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 ©, Image #2862985

Photo courtesy of ©

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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  • Leah Adams

    It drives me mad to wonder if someone got an email/phone call/text, etc. This is an issue that I feel very strongly about, especially in my ministry. As I seek to build a speaking ministry, I have made it a habit to respond back to event coordinators within a couple of hours if at all possible. I want them to know that I do not take their inquiry into my ministry lightly. Although I pray over each request to speak, I still respond back quickly, giving them the info they ask for and telling them that I will seek the Lord’s guidance as to whether I am to speak at their event or not…..AND I encourage them to do the same. If I am not the Lord’s chosen speaker, they need to know it was well.

    I try to do this even in personal communication. If their communication requires something of me that I cannot do at that moment, I try to let them know that I know of their request and am working on it. Of course, there are those times…both personally and professionally…when it is necessary to wait to respond…and I do when the occasion warrants.

    • MonicaWrightMcMahon

      I relate very well to your perspective.  It’s healthy. 

      • Leah Adams

        Thanks, Monica.

    • ET @ Titus2:3-5

      I wholeheartedly agree, Leah! I do the same.

      There have been times where I’ve received an email asking for personal advice and just don’t have time to give an adequate reply. In those cases, I email and let the person know that I received the message and need a few days to reply well. I then provide a date that I expect to reply by, and I mark the message as unread in my inbox (so I don’t overlook it later).

      • Joe Lalonde

        ET, I like how you set the expectation for your response. It sets up responsibility on your part to follow up.

      • Leah Adams

        Marking the message as unread is a great idea. I’ll have to do that!! Thanks ET.

    • Jmhardy97

      I always wonder the same. Especially when some writes, call me or email me and I will help in any way I can. Three days later, I am still waiting for a response. I want to say “really”, you will help. When? Next year? If I did not need help right away, I would not have emailed you. I concur with your response.


      • Leah Adams


        I think that ‘I will help in any way I can’ is about the same as our ‘how are you?’ greeting. We really don’t want to know how the person is…it is just what we say.  ‘I will help in any way I can’ takes time, commitment and presence that many people really aren’t willing to give.

    • Brandon

      I totally agree with you. I am very responsive, so it is annoying when others aren’t. Although I do nto expect soomething to back within hrs, I do expect to hear from someone within 1 day or so. This has been a huge issue in the worship band I lead. I send out emails, but never hear anything from certain people. I might have to call everyone! haha

      • Leah Adams

        Brandon…I feel your pain.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Leah, I can understand where you’re coming from. It can be quite frustrating to not have an email or phone call returned quickly.

      However, I think this age of connectivity we over-estimate the need for a quick response or a response at all. Imagine what must have gone on before email or cell phones.

      • Leah Adams

        Ummm, we picked up the telephone, prayed we were not part of a party line, dialed the rotary dial, and listened for Lily Tomlin to say “one-ringy-dingy, two-ringy-dingy”.  Bahahaha.  

        In all seriousness, I think the microwave society we live in has conditioned us to expect things to happen right NOW!!

        • Joe Lalonde

          Leah, haha… I can’t say I remember Lily Tomlin saying “one-ringy-dingy, two-ringy-dingy”… Though I do remember something about a rotary dial phone we had in the basement.

          I agree, I think we have been trained for things to happen right away. Could you imagine the chaos that would happen if all our electronic means of communication were cut? No phones, email, text messages, etc… Only snail mail?

          • Leah Adams

            Joe, I think I just dated myself. There was a television program on in the 60’s and early 70’s called “Laugh In”. Lily Tomlin was a telephone operator who answered the switchboard by saying the ringy-dingy thing.

            Sometimes I think we are TOO available these days and most of us do not control it well.

  • Jonathan

    Responsiveness is something I have never really thought about. There are contacts I am specific about, being responsive or telling them when I may respond because of my workload. I just have never thought about it for everyone. I guess in some ways it is my own different levels of responsiveness. Unspoken, but adhered to levels.
    However, I have tried to take a similar approach with desired outcomes, making sure we were both on the same page with what we expect to come from the conversation. That will make it easier to shift from just outcomes to responsiveness.
    I suspect this will also lead to an increase in reaching that within reach but still elusive Inbox Zero goal.

