the structure you need to move forward.
Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?”
Give your dream an examination. Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?” Consider every detail of what it would take from inception through to realization. Using a treehouse as an example, think of exactly what it would take from start to finish.
Be specific about each and every aspect. If you haven’t picked the tree, then include what the tree needs to look like and where it needs to be located. Imagine what it will look like as you climb in it and what you will do in it. Find photos that will help you visualize exactly what you want to see. Getting clarity about what you want before you take action is critical.
List every single detail that is required, such as researching ideas, locating materials, drawing construction plans and the actual construction itself. When you have included every single step in your list, it’s time to create a schedule for completing each phase. Then pull out the calendar and put your money where your mouth is. Commit to the days and times you will complete each and every task. Unless you are clear about when and how each task will get done, you are only dreaming that things will happen as you hope they will.
You may be wondering how building a treehouse relates to capturing a better job or starting a business. It’s pretty simple. Although the outcome may be different, the process is the same. From your first thought or idea to your end result, each step can be listed and planned out, with benchmarks set for completing each.
Your desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved if you establish goals and set timelines for achieving them. Identifying the kind of work or work environments that make you happy, determining what is financially possible and developing a strategy for obtaining what you want are all key components in changing career paths.
If you need help visualizing a specific outcome, seeing the broader picture beyond your current circumstances or understanding the market, then it may be time for you to call in a professional to help you. Just as an architect or designer can help with your dream house, a career coach can help you visualize a new role and develop a career plan. If you have previously made random runs at new positions and not gotten the results you want, it should be getting clearer. Throwing spaghetti at the wall rarely works.
In an ever-changing economic market, or riding the wave through industry changes, you just never know when you might need to rely on your professional network to help bail you out of a rough patch. Maintaining a professional network is like having car insurance – it’s a pretty big risk to drive without it. Your network is your safety net. And like insurance, it requires an investment that can’t lapse. Without it, the costs can far outweigh the investment.
Your network serves as a barometer that alerts you to changes you may miss. It can fill you in on the inside details of organizational and industry changes you might not see coming. Peers help you keep abreast of which skills are in demand and where to get training. Just like insurance, you’ll want to understand your coverage and be current on your protection. Who is in your network? Are your contacts aware of what you actually do and what your strengths are? When is the last time you were in touch?
And just like choosing a policy, it’s important to regularly analyze what you need and be clear about what you are protecting.
And just like choosing a policy, it’s important to regularly analyze what you need and be clear about what you are protecting. Is your status inside of a company going to be impacted by your internal network (or lack thereof)? Will your ability to quickly adjust and recover after a downsizing or merger depend on who you know outside of your company? Is your business in a position to falter without referrals?
Investing in your network requires attention. Regular installments, if you will. It takes time every day, every week, to stay in touch with people. Everyone is busy, so trying to excuse your lack of engagement with that tired excuse about being “too busy” isn’t going to impress anyone. Now that our networks have spread to global proportions, it’s even more critical to have systems in place to maintain our connections. Having a communication system is more than just having the technology available. It means creating and executing a plan for sustained engagement that may involve technology and in-person commitments. It may be true that you are busy and that probably isn’t going to change any time soon. The following remedies can help you sustain your network without a lot of added effort.
Plan further out. Look ahead and commit to actions/activities. By committing ahead of time you can ensure you are fitting in time for people who would be glad to support you if you end up facing a major change when you least expect it. Look for and commit to professional development activities that will help you build skills while simultaneously exposing you to others in your industry.
Do a little every day. If you are currently using social networks, then develop a system for reading and posting. Plan the time to find something every day, or at least every week, that would be of value to people in your network and share it. You really can make an investment of five minutes a day and find something a number of people would share an interest in.
Listen to others. If you are head down in your own world, you will miss the opportunity to help someone else and be remembered. You may be busy or having a particularly tough time, but there is always someone else who is dealing with something worse than you are. Listen to/read about what other people may need and find opportunities to make their world a little easier. Sometimes a simple message offering genuine support or encouragement can make a big difference to the person receiving it.
