Did You Fall Off the Face of the Earth? A Simple Courtesy Goes a Long Way

July 29, 2011

How do you feel when you leave a voicemail, send a text, an e-mail, a Facebook message, smoke signals, and you are left, um, dangling? You wait…

and wait…

and wait…

and nada, zilch!

Do you feel Worried? Offended? Frustrated? Hurt?

I recently saw a series of Facebook posts from a businessperson who was clearly so frustrated she needed to “shout out” how intolerable and inexcusable she found the “lack of manners” in not receiving a response to her e-mails and phone calls.

Being ignored can cause the break up of relationships, be it business or personal. It can be interpreted as an affront that lacks courtesy, even a display of passive aggression. Henry Alford recently wrote his illuminating (and entertaining) article, Is Anyone There? for The New York Times about this very topic.

Ok, I admit it. Yours truly has been guilty of not returning calls during very busy or even overwhelming times.  Thankfully (up to now), people have been understanding and patient. But as I reflect, I ask myself, “Have I been taking them for granted?” They took time out of their busy schedule to reach out to me; I, on the other hand, have basically indicated through my lack of response that I am too busy to dedicate even the few minutes it takes to tell them that I will get back to them when things calm down. Yikes! That’s bad.

According to the Dale Carnegie Online Magazine, a “snubbed” person may draw the following conclusions:

  1. This is not a top priority to you
  2. You’re not a professional
  3. You’re a procrastinator
  4. You don’t have the answer
  5. I’m not important to you
  6. You’re disorganized
  7. You can’t be counted on
  8. You’re hiding
  9. You have bad news but are not strong enough to communicate it to me

These are definitely poor character traits with which you do not want to be labeled and which could harm your professional reputation.

Of course, we should acknowledge that there are sometimes valid reasons for not returning a call:

  1. The message requires action on your part that takes time you don’t currently have but will get to later.
  2. You’ve been bombarded with so many messages that some simply got “lost in the shuffle”.
  3. You are on vacation.
  4. You are sick or physically unable to respond.

So what should we do when someone tries to reach us and leaves a message? Return the call. Respond to the e-mail. Text back. Even if you don’t have much time, manage the expectation. Explain that you are swamped but will get back to them by a certain date. If you have to decline a request or be the bearer of bad news, take that proverbial bull by the horns and address it. Get it over with and take off the weight. The respect that you will earn by responding promptly and honestly will go a long way.

“Courtesy is a small act but it packs a mighty wallop.” ~ Author Unknown

…And now, um, I’m going to take my own advice and respond to some messages!

Do you have other suggestions for managing responses?

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