Recent experience has given me some insight, or rather affirmed what I knew instinctively, about factors that lead to improvement or deterioration in a work relationship. There are the usual suspects: being truthful, delivering on what you pledge to do, willingness to truly help, whether you enjoy working together, see the world in the same way etc.
What I have noticed of late is that responsiveness in communications has become key for me, and I wonder if that isn’t true for you as well. The majority of workplace communications in this day and age are by email or text. As in all forms of communication, there is a cycle to them. That is, when I communicate something to someone else via text or e-mail, I anticipate that they will respond that they got it and understood it. Not necessarily agree, just understand. However, I am seeing more and more often that the cycle of communication is all too easily ignored when the communication is via e-mail or text.
The frustration is not resolved if the response comes in days later. For example, if I send an email asking a co-worker to handle something, give me an opinion or answer a question, then I don’t hear for days, I get annoyed. Even if I do get a response, the unwritten message “sent” back to me after a long delay is that I am very low on the totem pole in my co-worker’s agenda or that he or she is busy doing anything else other than get back to me. And that feeling of being ignored or not important easily translates to feeling disrespected. The result? The relationship quickly erodes and will usually require a face-to-face conversation to restore it back to where it was.
At this point in the post, you may be agreeing with me, recalling a communication you sent recently…I am “preaching to the choir”. Or you may be thinking of the full in-box awaiting you when you finish reading this post…with a twinge of “Now what?”
A typical, and often true, defense as to why there is a delayed response or none at all to an email or text is that the receiver is inundated. Here is where some plain and simple sorting comes in handy. The majority of us are being cc’d on scads of emails in the workplace to supposedly keep us in the loops we should be in. So in fact, we really are inundated. But, I submit that we need to learn and practice a little good e-mail hygiene and preventive medicine. By this I mean, that we need to distinguish between those emails that are simply copies intended to keep us informed, and therefore can wait for response, vs. those sent directly to us, where a slow response will risk eroding a working relationship.
Preventive medicine need only consist of the following:
- If the email is intended to inform you of something, simply acknowledge with a quick, “got it”, “thank you” or something similar
- If the email is directed to you specifically and is asking a question, seeking a decision or your opinion, answer it. If you really don’t have time to handle it at the moment, still acknowledge that you know it is there and is important by sending a simple “got it”, “swamped” “will get back to you tomorrow or ASAP”. Of course, don’t forget to respond at the time promised! You aren’t off the hook until the communication cycle is closed.
When we begin using these small steps in our communications to co-workers, we show that we respect and honor our relationship with them. Try them out and see if you notice a difference in your work relationships, then let me know via e-mail. I would love to hear from you, and I promise to respond!