The key to maintaining your network is to make it a habit. Avoid getting caught in the quicksand of complacency because everything is going fine right now. It’s never too late to start making adjustments to your behavior, one little step at a time.
There will never be more than 24 hours in a day. No matter how much we hope, wish or pray, it just can’t happen. The issue with casually brushing something off to do “later,” at an undetermined “better time,” is that it often becomes assurance it won’t get done at all.
For many people, procrastination seems like it is done unconsciously, but it really is a conscious decision or choice not to do something. When you make the decision to wait until later, you may have very good intentions. But unless you know when “later” is, the circumstances around whatever it is you are putting off can change. Delays can make an action more complicated or no longer relevant. Delays can cost you money and help you lose your credibility. If you are planning to follow up on a lead of any kind, waiting until later could turn into a missed opportunity.
For the most part, a delay is usually caused by a situation that could have been addressed differently or sooner.
Procrastination is a pet peeve of mine. It’s because too many times I witness people create considerable stress around a situation that just didn’t have to play out that way. I also witness people miss opportunities to get their foot in the door, have a conversation with the person they were hoping to meet or miss a deadline for applying for a once in a life time role. These delays rarely happen because something else of huge importance stood in the way or a crisis caused them. It’s more frequently because people simply choose to put things off. I’ve heard some really creative excuses, but for the most part, a delay is usually caused by a situation that could have been addressed differently or sooner. Many times the delay in doing something else suddenly becomes an issue and causes a delay in accomplishing what was really important. And so it goes …
As an example, it’s the middle of April as I write this, and I am stunned by how many people waited until this week to do their taxes. The need to do their taxes took time away from their marketing efforts, job search efforts and their ability to concentrate on preparing for upcoming interviews or conversations with key decision makers. (Is this really the first time you’ve ever had to file taxes? Is it a surprise that April 15 comes every year?)
Overall, this kind of procrastination sets someone up for a zero percent chance of winning and ultimately contributes to low self-esteem. It isn’t pleasant to hear someone complain about their unemployment or lack of customers at the same time we see opportunity slipping by because the complainer hasn’t followed up on leads we’ve given them. Letting the ball drop and complaining about the outcome is just not a good look.
The good news for anyone who has a habit of putting things off is that you can change your habit! If whatever you have been doing isn’t working, then try some very simple changes:
Use a calendar. Stop adding things indiscriminately to a “to-do” list that never gets done. Make a commitment for doing something and plug it into your calendar when you are really likely to be able to do it. Then do it!
Get realistic. Keep track of how long regular events, tasks, actions take so you are able to plan for the right amount of time to get them done in the future. Pay attention. How many times must you take the same route and arrive late to figure out that you needed to leave earlier?
Plan further ahead. There is some consistency with most people being aware of their next vacation time and being fully committed to being gone. Yet it’s funny that, when asking about a business or other less “fun” kind of commitment, the response is “I’m not sure what my schedule will be like.” If you can plan your vacation a year ahead, you can surely use the same process to plan for important meetings or completing delinquent projects.
Break big projects into smaller pieces. When you are faced with big projects (like taxes), plan ahead to begin working on them a little at a time. Don’t wait until the “right” time to finish something that requires 4-6 hours. It won’t happen. Planning 30 minutes to an hour, several times over a course of months, is much easier to manage.
Stop whining. We all have 24 hours. That’s it. Can’t have more. Whining only takes up more time. Start looking at solutions for the things that are preventing you from doing all that you want.
At the risk of severely dating myself or alienating my readers, I‘ll start with a confession: I still expect people to do what they say they will do. I know, I know, I know. Call me a dreamer.
Recently, after a series of disappointments due to people not following through on commitments, I asked someone what they thought about this apparent trend. I was told to “change my expectations.” At first, it seemed like a puzzling response. If someone says they are going to do something, is it unreasonable to expect that they will follow through? Short answer: “Yes.”
Wow. So, the handshake, the promise or someone’s “word” doesn’t matter anymore? When, exactly, did that come to pass? Although I‘ve seen signs of this behavior increasing over the past 10 years, it now seems to be becoming all too much the norm.
