We have reached the point of no return. On phone calls and e-mails, I mean. We have reached a point where so many of us are so busy that we don’t have time to respond to a phone message or e-mail. We often have the best intention to reply, and we flag the message for later action. But later becomes later, as work and the-rest-of-life get in the way.
Maybe it is embarrassment or maybe we really have nothing to say in reply, but a lot of us put off responding to a message until we “have something to say”. Maybe you are calling someone about a decision that is supposed to be made about a business proposal, or you want to know what action was taken on something that was promised. Rather than report that nothing has happened yet, we wait until there is actual news to report. Which, more often than not, brings the other person to presume the news is not good and we don’t have the courage to say so.
My thinking on this is that it is better to say “something” than “nothing”, even if “something” IS “nothing” (“I have nothing to report, but just want you to know that.”). Seinfeld became a huge hit as a show about nothing. My hunch is that we could make a big impression or impact by returning a call even when we have nothing specific to say.
Not to sound more preachy that I am already sounding, but here at my office we make it a priority, or more accurately a courtesy, to reply to every e-mail or voicemail within 1-2 business days. That doesn’t always work, for reasons that are more dumb than legitimate excuses. But even if I don’t have an answer to give a caller or correspondent, I’ll send a quick reply that “I received your e-mail/message, and don’t have anything to tell you yet”, or “I need a little time to think about your request”. I then include my classic closing: “If you don’t hear back from me within a few days, please send me a quick reminder”. Because we’re all busy and events WILL get in the way.
Some of you may not want to hear back from me until I have something concrete to say. But I think I will respond anyway, because I think it is the right thing to do. Even if my reply is about nothing.
Written by Dr. Richard Levin, President of Richard Levin & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.