    • Jonathan

      I have no doubt where I would fall in the responsiveness scale as delineated in this post. I have no personal relationship with Mr. Hyatt, he doesn’t follow me on Twtiter or my Blog though I follow him on both (plus Facebook and Google Plus), and yet he has responded to me several times, in tweets and emails, and everytime it has been between 5 minutes and 1 hour. I think I had one tweet he never responded to, and none of my communications have been of earth-shattering importance. This morning it took him 65 minutes to respond, and I would bet that it took that long because he was asleep and not looking at email.

      • Dylan Dodson

        Yeah, he is really great at responding!

        • Jonathan

          This morning I emailed him before 5 am and he answered just after 6. Not only perfectly understandable, but perfectly acceptable, and much faster response time then I imagined.

    • Jmhardy97


      I have a daily goal og a zero inbox. I believe that this is why many people fail to respond in a timely manner. The issue is that they cannot see the forest through the trees! Then they get distracted, confused and over whelmed on what to do next and who to respond to.


      • Jonathan

        I recall when I saw the Inbox Zero presentation on this blog I thought, “No way I’m sitting through a 56 minute presentation.” About 52 minutes into it I re-thought it and decided to watch the last 4 minutes. I have not been able to implement it completely but I have gone in my 3 inboxs from 100 to 10, 400 to 50, and 50 to 15. Sizeable reductions, still not perfect, but getting there. I have also found myself going back through them often as well. I’m slowly implementing the use of Evernote and I suspect that will get all my emails down to a small number.

        • Brandon


  • Philipp Knoll

    Guilty. Even when I normally try to be as responsive as possible there are a view mails that should have been replied to by now. I should get a VA to handle the first response – again. But as great as the concept of VAs is it is so much trouble to find the right people. Normally what happened was that all went well for some weeks but then priorities of my VA seemed to shift. Turnaround times got longer and longer. I could have excused for my clients having to wait – but I was not aware in time.

    There really is not one standard – not to responsiveness or anything else. It is what you expect in return for spending your money.

    For some a response within 5 days might just be worth the same as a response within 2 hours for you.
    Same with real estate, buying cars. What seems like great value to one might not be enough for the next. 

    You only have to find that one person to go with – but that is extremely tricky.

    Are you planning to apply a VA strategy of any kind like backing one VA up with the next or building a team of VAs?

  • Jay DiNitto

    Everyone here commenting is a responsive person, I would think.

    • Dylan Dodson

      Ha, I agree!

    • Brandon

      Very true! And I have to say that most successful bloggers are as well…

  • Chris Jeub

    I seldom intentionally ignore an email, but I have buried emails in my inbox because I typically intend to give them more thought LATER.

    I have learned to reply with, “Thanks for emailing. I want to give this some thought. If you don’t hear from me by next week, feel free to contact me again.”

    Or sometimes I say, “I would like to give this some more thought. But, real quick answer…” and then I cut to the chase.

    • Chris MacKinnon

      Great advice. Even the shortest response makes it clear that you received, read and are interested in the material presented. I’ll have to keep that one.

    • Brandon

      I definitely agree with you…thanks for sharing!

  • John Richardson

    It seems to me that responsiveness has really taken a hit over the last decade. I can send an e-mail out to a group of people, asking for a simple response, and get replies back ranging from five minutes to two days. Phone calls are not much better. It is actually easier many times to get out of my chair, walk down the hall, and talk with someone directly if I really need an answer quickly.

    Many times it is finding a person’s preferred communication style. Sending a text message to some people gives an immediate response, while an email may languish for days. Others a phone call works, but an e-mail gets buried with 500 other ones. I wish I had a better answer.

    All I know is, it’s easier to get a reply from a comment left on this blog, than from many people I communicate with on the job. Maybe that’s why your blog is so popular… there is actually communication going on! :-)

    • Dylan Dodson

      Good points, it is really difficult to try and find every individual person’s best way of “communicating.” Maybe more people should read this blog simply to learn how to be responsive!

      • Jonathan

        Would it be too obvious to add a link to it in our email signatures?

        • Brandon


    • Jmhardy97


      great point. This maybe a reason why Gen Y prefers to text or tweet. It is easy, fast and once you do it, its over, your done and now you can move on. Just a thought.


