There’s not one single, solitary person that I personally know who enjoys being ignored. I’d even venture to say that no human being appreciates being ignored when communicating to or soliciting assistance from another. No one relishes in the thought of being easily dismissed as if he or she is not worthy of the other individual’s time and consideration. So, this installment of “The Art of People Business” is devoted to follow-up as a relationship-building tool that can help to cultivate, maintain, and sometimes save relationships if applied regularly and appropriately.
It’s important that I insert my definition of “Communications”, not to be confused with “Communication” or “Communicating”, referring to the action of interacting verbally, visually, or in written/type-written form with another person.
“Communications” (for the purposes of this article) is defined as any inquiries (questions), requests, or comments delivered from one person to another with the intention of receiving some type of reply or response (follow-up) in return. Communications can be delivered through outlets such as phone calls, emails, interactive chat sessions, online forums, blogs, social media, and personal one-on-one and group interactions. In this article, I’ll be dealing with online communications.
My Experience with Follow-Up
Appropriate follow-up is definitely an area that I’ve had to work on over time in my personal as well as professional life. And as most human beings, I’ve been on both sides of the communication path, where you may not have responded to someone in a timely manner or at all OR you were not responded to in a timely manner or at all. And, it doesn’t feel good when you feel slighted, that you didn’t receive the same respect that you gave to the other person, and that your efforts are not being matched or at least reciprocated.
I’m happy to admit that I’ve never operated in the sense of purposely aiming to be dismissive when others have required my attention in matters where a follow-up to a question, comment, or request has been concerned — with the exception of some communications that are better left alone. I’ll talk about that more in the “When Follow-Up is Left Undone” section. I will say that, for the majority of those times where I failed to respond at all, it was due to a lapse in memory; and for that reason, I do truly and publicly apologize to anyone that I’ve not responded to in the past. My hope is that our communication paths will cross again and be salvaged to develop into an interactive exchange.
When Follow-Up is Difficult but Can Be Done/Solutions
- When you, as a one-person show, are completely overwhelmed by the amount of incoming online communications that you receive on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Furthermore, responding to the communications in a timely manner (or at all) seems to be virtually impossible. Here are some work-arounds in such cases:
- Respond to messages that require answers by giving a short and sweet response, where appropriate. Get directly to the point and make sure you cover the question in its entirety. Don’t short change your answers. Give as much detail as is needed to provide enough information.
- Respond to questions (especially “frequently-answered” ones) that you’ve responded to before by referring others to the prior blog post, video, newsletter, link, or other individual that provided the answer to the question, consequently putting the onus on the other person to go to that source for the answer. Of course, you want to use proper social etiquette and politely refer the individual to the source. (There’s nothing wrong with taking this action as it helps others to learn to search for answers to their questions first, before inquiring of you or anyone else. Doing one’s due diligence in the area of research is simply a good habit to adopt. Plus, you’ve already done the work and put the info out there for peoples’ viewing pleasure.)
- Some comments don’t necessarily need responses, but it’s considerate to form the habit of at least saying “Thank you for your comment”, liking the comment, or sending a nice emoji.
- Determine guidelines for the turn-around time in which the sender should expect to receive follow-up from you. Make sure and communicate these guidelines and indicate that guidelines are not set in stone and may require exceptions in some cases.
- If you’re receiving an onslaught of communications and have the ability to hire some part-time help to assist you with responding to messages, take advantage of this opportunity. Partially delegating this task or other tasks to free up your time for responding to messages is a viable option if you have the means to hire someone. I say to “partially” delegate responses because there will undoubtedly be messages that only you can respond to.
- If you’re behind in responding to communications, send out periodic blanket statements to your online audience, letting them know that you are working hard to catch up on messages and give a timeframe for when they can expect to hear back from you. (This helps to prevent you from receiving repeat messages because the sender assumes that you never got his or her original message.)
- Encourage your audience to resend messages if they haven’t received a response back from you after a certain period of time. (Decide and disclose what period of time should elapse before they send you another message.)
- When you don’t currently have the answer to the question or the inquiry. Here’s what you do:
- Don’t just sit on questions, especially if you don’t have the answer or if it’ll take you some time to follow up with an answer. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re ignoring someone or not willing to provide information. (Others will see you as a credible source even if you don’t have first-hand information to deliver to them right away. They will appreciate your efforts to find out the answers to questions you don’t know and will even be glad to go to other sources you may refer them to.)
- Get back with the person requesting the information and let him or her know that you’re working on it and give a timeframe in which he or she can expect to hear back from you. (By doing so, you’ll hopefully avoid receiving repeat messages from the same person for the same information, because that individual will know to at least give you the amount of time indicated before contacting you again.)
When Follow-Up is Left Undone
(I’ve experienced them all!)
- When responding to a communication may escalate an already sensitive, and in some cases, volatile situation.
- When communications are offensive in nature and are meant to hurt you or send negativity your way instead of providing constructive criticism or suggestions/solutions for improvement.
- When you have a lapse in memory and the old noggin fails you in recalling messages that you didn’t save somewhere so you could respond to them at a later time. (This one has been problematic for me in the past. Hence, my reasoning for lists and jotting things down now a-days.)
- When you go to respond back to someone and find out that you don’t have the correct contact information or you misplaced the contact information. In such cases, you practically have no way to follow up with the individual. (This scenario recently happened to me and I’ve felt so bad about it. I ran into someone (face-to-face) that I hadn’t seen for months and hadn’t regularly kept in contact with for years and proceeded to tell her that I’d be following up with her regarding this blog and my debut book information. When I went home to retrieve her contact info, which I thought was written down somewhere or perhaps in my old phone, I couldn’t find it anywhere. This situation truly bothers me even now and I hope we run into each other again so I can right this faux pas, on my part.)
In general, just think about how you’d like to be treated in the art of stellar follow-up. I believe we’ve already established that we’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s okay with being ignored and made to feel like what he or she is communicating doesn’t matter. So, take what you do or fail to do into consideration when handling follow-up scenarios. View yourself as that person on the other end and try to empathize with what he or she may be experiencing while waiting for your response. If that individual on the sending end is giving you his or her time and attention, shouldn’t it be reciprocated with some type of acknowledgement in most cases? I’ll answer that for you. “Yes, it should.”
Acts of consideration lead to relationship-building. And believe it or not, life dictates that we develop relationships every day. It’s inevitable. What we do on our blogs, on YouTube, through other social media outlets, in our families, with our friends, on our jobs, or in day-to-day life is all about developing relationships. And the reality of interacting in this world is not just about you pushing your communication one way and not expecting any feedback from the receiver to be directed your way. There will be some give-and-take, back-and-forth, and some unavoidable interaction between parties when developing relationships. (How else are you going to get to know someone?) Furthermore, you best believe that there’s no way to live life without experiencing someone reaching out to you for one reason or another. And how you choose to respond or not respond can make all the difference in that human being’s world.