This behavior extends beyond personal commitments to include business commitments. I’ve experienced some stressful situations when clients need me to do scripting, editing, writing or consulting work for them. I’ve requested materials by specific dates to allow enough time to complete the projects in time to meet pre-established deadlines that, in many cases, are determined by third parties. Due dates might be set for the submission of resumes or employment applications, completion of performance evaluations, timing for crucial conversations or submission of responses to requests for proposals (RFPs). Whatever the project might be, you can bet that accuracy is extremely important — and time is needed to ensure the information is accurate and without typos.
All too frequently, the people with the most skin in the game end up submitting what is needed long past the designated time frame, expecting the same results. I’ve heard everything from “I forgot” or “I’ve been busy” to “the dog ate it.” It appears that what may have been a critical issue a week or two ago is no longer a priority until the deadline itself looms. Even though the requesting party’s commitment was missed, they still expect an immediate turnaround and flawless materials. This may or may not be possible, given other commitments, so exactly whose responsibility is it to ensure this happens?
Another escalating trend that also contributes to missed deadlines is the failure to respond to communications. It’s not unusual for me to ask the same question via text or email multiple times without a response. The content may directly impact the recipient in a critical way, yet it doesn’t seem to register as a priority. I’ve learned that silence typically means “no,” although not all questions are sufficiently answered with a yes or no. Unanswered questions may result in unintended or incorrect information being provided to a third party.
Overall, failing to follow through ends up leaving situations fertile for mistakes, wasted time and increased costs — and, at times, opportunities are missed all together. I now plan ahead for Murphy’s Law. I write dates in pencil and remain as flexible as I can. I prepare three to four options for what else can happen in any given scenario. When I’ve clearly defined my expectations and someone doesn’t follow through as agreed, sometimes it simply isn’t possible to meet a demand effectively. So, I have also learned to just say no.
Putting a system in place to make sure you are meeting your commitments as agreed and are able to take time to respond to communications will have a significant impact on the quality of the outcomes you are seeking. Think about this: when you miss deadlines before you are even considered for a job or for involvement with a project, it’s not hard to imagine how employers/customers will view your missed deadlines or a failure to respond down the road.
There are still many people under the impression that because the economy is picking up, it is easy to get a job. The qualifier, of course, is whether any job will do. If you are expecting to get your dream job, then it may be time to face some harsh realities about how that is most likely to happen.
The first step in capturing your dream job is becoming clear about what that means. If you have not already articulated your short-, mid- and long-term goals, then do yourself a favor. Back up and start again. Keep your eyes on the prize (your long-term goal) and develop a sound plan for reaching it. The effort will help keep you from going off into a ditch along the way.
Once you have a target, the rest of the process can be addressed logically or scientifically. Creating a plan for reaching your goal is critical to ensuring you learn what you need to know to make the right decisions. Haphazard, scattered or random efforts typically miss the mark. They can cause you to waste a lot of time, and you could end up feeling more disappointed than productive. It’s important to research carefully and check out all of your assumptions. All of this takes time and will require planning.
Enlisting the following steps will help you make the most of your time, ensure you focus your efforts and keep you on track.
Develop a process. Get out of the “lotto” mentality. Avoid random, casual attacks. They can be draining and unproductive. Create a system for approaching your job search or transition the same way you might manage a work project.
Set objectives and timelines. Be clear about what you need to accomplish and exactly when you will do it. A “to-do” list is more likely to get done when it is inserted into your calendar and you are committed to doing the tasks on it.
Use a system for staying organized. Piles of paper or an inbox full of email won’t help you get clear about next steps. Develop a system you will follow consistently to save and store information related to your search.
Get real about your competitive position. Stop fooling yourself. Don’t let your ego get the better of you. If you are one of several hundred people applying for a role, be clear about any key skills that are absolute deal breakers. Anything preventing you from hitting the ground running when you start a new role needs to be carefully examined. It’s understandable that you would need to learn the ropes, but if you need to be trained on a foundational skill to execute the job, think again about sending in an application and competing with people who have already mastered the necessary components. The clearer you are about what you are able to do and how your skills and experience are perceived, the less time you will spend beating your head against a brick wall.