    • Brandon

      All I know is, it’s easier to get a reply from a comment left on this blog, than from many people I communicate with on the job. Maybe that’s why your blog is so popular… there is actually communication going on! :-)

      True stuff!

    • Steven Cribbs

      Well said John!  I have experienced the same things.  It becomes frustrating to not receive responses from those that should be responding quickly – especially when it is important to me to respond quickly to others.

  • Chris Cornwell

    I think you could write a whole article on No. 4. I know some people who would be quick to answer “Yes!” to the original question and use No. 4 as their reasoning. They think they are being proactive, but answering yes and no to questions in emails, or my personal favorite, “let’s talk about this some more,” is nowhere near being responsive or proactive. That is simply “blowing someone off.”

  • Calin

    I was just thinking about another important issue regarding the former direct reports to me: self initiative. I was thinking this morning that maybe my mistake was not defining ever to my direct reports what do I clearly expect by being this.

    I personally like to be ultra responsive and I appreciate a lot the same from my business partners. I had a mobile email box for 5 years now and saw the people are amazed when I told them I already read their emails.

    • Brandon

      Email is almost extinct for casual use. It’s kinda crazy!

  • Gary Carter

    Hmm … so Mike says, “segment your contacts” and Jesus says, “do to others as you would have them do to you.” If anyone needed to layer his list it was Jesus. But he didn’t.

    “Segment your contacts.” Would I like to know I am on list 42b? Does that fit into the  Golden Rule?

    “I don’t think I need to tell them.” If I was on list 42b would I like to know that I actually won’t get a response?  Does that fit into the Golden Rule?

    Unresponsive people think they have lived by Rule #1. They drive us all nuts because them are us!

    Doesn’t it make more sense to put some system in place that allows anyone to touch the hem of your garment if they can make their way through the crowd?

    Rules #2, #3 and #4 look good as far as I can see when I ask “Does that fit into the Golden Rule?”

    • Chris MacKinnon

      Actually, Jesus TOTALLY segmented His followers. He didn’t give explanations of His parables to the crowds or the Pharisees like He did His Disciples. He treated Pharisees and scribes much different than He did the lost and hurting. It’s interesting and revealing when you really dig down and see how segmented His relationships were.

      • Jonathan

        I thought he did that because those listening understood the points but the disciples didn’t catch them. Mostly I base this on the fact that they were “working” rather than listening to him preach. When I have “worked” during a church service (running the sound board, ushing, etc.) I have missed big chunks of the message. Regardless, I do suppose it was a segmentation of followers.
        Unquestionably he segmented the Pharisees and Saducces but let’s also not forget the children, they were treated differently, too.

      • Anonymous

        He even segmented within the twelve. Sometimes he took two or three with him to pray.

    • Jim Seybert

      Gary – your exhortation for us to respond in the same manner as Jesus is a good one. We should always look to the examples he gave us in the way he conducted himself – one author refers to this as “the stage notes” that go between the dialog.

      Let me suggest that the life-style example of Jesus in this situation might not be the speed of his response, but the compassion behind it. 

      There are examples of Jesus not responding immediately – Lazarus had not yet died when Jesus was told his friend was sick. 

      But in every situation he displayed great care for the “sender” – the person waiting for a reply. 

      Perhaps part of the answer to this question is to care for others to such a degree that we place their needs ahead of our own in the speed and content of our reply.

      Hmmm – ???

  • Tony Alicea

    I am an extremely responsive person. I tend to get a bit frustrated when others don’t reciprocate. There are a couple of things that I’ve identified that help set expectations:

    1. If it’s important don’t text it or send it through social media. It’s a lot harder to keep up with those types of messages as they come in real time. If it’s important it should be sent by email or the phone needs to be picked up.

    2. Set a deadline. Too many people throw out requests or ask me to do things without giving me a deadline. If you don’t specify that you need a response before Friday for this important matter, I’m going to file it away in the “I’ll get to it when I have a chance” folder.

    There are more but these are the first 2 that come to mind from recent issues.

  • Karen Jordan

    Some people in my life expect immediate response from me, but fail to give me the same attentiveness. Instead of getting angry (which is VERY tempting), I try look in the mirror and examine my own expectations to see if I’m living up to them. Then, I try to change my own behavior (with God’s help, of course) and respond to others as I want them to respond to me. Luke 6:38 promises us to  “Give, and it will be given to (us).” Thanks for the reminder!!!

