Are You a Responsive Person?

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.

Tennis Ball Fying Over the Net Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/cscredon, Image #2862985

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/cscredon

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Questions: How responsive do you need to be for the various people in your life? How responsive do you need them to be? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Robert Collings

    Thanks Michael for, again, a really interesting post. I take a slightly counter view to responsiveness: “my” inbox isn’t “your” to-do list, and so I get to correspondence according to my priorities.

    I find the best way to reach people I really want to talk to is to phone them. And if it’s important and I don’t connect, I’ll call again.

    The point I take away from your post today is that we are responsible for setting expectations, and so whining about “I sent an email and they didn’t respond” or, “I get so much mail I can’t respond” isn’t helpful.

  • Brad Kellum

    Great post. I am a pastor in Wilmington Delaware and know that we are notorious for failing to return calls, emails, and letters.

    Your insightful post convicted me of my need to be more responsive. Thank you.

    Brad Kellum

  • http://www.bogdankipko.com Bogdan Kipko

    I feel that the level of responsiveness that I demonstrate should be reciprocated. This of course would occur only an ideal world — which does not exist :)

    Some people in fact take my instant response habit as a sign that I basically have nothing else to do but respond — but in fact the very opposite is true — I just value their time and treasure their desire for  information to be relayed to them — in an efficient manner.

    It varies with who I am dealing with as well.

    Great post as usual,

    Thank you!

    Bogdan.

    • turner_bethany

      Completely agree. I feel much more valued when responded to, no matter who it is. 

      I think doctors could use this information to give a quicker response to their patients when they come to their office. 

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    I work in a customer facing role and we have a response time of less than 2 hours. I would consider myself very responsive, but I do need to be better w/ personal emails.

    Did you hire that virtual assistant?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I did. She just started today.

      • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

        Good for you. Hope it works out. I used to be an exec admin for 3 vp’s so I know how important the relationship can be. Enjoy the weekend.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Excellent question! I agree – I can’t stand when people don’t respond.

    • turner_bethany

      It is definitely one of my pet peeves. I think it is even harder when you are a communicator. 

  • turner_bethany

    I think this is something that we don’t think about enough. We all know we are suppose to be quick at our response, but what does that really mean? Such great ideas to ponder over. Great for when starting a new position trying to learn the ropes. 

  • Jim Martin

    Michael, this is a very helpful post.  These four actions, in particular, are very helpful.  I can see how not clarifying this issue can result in frustration and misplaced expectations.  Thanks so much.

  • http://twitter.com/erinclosingtime Erin Ulrich

    This article definitely touches an area that is currently a struggle for me. It’s difficult to find the balance of being a responsive person, while balancing being a parent of small children, running a home business, etc. It is a high priority for me to reply to emails in a timely manner, but often it simply isn’t possible because of the number of emails I receive. Some of the issue is with me, but I also think that others sometimes have unrealistic expectations even after I have explained my policy. It’s a hard situation!

  • Kathleen Crow

    Mike, You helped define “responsiveness” in my life by your example in the work place. I came to understand the importance of it, especially as an assistant. I am excited to hear you’re getting a virtual assistant. After you have experienced working with your VA for a season, I would love to see a blog post on your thoughts. This is an area I have considered, and I know it is growing in popularity.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kathleen. I have only been working with my new VA for two days, but she seems right on top of it. I already feel a sense of relief! (I also plan to blog on it after I have a little more experience.)

  • http://www.extremejohn.com Extreme John

    Tip #4 totally works best for me. Whenever I travel out of town, I always assure my customers that I would respond appropriately as soon as I can. If they are my valuable customers, I often get frustrated whenever I don’t hear a response but the way that I deal with it is to do better in attracting them back by writing emails and blogs that brings back their interest to my small business. 

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  • http://bit.ly/brandonrobbins Brandon Robbins

     I do my best to be responsive. It’s important to me. However, sometimes it is hard to decide what needs absolute immediate response and what doesn’t. In addition, it can difficult to explain to others the responsiveness I am hoping for from them. This post sure helps! Thanks! Great article, Mike.

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  • http://twitter.com/CurtTrotter Curt Trotter

    Defining how responsive you’re going to be by segmenting your contacts is incredibly freeing advice.  I manage around 150 people and segmenting that group is one of the most effective ways for me to do just that.  Thanks, fantastic post as always.

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