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Hello? Where are you? Is anybody there?

How many times have you tried to contact someone by email and waited and waited for a reply that doesn’t materialise? Or how many times have you left a voicemail that has gone unnoticed and unanswered? Do you feel like you’re shouting into a black hole after you’ve put your message out there into the universe and then sit down at your desk with your fingers crossed, hoping for a reply?

It’s not just responses to emails and voicemails – it’s also unreturned texts and messages via social media, all of which can be extremely irritating and frustrating.

Thanks to my job in the journalism world, I’ve experienced a lot of frustration when it comes to unanswered messages. Why is that people want you to write about them, but then can’t get back to you within a set deadline with the information you need to be able to write that article?

I’ve found that lots of people are really bad at responding promptly and I realise that this can happen for a million different reasons. But what is the best way of following up with these types of people who are not great at getting back to you – if at all.

How does it make you feel having to chase a response and what do you think when you read or hear a lame excuse such as “Oh sorry, I am very busy at the moment.” This particular excuse makes me want to send a snotty reply or shout down the phone: “We are all busy and it’s taking up my valuable time having to chase your inability to respond.”

Obviously, this is not the way to handle a potential client, so how do you politely push people into replying within a reasonable timeframe? There are tactics that you can use to get answers when you need them without sounding too annoyed and too demanding.

When you don’t get an answer back from your first email, text or voicemail, you can follow up by providing a deadline for a response. “Further to my previous message, I look forward to hearing back from you by Friday if possible please.” So, now you’ve made it easy for the person to respond quickly, but they still don’t get back to you. What do you do now?

At this point, it can be very awkward balancing being polite without sounding annoyed or annoying! You are left with only a few options – either follow up with a phone call direct to the person or their assistant (if they have one) reminding them of who you are, what you need and the deadline. Or you could email the person and copy in his/her boss or whoever else you think might spur the recipient into action. This is a last resort though as you may irritate the receiver a bit, but you will definitely get a reply! Another option is walk away! They’ve missed their chance! Their loss! Forget it!

But sometimes you just can’t do that – as it’s probably not in your best interests to upset a business colleague or potential client and come across as tetchy, ill-mannered and bad-tempered! So, as well as feeling very frustrated, irritated and downright cheesed off, this laggard is now also making you feel guilty about getting annoyed!

Unfortunately, there is no norm with digital communication about how long the silence at the end of the ether should last. With a face-to-face phone call, it’s completely clear how much time should pass between the speaker and the listener, as things can start to get a bit embarrassing when there’s a long period of quiet at the end of the line.

The no-responders are those that regularly let emails slip to the bottom of the screen, but why? They must know that there is an email sitting there that really needs their attention. The most common reasons are lack of time and too many emails.

I can’t accept either of these excuses. I regularly run out of time, rush around meeting deadlines and groan when I see my inbox sagging under the weight of innumerable emails, but I do try to organise the emails in priority order and make sure each one has a full reply or a ‘holding’ reply giving a timescale when I will respond. I don’t consider myself the perfect prompt responder, but I do try to be considerate about how long I make a person wait for a reply. Some of the busiest people I know are the quickest responders. In my opinion, if someone cannot give me the courtesy of a reply, they go down in my estimation and appear unprofessional and rude.

Occasionally, you might not get a response because the person replying to your email wants to put it off till later to give a longer, more thoughtful reply. However, they then wait too long and then feel too embarrassed to send it. Or they may not reply straight away in order to think about sending a meaningful reply. But then, the message ends up being the one that looks like you didn’t care enough to reply to, when in fact, you cared too much.

The best thing is to have a system – reply first of all to those emails that will take two minutes or less. Then move on to the more complicated emails, which will take longer and will need a bit of research or information to reply to.

I would really much prefer someone to get back to me with a ‘no’ answer to my email rather than just leave me wondering. Maybe the no-reply is the new no! Most of us can handle rejection. We just can’t handle not knowing.

Who knew communicating could be so complicated? No matter what line of business you’re in, correspondence with others is almost always a necessity and, unfortunately, slowcoaches will always exist. So now stop reading this article and start answering a few of those emails!

 

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