Apply yourself. Commit to what it takes. If you are unemployed, work at least eight hours a day and be willing to work evenings and weekends if that is what it takes to follow up on an opportunity. You will get results directly related to the effort you invest. If you are already working full time, schedule time each day to work on your plan for moving forward.
Develop thick skin. Rejection is just part of the process. Be prepared to be turned down. Be willing to examine your approach and make a plan for figuring out how you can improve.
Get help. Finding work in today’s market should not be an assumed skill. There is very little taught in school about how you can prepare for all the changes the market will go through or how to plan for them. This is a minute-by-minute game, and those of us who are in it every day are better able to help you navigate the uncertainty of it all.
Like a railroad track, the route to your dream job can be full of curves, uphill climbs, downhill plunges and unforeseeable obstacles. But learning and following time-tested ways to engineer your course will enormously increase your odds of reaching your destination.
I hurt my wrist.
It might snow.
I don’t have enough time.
I don’t have a car.
It’s too early.
I have a family emergency (coincidently, every Monday or Friday).
It’s too late.
I don’t know how.
I can’t find it.
I’m too busy.
I’m stuck in traffic.
During the years I was in the staffing industry, the type (and number) of stories I heard about why someone couldn’t make it to an assignment never ceased to amaze me. Some people became so predictable that we wagered bets about their behavior. Winning the bets didn’t really help solve the problems we faced by their not following through, but it allowed us to keep a sense of humor when enduring the stress of replacing them on assignments. In more recent years, I’ve learned that the same excuses spring up when someone is chronically unemployed or when they complain about a failed business venture. It boils down to a familiar recipe: when the same excuses are used for not getting things done or not following through with commitments to others, the result raises a red flag for those adversely affected.
Instead of making excuses for why something can’t happen, consider alternative courses of action that will allow you to leave someone with a good impression. Show someone what you can do and spend less time finding excuses for what you can’t. Think long and hard about the message you send when all anyone hears is why something can’t be accomplished. If you are telling people you are the best at whatever it is you do, then: walk the talk. These tips may be just what you need to turn around a negative image:
Take a deep breath before you speak. If something causes your skin to crawl or blood to boil, take a minute to think through your feelings. If it is sheer resistance to something for the sake of resistance, think again. Consider your goal. Is acting abruptly or ignoring someone when they disturb you more likely to leave someone with an impression that will help you, or will it hinder your progress or professional image?
Find a solution. If someone asks for something today but you are otherwise occupied or not feeling well, avoid the urge to ignore them. Suggest a time that works. Respond in a timely way by saying, “I am previously committed today. Would Tuesday work for you?” If your car is broken, check the bus schedule, look for a carpool or get a cab if it is for something vitally important! Find solutions for issues that can turn out to be only minor obstacles, rather than deal breakers.
Plan ahead. Many times it is the failure to plan for extra time for stressful experiences (tests, funerals, interviews) that prevents you from giving your best attention to other critical business. Over scheduling will almost always lead to adverse circumstances, especially if you end up missing a deadline or, worse, not doing what was expected at all. Allowing enough time (or the right time) to work on a project will give you the best shot at leaving a favorable impression rather than leaving a bad impression by falling short of expectations.
Get to the bottom of your issues. If you find yourself backing away from your responsibilities or continually sabotaging yourself by saying “no” or “can’t,” then find out why. If counseling is needed, get it. If you really do know why you are reacting adversely to things that may be requirements to your achieving your goals, then it might be time to reevaluate your goals. It might be that what you say you want to do doesn’t match what you really want to do or are capable of doing.
The bottom line is that people will believe what they see more than what they hear. Past behavior is indicative of future behavior. So, if you want to be associated with a positive brand, make sure you are representing it well by doing what you say when you say you will do it. When you replace excuses with a can-do attitude and performance to match, you’ll build a reputation for being dependable and getting things done—someone whom people can happily recommend.
