The Art of Receiving a Reply

“No” is often not the worst answer. No reply is the absolute pits. It leaves the asker hanging and sometimes unable to determine and/or implement an alternative plan. Yet this phenomenon plagues an increasing number of people in today’s world. Are too many people adrift in a Kafkaesque combination of a messy e-mail inbox and/or overwhelming workloads (not to mention stifling office environments) to be able to respond to people in the workplace? This goes far beyond trying to get an accurate headcount for your child’s birthday party, always an arduous task, after the invitations were sent weeks ago.

It need not be this way. I remember seeing guidelines in 2002 in my organization stating that all e-mails should be responded to within 48 hours barring a crisis. I was astounded. Of course e-mails should be tended to quickly! If, as several famous people have quipped, “80% of success is just showing up,” wouldn’t that apply to “responding” in today’s world? “80% of success is just being responsive…” Despite the proliferation of communication channels and social media options in today’s world, it is apparent that better communication skills are in greater demand.

Indeed, we all know the frustration of having a question/issue that doesn’t fit into the automated menu of options when you try to call a customer service hotline and you can’t reach an actual person. Whether it regards issues large (do we have resources for x project?) or small (can you please let me know which form to use?), how can you ensure that you get the responses you need in order to be productive in your job? I still struggle with this, hence this blog, but here are some tips:

Vary your communication channels: if you don’t receive e-mail responses, call. If your phone calls go unheeded, walk by their office. Granted, given the number of teleworkers and satellite/virtual offices in today’s world, you might not be in close proximity to the person you’re trying to reach.

Ask a different question: if you’re not getting the answers you need – or any answer – consider phrasing the question differently or getting to the question through a different angle. For example, instead of “Has a decision been made where the conference will be held?” you could ask, “Who would be able to tell me where the conference will be held?”

Request people to intercede on your behalf: depending on the situation, perhaps other people will have better connections/channels to get the answer and/or the job done.

Stalk (but judiciously!): perhaps only one person can help you. Keep reaching out to that person and be sure that you are organized with your action items and/or communication. Sometimes it can be a simple oversight on their part or a miscommunication on yours.

Realize that your issue is probably just one item on the other person’s to-do list: especially as ire is piqued, keep the other person’s to-do list in perspective and realize that while your question is of paramount importance to you, it is just one of many things to do for the other person.

Keep in mind that people don’t like to say no: additionally, people are increasingly careful what they put in writing. No response for a decision-type question is actually a response, albeit a very bad one. If you’ve judiciously stalked and still got no response, it may be time for Plan B.

Remember that honey catches more flies…: it probably will not reap dividends to lash out at the non-responsive person, even if they are wrong and you are right. This is particularly true if you ever need to go back to them in the future.

Any other tips out there (as I wrestle with my long-list of pending items dependent on others’ responses)? And, lest any private sector readers think this is a government-only affliction, be assured that over half my list comes from company contacts who owe me a response about something.

And, as with so many other things that remain undone, so will this blog…

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