  • David Adeola

    This is a very thoughtful article on how we can calibrate our responses.  I will certainly adopt these 4 ways and hope it makes me more effective.  Thank you Michael.

  • Ron

    Once again, Michael, you have struck a nerve with us.

    For me, this is high on the frustration list. The other day I emailed the boss and waited and waited and then I ran into him and I asked if he had received my email. “Yep,” he said. Well now, that was helpful, wasn’t it? Next time, if there is one, respond with “Yep,” if you have to, and then say something like, “I agree/disagree with what you said and let’s talk more next week/tomorrow/this afternoon/next hour.” Give a reasonable emailer something to grasp or chew, knowing that your time (and mine) is valuable. Ahhhhhhh!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Ron, I can relate to your frustration on this. I’ve had bosses not respond to an email, sometimes important, and waited and waited for a response. One never came.

  • Danielle Hatfield

    Interesting post. . . I especially agree that is is disappointing when you address someone directly and they never respond, whether it be via email, phone, or social media.

    • Anonymous

      I agree, and will add… “in person”. I have teenagers.

  • Chris MacKinnon

    I am responsive when it is clear that a response is needed. Sometimes I just let the last word be the last word. When I write an email or leave a message, I make it clear – almost obnoxiously – that I’m looking for a response back. That makes it equally clear when I don’t need a response. My smartphone keeps me in reach of the tools that enable me to be responsive, and I am grateful for it.

    • ET @ Titus2:3-5

      I tend to make it obnoxiously clear, too. I’ll bold or highlight a sentence that says, “Please reply with your answers/response/feedback/etc. by such-and-such a date.” Even that, I find, can be ignored by some.

  • Dylan Dodson

    I’m totally with you on this. I know everyone has different strengths, but I’m not a fan of have to wait days for a response either (especially to a simple email). Good advice on how we need to clarify what responsive means to us!

  • Anonymous

    Having a culture discussion around expectations like this is key for starting a new business, partnership, or job. Not being clear on how people (co-workers, partners, bosses) expect to interact and the timeliness of response is a  sure fire way to derail you effectiveness. Michael Watkins put together a great checklist of conversations to have when taking a new position in The First 90 Days ( I’ve used effectively in my past few job changes.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this Michael. Made he think how much i appreciate people that leave an “out of office” reply on their email.

  • Carolyn

    What is key for me is the expectations and standards I set for myself. I am responsive if I have made a commitment to be with someone or a project. It would be unfair to me to be responsive to you and anyone else if I have not made that commitment to do so. If we have connected then I have also communicated how and when I will respond.  

  • Mark Martin

    I need to think through this more.  There are times when I’m not as responsive as I need to be.  

    But at the same time, I see the effects of other people not being responsive.  It’s hard to get anything done when those you are working with won’t respond to communication.  When communication is slow, progress is slow.

    I am going to try to be an example of being responsive.  

    Have you seen a lack of being responsive negatively affect people’s influence with others?

  • Rachelle Gardner

    Mike, I think this discussion of responsiveness is important in any kind of business, and your four points are terrific. We all should make this kind of assessment and be intentional in how we priortize our responsiveness.

    In regards to email specifically, I’ve been talking to a lot of people about this lately. It’s generally agreed that many of us are drowning in email to the point thats hard to actually get our jobs done. Your four points can help us to prioritize… however, I also think the expectatations for responsiveness these days are out of control in this era of “instant everything.”

    I thought David Pogue’s article at NY Times online addressed the email situation well ( and I think the online “Email Charter” makes sense, too. ( I agree with this point especially:

    “Short or Slow is not Rude. Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!”

    But that advice needs to be applied along with your four points for determining our level of responsiveness in any given situation.

  • Jon Stolpe

    Wow, this is a great and timely post.  I feel like it has become more challenging as our span of connections has grown.  I get many, many e-mails at work.  I get responses to my blog and personal e-mails regularly related to church, scouting, and other activities.  The myriad of social media outlets have provided all kinds of communications and connections that sometimes merit  a response.

