I am constantly amazed at the failure of people, clients, contacts, friends, vendors, whomever to respond to texts, emails or voicemails. Failing to do so creates a vacuum into which the sender can import their worst fears, often about themselves, and damage your relationship. I will assume for the purposes of this article that you actually want to have a relationship with the sender. If not, failure to reply is a way to kill it, not, I would argue the best way, but a way.
There are a myriad of reasons for not replying immediately: I am in a meeting, I am very busy doing something else, I need to do some work to reply, I need to think about my reply, I have a great many emails, texts or voicemails to return, it slipped down my inbox, I really don’t want to answer at present. Pick your one. You actually maybe working hard on an answer but in the meantime the sender thinks: they have not replied, they don’t care, I don’t matter to them, I am not important enough. In business as in life people want to be noticed and acknowledged.
So how do we mitigate that risk? The simple way is to reply immediately. But life is not simple and if you always replied immediately to everyone you could end up doing nothing else. In the case of emails, if you are busy or in meetings you can buy yourself some time by managing expectations through the judicious use of your out-of-office reply. (see my article “Selling Yourself” “- October 21, 2022).
My suggested course of action is as follows.
Step 1. Review your email inbox, texts, voicemails regularly (at least daily) and either reply or send a quick text or email acknowledging and saying when you will reply or why you cannot at present. Being busy, or in a meeting, or needing time to reply properly does not prevent you from letting the sender know timeously what is happening. Let them know that they do have your attention.
Step 2. Diary when your reply is due so you don’t forget! Saying you will reply and then not doing so can be even worse for your relationship.
Step 3. If you need more time to reply – tell them.
Step 4. REPLY!!
4 simple steps but often not followed, why?
Embarrassment: You have failed to acknowledge or reply and now some time has passed. Gird your loins, reply, admit any short-coming, and deal with the email/text/voicemail.
Procrastination: Usually this happens because you are going to deliver bad news. You have a choice. If you know your reply, call and deal with it. I am a great believer that bad news should be a conversation not a text or an email. If you don’t know your reply, fear it may be negative or just want to deal with it at another time, buy yourself some time to reply.
Too busy. Increasingly a problem. If you find this is constantly happening you will have to find the time, perhaps your secretary or assistant can help to manage this for you?