If you have felt powerless over your work, career or life in general, it might be time for you to look long and hard at your goals and how you approach them. Creating your own personal and professional goals, and establishing a process for accomplishing them, protects you from going completely into a ditch when you hit an icy patch in the road. Having a framework that requires only tweaking rather than rebuilding from scratch when things change will set the stage for you to recover quickly should the bottom fall out of your situation.
It is certainly possible that an employer can influence your path when a company changes course, and market conditions or customers’ needs (or lack thereof) can also cause an abrupt change in direction for the business owner who takes their eyes off the ball. Nevertheless, although challenging, you can learn to refuse to allow outside influences to keep you from attaining your goals or living your best life. Bumps in the road occur, but that doesn’t mean you are powerless.
It’s important to take the bull by the horns and commit to what you want. Setbacks may prevent you from achieving your goals in the time frame you had originally anticipated, but they don’t need to cause you to give up on those goals entirely. Blaming the economy, your employer or your customers won’t get you anywhere. Taking stock of what you need to do and establishing realistic timelines for accomplishing the necessary tasks to move forward will put the control back in your hands.
Here are some basic guidelines for ensuring you can stay on track:
Write out your goals. This is information you need to see every day. “Keeping it in your head” is a surefire recipe for forgetting what is important when temporary setbacks distract you.
Commit. Assign realistic timelines for accomplishing each goal.
Be realistic. Examine the timelines you have set and review all of your other commitments required on or by the same dates. Don’t cut off more than you can chew.
Break them down. Break the larger goals into achievable objectives. Establish timelines for each of the objectives you need to meet that will ensure you are on track to achieving your goals.
Write everything down. Think through each objective completely and identify every task associated with accomplishing it. Don’t assume anything. Unless you identify exactly what needs to get done and when, you run the risk of missing critical components that will move you forward.
Review your schedule in advance. Be aware of your commitments. Don’t pile on tasks that aren’t likely to get done because of prior commitments.
Be flexible. A critical piece to ensuring you will accomplish your goals is being able to adjust to the real- life events that pop up and can derail you. Move timelines. Rearrange activities. Don’t drop everything and turn your quest into a losing proposition by attempting to hang on to a plan that can’t work.
Own your reactions. Put your catcher’s mitt on and field the curve balls that get thrown your way. Avoid choosing “victim” status when external influences cause you to change your plans. Rethink your priorities and adjust your timelines.
Be accountable for your progress. Make sure you are getting all of your tasks accomplished in the prescribed time frames to allow you to move forward with the next objective. Identify a method for monitoring your progress that will keep you motivated to do what you need to do. Avoid making excuses for not getting things done and learn to reassign tasks that are not completed for days/times when they can be accomplished. For example, you might want to draw up a contract with yourself or enlist an accountability partner who will hold your feet to the fire. Or do both and share your contract with your accountability partner.
Every year people make resolutions that are distant memories by the end of February. Don’t fall into the same old pattern. Make a commitment for what you want in your life and make sure you are following through with the actions required to get you there. You have the biggest stake in accomplishing your goals. Shouldn’t you be the one to be accountable for that?
Everyone I ask has the same response for why they haven’t answered an email, text or phone call: “I’m too busy!” Really? This trend of failing to respond may seem trivial, but it is something that has become a pet peeve of mine. I’m pretty good at what I do, but I am not a mind reader.
Yes, we’re all too busy, but not responding only ends up requiring another request, which adds yet one more email to someone’s inbox. It also adds yet one more thing for the sender to follow up on and manage. So how much time is it really saving by not responding?
Each day, I revisit at least ten requests or responses to someone else’s requests that were not acknowledged. It’s hard to imagine that replying “ok” or “thanks” requires more time than having to go back and forth a week later because a response was required and never received. Effective communication allows everyone to get more done. The following are some very easy points to remember if you want to save your own time (and someone else’s):
Acknowledge emails, texts and calls. Someone sent YOU (I’m not talking about an email or text sent to 500 people) something they felt would interest you, or they have asked you a question. Acknowledging communication is a basic courtesy. Not acknowledging communications can cause miscommunications, hurt feelings and missed opportunities. If you have ever called, texted or emailed someone because YOU needed something and never heard back, how did you feel? Does this really require more of an explanation?
