Unresponsive people drive me crazy. I hate sending an email to someone and then waiting days to hear anything back. (Admittedly, I have sometimes been guilty of this myself.) This is particularly maddening when you don’t hear anything at all.
Recently I was interviewing candidates to be my virtual assistant. One of the questions I asked was this: “Do you consider yourself a responsive person?” For me, this is a must-have attribute. Naturally, everyone says, “yes.” However, you can tell a lot by how they answer the question.
One virtual assistant replied with a very smart question of his own: “What is your definition of responsive?” Brilliant. I suddenly realized that I had never really stopped to define this for anyone who worked for me. I assumed there was one standard and everyone knew it.
The truth is that I don’t need to demonstrate the level of responsiveness to everyone. Furthermore, I don’t need everyone I interact with to demonstrate the same level of responsiveness toward me. What I do need to do is express my expectations.
Here are four actions you need to take to make sure your expectations and those you deal with are calibrated.
- Define how responsive you are going to be. Segment your contacts. Who is your inner circle? What about the next level out? What about acquaintances? What about complete strangers? I have a different standard for each. I don’t think I need to tell them; I just operate by these standards.
- Determine how responsive others need you to be. If you acquire a new client, a boss, or a business partner, ask them to clarify their expectations. How quickly do they need you to respond? Does it need to be immediate? within a few hours? within 24 hours? in a couple of days? Ask them to be specific. This is an implicit contract.
- Express how responsive you want others to be. Take the initiative to clarify this with your direct reports, business associates, and vendors. It will result in less frustration for both of you. It also provides the necessary accountability to make progress on your various projects.
- Be proactive when you can’t respond in a timely manner. If the other person has to follow-up, it’s a good sign your expectations are mismatched or you dropped the ball. Instead of waiting for them to ask again, contact them. For example, “I just wanted to acknowledge that I received your email. I am traveling this week, so it will likely be the end of the week before I can respond.”
Remember: You don’t have to provide the same level of responsiveness to everyone—nor can you. But you would be wise to clarify your expectations and then be intentional about it.