A recent article published in the New York Times, “The Anxiety of the Unanswered Email” touched a very serious nerve with me. The article pointed out, there are seemingly two separate and distinct types of people when it comes to answering emails and other forms of correspondence in both the workplace and in your personal life. At one end of the spectrum there are the Non-Responders — “the ones who regularly let e-mails slide through the cracks,”and at the opposite end of the spectrum are the Constant Responders, “the ones who can barely look up from their smartphones, even while walking or dining, because they are so intent on answering every query.” I am definitely a Constant Responder.
I do not let an hour pass without responding to an email or text message. It’s like a game of mental ping pong as I have made it my M.O. and distinct branding association to immediately respond to friends, family and colleagues once they text or email me. I am generally met with the same compliment from new clients and colleagues once I respond, which always starts with “Thank you so much for your prompt reply.” However, as a solo practitioner constantly seeking new opportunities, it is quite frustrating when I am not met with reciprocity on this issue. Whether I am emailing a client for follow up documents or reaching out to a new contact to schedule time to talk about new opportunities, I believe it is in great taste and respect to respond to the inquiry, even if the response is a “NO.”
The most interesting aspect of the article is the reasoning behind the failure to communicate, which includes, but is not limited to the following:
1) Lack of time and too many emails to get to
2) Making a mental note to respond and just forgetting
3) Fear of commitment or hesitation to say no.
As a constant responder, and admitted Type A multi-tasking opportunist, those listed reasons for not responding are not acceptable, to me. I understand we all are busy individuals, therefore, if an email goes unanswered, I generally wait a full week before following up, because, as the article stated, there are numerous reasons behind the lack of a timely response. Once I follow up the next week, and the email is still not answered, I will place a phone call. If neither is answered within a day, I move on. I move on, but I make a mental note.
We are not all created equally when it comes to desirable forms of communication in the workplace, as an entrepreneur and/or as a family member. Some people prefer a phone call over an email and vice versa. I make it a point to tell every new client that they will get a faster response from me by sending a text or an email, and that is just preference. However, the issue is not in HOW you respond, the issue is whether or not you have the courtesy to acknowledge someone who has reached out to you. Failure to respond and the lack of common courtesy shown can be detrimental in both the workplace and in your personal life.
The article offered a few suggestions for both Non-Responders who let communications get away from them and Constant Responders who may dream up ridiculous excuses as to why there is no response. Non-Responders should exercise sending a quick email or text informing the other party that they can’t answer at that moment. Additionally, if, as a Non-Responder, the answer to the inquiry is “no”, just say so and keep it moving. As for us Constant Responders, and this I something I had to learn to practice, do not take the lack of response so personal. Keep it moving and if it is something you really want, find someone who will respond.
Sound Off: What is the appropriate amount of time to respond to correspondence?
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Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.