Ask for more time if you need it. If someone has reached out to you directly and, more to the point, has included a question in their communication that requires answering, then acknowledging the email is the first step. If you require more time to research or think about an answer, then tell them so. Let them know when they can expect to hear back from you so they don’t have to wonder. This alone should eliminate at least four more go-rounds about the same topic.
Use the right technology. Speaking numbers or addresses requires the recipient to record them on their end. Send messages that need to be shared or saved for later reference via text or email. If you are sending correspondence to an employer, client or business associate, then email would be a more reliable way to record the interaction to reference at a later date. Information is often lost when it is read on a mobile device, so make sure you have a backup plan for accessing communications that you are briefly reviewing by phone, and take the time to review them again so they don’t get lost or forgotten.
Get to the point. One of the key reasons I think people tend to ignore communications is that they have been programmed to believe more is required than there actually is. Too many people leave far too much info in a voicemail or write lengthy paragraphs instead of brief points via emails. Think through what you want to convey. Don’t waste someone else’s time by thinking out loud without editing yourself. The more clearly you can state what you need, the more likely someone will be able to respond quickly and easily.
Try these new habits for at least 30 days. I’m going to guess that you’ll save at least one hour a week. You may not be able to add more hours to the clock, but you can end up making better use of the time you do have.
Even with the best intentions, there are still times when our communications (or our failure to communicate) end up leading us down the wrong path. When this takes place, it is necessary to restate, repair or recover from a misstep or misstatement. We waste even more time sorting out the damage than we hoped to have avoided if we had dealt with something using thoughtfulness and careful attention the first time around.
If you have waited too long (or failed altogether) to respond to an important call/email/letter, then there is likely to be some fence-mending in order. The failure to get the results you wanted may be more about the timing of your request or response than the actual wording. The lack of responsiveness when a person is job hunting, searching for candidates or developing new business can end up being a bigger nail in the coffin than an actual message.
Along the same lines, leaving a 10-minute voice mail for a recruiter, candidate or sales prospect when you have been out of touch is likely to put them off completely. It’s critical to respond in a timely way, using the right tools, while also being cognizant of your audience’s needs. Now that the job market is softening up, recruiters/employers are going to have a tougher job filling less interesting roles. It might be the time to reconsider ignoring candidates’ calls or emails and be more conscientious about developing relationships with clearer communications.
Here are several remedies that would help prevent or eliminate unnecessary miscommunications:
Acknowledge. Respond to all communications that include a question, information you requested or any content that leaves you unsure of what the other person needed/wanted. A one-sided conversation can lead to greater issues. A non-response doesn’t necessarily equate to “no” or “I’m not interested.” To the person initiating the message, not receiving a response when feedback is requested can also mean “they must not have received it,” which leads to a redundant request. A non-response can also suggest “this person is pretty rude” or “this person thinks they’re more important than I am” or “this person is much too busy to be bothered, so I don’t think I’ll send a referral/lead/tip/invitation their way again.”
Request clarification. Staying in the dark or making assumptions never helps. If more information is needed, let the person know you can follow with a more complete answer at a later date. Not responding to a request because you don’t know what they mean or don’t have an answer can lead to a variety of misperceptions.
Timing. Send communications that require a response when you/the recipient are most likely to be available. Asking for something late on Thursday, receiving a response on Friday and then waiting until Monday to answer could mean missing an important date/time or leave the other person completely disinterested in helping by the time you respond. Think about the recipient and when they are most likely to be in a position to (1) have the information you need and (2) have the time to respond. If you are requesting information before the person has access to it, they may ignore your request completely. If you make a request just before they are headed out for the day or going into an important meeting, the message may also get overlooked. Likewise, if you have a bone to pick with someone, catching them on their way out the door or just before they turn in for the night is probably not likely to elicit the response you hoped for.