     I have to put a major priority on work.  I need to get back to my work people or I’ll be out of a job – the challenging part of this is to help others maximize their communications by keeping their e-mails to what is necessary.  My family has to have a huge priority.  I especially must get back to my wife and kids.  After that, it becomes more challenging.  If I’m leading at church then I must be responsive within my area of responsibility.

    I think your tips will help me to find a better balance.  Thank you!

  • Joanne Bush

    This is a good topic and also one my biggest irritants. I have found that when needing a response from anyone, regardless of the relationship, I let it be known in my first inquiry or assignment. I either tell them I need to hear something within 24 hours, a week, etc. or I ask them how often do they need to hear from me before the project is completed.  Since the largest part of my bread and butter comes from communication (written and public) it is important to be diligent in this. When traveling I let those closest to me know my timetable of response. To those who do not know I am out of the office I let them know when I can adequately respond to their request. The email auto-responders I have received when making an inquiry have helped me…so I know not to expect to hear from them until after their date of return. However, I have not made use of these myself. 

  • Maril Hazlett

    I read this post, sort of lightly smacked myself on the forehead, and thought – OH. That’s what I’ve been striving for. Mindful responsiveness. I think I might segment my contacts to some extent already, but not very effectively. Thank you for the advice.

    I feel that perhaps all your blog readers have benefited enormously from your recent career transition :) you articulate the practical challenges facing you extremely well and also provide solutions. These solutions hold ideas that we can all implement. However, you never lose the vision that solving pragmatic dilemmas are in service of something much larger.

  • ET @ Titus2:3-5

    Lack of responsiveness is one of my pet peeves. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting…and waiting to hear back from someone I’ve emailed!

    One classic example of this is in our small church. The pastors never reply to email. It doesn’t matter if I list three questions point form and give a specific date I need a reply by. I’m on the women’s ministry team, and our WM pastor doesn’t reply. She says, “If it’s important, they’ll phone.” Ha!

    I figure, if you prefer to be phoned, then don’t offer people your email address at all! If you make your email address available, there’s an expectation that you actually use it.

    My husband is always running like crazy at work, and replying to email is a struggle for him. So I’ve asked him to simply reply and say, “Got it,” so that I at least know he has received the information I sent him (such as, a list of things to pick up on the way home).

  • Sundi Jo Graham

    I am learning a lesson from #3 right now. I have a client who has made working with her very difficult, because of her lack of response to me. However, I have to take responsibility in the fact that I didn’t tell her upfront what my expectations were. Thanks for sending this today. I am in the process of writing up a new contract for her. 

  • Bill

    Michael – excellent insight here. I think this has become a cultural issue. I’ve been in the job hunt market for just over a year now and the lack of responsiveness across the board is pretty extensive. It cuts across all lines as well as I’ve explored open positions with several churches/ministries and received a similar lack of responsiveness. Even going through multiple rounds of their stated interview process does not guarantee a response. I’ve directly asked for feedback regarding the process simply to get a better idea for myself but often gotten no response back. I think it helps to clarify expectations but I think most people are frightened to tell someone the truth so they simply ignore the situation – which is neither Biblical nor healthy. Thanks for helping us navigate – would love to see this topic developed more fully in the future.

  • Dr. Brad Semp

    For many reasons……I often fall short in this area of my life/business.  This is a good “wake-up” call as I am experiencing unresponsiveness in one of my outsourced providers right now.  :(  Clarifying and being intentional about my own level of responsiveness….thanks again for the reminder, Michael!

  • Jim Seybert

    Mike – Thanks for the reminder. It is SO easy to slip into a non-responsive mode. 

    It actually bugs me to have messages to which I haven’t replied. In StrengthsFinder parlance, I am a WOO and I genuinely need to connect with people and “win them over.” Connecting and networking with people is a huge part of who I am – HOWEVER:

    Your idea of prioritizing response levels is something I’m going to chew on. My initial thought is that EVERYONE should get at least a basic reply to let them know their message has been received. I’m thinking that basic reply should include some sort of notation as to when the sender might expect an answer. 

    If everyone did this, I’m wondering if business wouldn’t be a bit more efficient, as we’d all be able to better plan our schedules.

    Hmm – dang it Mike, you’ve got my wheels turning on this one. I’ll share more when the thoughts are clearer.

