Non-communication is the new normal
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.