Ah, the joys of the instant gratification era of communication!
I was chatting with a client recently about a situation where three people sent an email to three other individuals where they laid out topics that they wanted to discuss…and there was no acknowledgement or response of any kind for over a MONTH!
Wow! That triggered all sorts of responses in the three that sent the email! They felt disrespected and that the project they were working on was not a priority for the group they sent the email to. The longer the lag-time, the more irritated and disregarded they felt.
Then, when a response finally came, it was from only one of the individuals, and was only sent to one of the three; it was a request for information about something else entirely and didn’t address their concerns or topics as all. More confusion and ‘ouch.’
During our conversation, we unpacked all the unmet expectations, the places the original senders’ brains assigned made-up meaning to the lack of response, the emotions that resulted from the meanings, and how it ended in an outcome with two of the original three disengaging from the project entirely.
And then we discussed what other possibilities might be true – again, until we actually ask the original email recipients what was going on from their perspective, we don’t actually know and are just speculating. But this is our chance to speculate all the possibilities of how they weren’t ‘out to get us,’ where it wasn’t personal, and it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful.
Perhaps there was a series of processes or procedures that the information needed to be filtered through before they could respond and answer the inquiry. Perhaps there was a family emergency that meant a key player was not available. Or, as often happens when there is no clearly defined point person, perhaps each of the three recipients thought one of the others was going to respond – resulting in no one responding. Gah!
I was reminded of how much our culture has created the expectation of instant responses to ANY communication, while simultaneously phasing out the forms of communication that are the quickest way to resolve miscommunication.
We send a text and expect the person to immediately respond – even if it’s just an emoji. We send an email and assume it was received (and not sorted by the tech gremlins straight to the ‘promotions’ or even ‘spam’ folders). We may or may not request a response or ask a question that requires a response – yet we still expect one…by end of day, within 24 hours, or if they are really busy, 48 hours is acceptable (barely).
Some people’s internal expectation is that every email gets a response, it’s just polite to let the sender know we got their email. Other people operate from the perspective that they won’t respond until they have something useful to say back, or not at all if there’s not actual question posed.
The flip side is we rarely pick up the phone or stop by in person when we don’t get a response to an email or text. Heck, we often text to ask if it’s a ‘good time’ to talk before we call! Gone are the days when it was considered normal and acceptable (expected even) to call whenever we wanted to talk with someone and leave a voice message or call back when we didn’t the person didn’t pick up.
And yet a month’s worth of agonizing over a lack of email response might have been avoided by picking up the phone. Or clarifying timelines and expectations up front.
In case you aren’t already aware, our brains like to take small, isolated pieces of information and turn them into HUGE, dramatic stories that are utterly self-centered and fully fictional. The more clarity we can create up front, the less room there is for drama!
Rule of thumb – most people aren’t trying to deliberately hurt our feelings or make us mad. So if you find yourself feeling like that’s what’s happened, see if you can stop and take a breath, then ask curiosity questions for clarity and understanding.
And if you need a response to something within a specific time frame, ASK for that. And share what that response might look like:
- “I’ve sent you a bunch of information, and you may not be able to get me answers right away, but would you please respond that you received the information and give an approximate time frame for when I might expect an answer? If that time frame moves, please let me know so I don’t worry that there’s a problem.” Or even, “I’ll follow up a few days before that time frame to see if there’s anything additional you might need from me or see if that timeline still seems reasonable.”
- “I have a deadline and need this information no later than date X. Thanks for your cooperation.”
It may seem like a lot of extra work, but it will save lots of drama and heartache in the long run.
Happy communicating, everyone!
And remember, if you want an outside perspective, or extra tools to apply to your communication, that’s what I’m here for! Book a complimentary consultation to see how I can help you.