    PS – 

    I do have one “rule” when it comes to replies – if a sales person contacts me offering something I know I am not going to buy, or if I’ve looked at their stuff and decide not to buy, I will ALWAYS let them know – right away. Stringing the sales person along is not only unfair, it actually robs them of time they could be investing on other prospects. 

  • Daren Sirbough

    i like the thought of the inner circle and then acquaintances, the next level out and complete strangers. that helps me to see what’s most important.

  • Michael Sliwinski

    Responsiveness is all you taught me Michael. As I mentioned in our interview – this is a lesson I learned from you and it stuck with me. Thanks for talking deeper about it and sharing your observations. We need responsive people around us and we need to live up to the responsiveness standards we set for ourselves.

  • Daniel Decker

    Agreed. For me, I try to at least acknowledge inbound communication within 24 hours. I prioritize like you said. Some I simply reply with a “10-4″ to acknowledge receipt (because I can’t stand it when others don’t at least acknowledge receipt of my emails). If I am busy, I let them know that I’ll get back to them when I can.

    To me, in this day and age RESPONSIVENESS is critical. Business moves fast.

  • Cynthia Herron

    I think when we define our expectations, to others AND to ourselves, that alone takes some of the stress out of the equation.

  • Anonymous

    My definition of “responsiveness” really depends on who I’m dealing with and that ends up being one of the hardest parts of communication overall. In my personal relationships, I am pretty lax on my need for immediate response (I’ve learned, especially in my marriage) that not everyone is “Johnny-On-The-Spot” like I am. When it comes to reaching out to my clients, I have been known to give them up to a week, simply because I don’t want to pester them. For things I need in the office, I usually expect an end of the day response. 

    Responsiveness is all about respect and working with each other’s schedules, but also not allowing them to walk all over you and take advantage of your time. 

  • TNeal

    My brother wrote me a significant email while I was overseas. I could receive but couldn’t send so I could not respond to him by email until I returned to the U. S. I did so promptly but he still had to wait a week for my answer. In the meantime, as often happens, he wondered if I received the email or cared about what he had written.

    Your post makes me rethink how I might have better prioritized my response to my brother, how I could have looked at other means to communicate (ones which I did use in response to a family crisis). Good thoughts.

    • Steven Cribbs

      That is a great example of when an auto-responder for eamil makes a lot of sense – an automatic reply stating that email connections may be spotty and replies may not come until after a certain time.

      It may not always be foreseeable as to when something like this may need to be set up; but, it does help to establish expectations.

  • Jim Smith

    Great article.  Provocative and insightful. 

    Your thoughts have again reminded me of the importance of setting clear expectations on responses I’m looking for in all the varying degrees of seperation I have with people.

  • tonychung

    You hit another one right put of park! I share your distinction between the different levels of responsiveness. However, I’ve even seen it taken it to unnecessary levels, by thanking people for thanking me by email. There has to be a point where a message can be left as it is, and it takes intentional thought to choose the right timing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Tony.

  • Chad M. Smith

    I have an amount of incoming that is small enough for me to use the two minute a la GTD. If I can respond to an email, text, or FB/Twitter message in two minutes or less, I try to just do it. If I’ve already opened the message to read it anyway, it has my attention. I might as well close the connection, so it’s not clogging up my mental wires.

    I have been trying to disconnect from 5PM until the next morning. But that isn’t a policy or something I post notice about.

  • James Randorff

    Mismatched expectations of responsiveness lead to some very uncomfortable situations.  There have been several occasions where I have e-mailed someone, waited four or five days for a response, and then re-contacted to confirm receipt of the original message.  Not only is this a waste of my time, but I’ve also ended up with some extremely abrasive responses from people who see it as their right to not be bothered by anyone.  If this had only been communicated from the beginning, I would have probably chosen not to do business with them in the first place.

  • Melinda Todd

    I’m still juggling this one. I feel an immediate need to respond to things and yet, when I do this, I seem to open myself up to allowing others to take TOO much of my time. I need to find a balance. I think it’s important to respond within 24 hours in some way. I can’t stand waiting on someone to respond to something when I have to have an answer right now and they don’t seem to really care.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • http://lifeallin.ent Jacob Musselman

    For me, the rate of response depends on the person and the type of communication. Twitter, texts, emails, phone calls, letters, etc. all have different appropriate response times.