Follow through. If you said you were going to call someone on a certain day — do it! It’s shocking to me how many commitments are broken and not acknowledged because someone was “too busy.” Everyone is busy! It simply causes unnecessary conflict, bad feelings and more work for everyone to make an appointment and not keep it. At the very least, call to change it if you can’t make it. People remember unfulfilled promises and impolite behavior. These actions can break trust, turn away business and cause projects to fail. Here’s a small example:
Recently I read a lengthy blog post that began with a candidate suggesting it was common for recruiters to miss scheduled interviews with candidates. A recruiter responded by explaining how it can happen and why it really isn’t the norm, just a product of too much to do. She may not remember that years ago she stood up one of my clients not just once but twice for scheduled phone interviews. The excuse after the fact was that she had an “emergency” and was too busy to call to reschedule. Coincidentally, at the scheduled time of the last interview, I found several new blog posts published on the recruiter’s website that appeared to have been written during that “emergency.” This was probably close to 10 years ago. I haven’t forgotten.
During a very tight economy, candidates were in abundance. A candidate who didn’t respond to a phone call or email or missed an appointment was out of luck. Many candidates learned the lesson the hard way by missing opportunities. Now, employers may not realize it yet, but after having a surplus of candidates, things are changing. Now that the market is picking up and good candidates are able to be more selective, it is all the more reason for recruiters to respond to calls or email and follow through on promises, or they are going to have an even harder time finding candidates for tough-to-fill positions.
Appropriate technology. A 5-minute voice mail message is most likely to be deleted before the point of the message is heard. If you have a lot to say, then leave a message regarding the points you need to discuss and the best time to reach you, or, if there is a considerable amount of data to share, send the full version by email. Don’t hold someone hostage by delaying the point, or you are likely to miss it altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are using a mobile device to receive messages, make sure you have accessed all attachments or viewed the entire message before you respond or delete. Too frequently, communications break down because the recipient has breezed past the message, inadvertently deleted it or simply didn’t notice the full content.
Proof. Auto-write programs in email and handheld devices have the tendency to skew messages. If you are sending a text that has been auto-filled, please read it again before you hit send. It could save time, embarrassment or hurt feelings. I am personally guilty of dyslexic typing and being in too much of a hurry to stop and correct all of the mistyped information in some of my “quick” communications. Many times, it just creates more work when the recipient is trying to figure out my “code.”
Discuss. Communication is a two-way street. Passive-aggressive behavior (not speaking, not responding or getting even) can lead to greater conflicts than ever could have been imagined. When involved parties discuss a small issue up front when it happens, a small issue/situation can be kept from being blown out of proportion. If someone needs to blow off steam, rather than avoid them, acknowledge their feelings or concern, then suggest a time you can discuss the matter more completely when you are both calm.
Set clear expectations. Clearly define tasks and set touch-back points for delegated activities or projects points to avoid delays. Make sure all parties are clear about their contributions at the start.
Pay attention. Stop what you are doing when someone requests an important conversation. If it is not possible, then let the person know when it will be possible. If a customer requires your attention, figure out how to give it. It’s just not always possible to continue to type, talk, read and respond to four people at once. If I am engrossed in other work that is time sensitive, then it is extremely difficult to stop in the middle to concentrate on random or multiple layers of questions. One remedy I request is that my clients set appointments with me to discuss questions that require more thought or more time to discuss than we each have available by going back and forth by email. That way I am able to schedule time to dedicate to just them and their issue.
Listen. Make sure you have captured the intent of the conversation. Did you fully understand the other party’s intention? Were your responses appropriate? Be certain you have left the conversation with as few misperceptions as possible.
If you think you are too busy to dedicate time and effort to all of the communications you receive, start paying attention to all of the unnecessary communications that inattention generates. Track how many more emails, phone calls and conversations are generated to straighten out misperceptions, address lack of business, develop new prospects and screen new candidates. Think again before you ignore a request requiring a response. Avoid unnecessary conflict and start communicating for results.
Tags: avoiding conflict, communication, delegation, follow through, follow up, interviewing, interviews, managing email, performance, planning, project management, recruiting, results, sales, time management