    Also, information often tells someone how quickly to respond. My personal pet peeve involves people that leave voicemail messages telling me to call them but not telling me what they would like to talk about. If I don’t know the right information I don’t know how to respond.

    And people expect the same from me.

  • Deepa Daniels

    Great post, excellent picture for making your point. The points you brought up come down to good manners and etiquette.

    I’m glad you included the disclaimer “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.”

    Were talking about a high level of awareness and classification here. “Segment your contacts… I have a different standard for each.”

    I don’t think every person or personality type is able easily have this kind of awareness, the ability to be responsive in every area equally, and keep responsiveness in balance with other areas of their life.

    There have been times in my life where I allowed a huge portion of my time to get sucked into ‘responding’, and its a vicious cycle, the faster you respond to someone the faster then feel they have to get back to you, etc. and soon your metaphorically playing ping pong on an undersized table with less and less time between returns and less margin.

    So while I think responsiveness is very important and something I require of myself and others, I try to keep my expectations from being too idealistic.

  • Jonathan

    I was a member of 2 professional societies up until last year. I transitioned to a new job where I was not able to hire others from the society anymore (as I could in my previous job). Despite sending my information to both groups and to friends in both groups I did not get return calls or emails back from any of the members. I was active in the local leadership and on some national committees for these groups. As a result of members non-responsiveness, both national societies now know that I am no longer a member.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Jonathan, that’s sad that no one from either society responded to your information. I can understand why you’re no longer a member of either group.

      Have you been able to find a society that gives timely replies?

      • Jonathan

        I have not yet, but I am about to transition to a new location. Not sure I’ll try the same groups again, but I may.

  • Joe Lalonde

    That virtual assistant was pretty wise to ask the question “What is your definition of responsive?”.

    I know I have varying levels of responsiveness depending upon the person or situation.

    At work, my boss gets my best response time. Normally within minutes. Then comes other superiors at work. Anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. Other workers, I tend to be less responsive with. fifteen or more minutes for a response. Then come the salespeople who try to fill up my time. Often, I don’t even respond.

    For personal items, my wife gets responses almost right away. Others when I get to them.

  • Steven Cribbs

    What a great topic Michael!  Communicating well and being responsive seems to be something that many people need a refresher course on.

    Within the last few days I have had several non-responsive encounters – emails and text messages that are somewhat urgent, phone calls from people that said they would call at a specific time, etc.  It’s enough to frustrate you, make you doubt that your original messages were received, and to think that people are intentionally avoiding you or do not think of you as important enough to respond to.

    So, my take-away:  1. I need to respond to people as soon as possible (if I can’t or do not need to respond immediately, I should set up a reminder or a process for working these details so that items do not fall through the cracks).  2. I need to do what I say I will do.

  • Jamie O’Donoghue

    This also ties very nicely with what Covey says in 7 Habits, with seek first to understand then be understood.

  • Bryan

    Michael, another extremely helpful post. Your first point is right on in my opinion. Would you mind sharing with us the standards you have for different segments?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Sure. For my inner circle, as soon as is reasonably possible—usually within minutes unless I am in a meeting. The next level out, within 24 hours. Acquaintances, within 48 hours.

      • turner_bethany

        Those are helpful. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Anonymous

    Are  you trying to tell me you won’t be responding to every comment I make on this site? ;-) lol

    • Michael Hyatt

      Probably not!

  • Brandon Morrell

    One thing we did in corporate world was tiered all of our business partners. This was a good exercise, because it helped me in prioritizing my workload and my responsiveness. Tier 1 “customers” got a 2 hour TAT, Tier 2 received 4 hours and Tier 3 received 24 hours. The tiering strategy could be extended to your friends, family, business associates, and everyone else. 

  • Rebecca

    Wow. Talk about a timely post. I was just thinking about this today as I have been playing phone tag with a potential employer who would like to interview me and, because I am not available after a certain time today, I was unsure about the best approach. I am generally very responsive but sometimes phone communication can be a conundrum. I decided to be proactive and sent an email stating when I would next be available. Thanks for this great advice.

  • 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

  • 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!


    • 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. 

  • 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?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I did. She just started today.

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.)

  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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