Thursday 23 January 2020

The pitfalls of staying in touch in a swipe-left world

It's a lot harder to ignore someone who is on the phone with you or sitting across the desk or the table (stock photo)
It's a lot harder to ignore someone who is on the phone with you or sitting across the desk or the table (stock photo)

Gina London

If you have children of a certain age and belief system, it's high time they write their letter to Santa Claus. My own daughter hit the ripe old age of 12 this year and I presumed the annual written lobbying effort was over.

But no, this past week she brandished a hand-written epistle and exclaimed, "I need to get this in the post, quick! I don't want to be missed!"

I involuntarily recoiled as I glimpsed on her note the words 'iPad Pro'. Maybe Santa should miss this letter.

Then I reconsidered. What I think she really needs is to feel assured that someone actually reads her letter.

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Whether it is the big man himself, an elf, or perhaps even a lowly parental Santa helper probably doesn't matter as much as securing the indication that her words have been received and carefully reviewed.

I'm no Santa Claus but I receive hundreds of emails, posts and sometimes even actual letters from readers, clients, mentees and other wonderful people every week.

Needless to say, it's a challenge to respond in a timely manner. But I do try.

My intention is to make sure everyone gets a personal response from me, not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because I know how it feels to be professionally 'ghosted'.

Here's a situation you may have experienced. You meet someone at a conference or a networking event. You have a good conversation. They seem to be interested in you.

Maybe you can collaborate on a project or perhaps they mention they could introduce you to another manager for a possible position within the company.

You send an email to follow up. No response. Nothing. You may send another polite email a couple of weeks later. And still nothing. You've been ghosted. Or have you?

If you think the above description sounds a lot like dating in the 21st century, you'd be correct.

Everything seems to happen at the speed of a swipe. How do we get it right ('write') in today's swipe-left world?

1. Don't email if you can call or visit

One obvious way to prevent someone from disappearing on you in email is to not be so heavily dependent on writing as your main form of correspondence.

It's a lot harder to ignore someone who is on the phone with you or sitting across the desk or the table.

If you can connect via phone, do that in lieu of email.

When you're on the phone, agree to a meeting date, time and place.

Try to make your connection rise above email. Recently, for instance, I had a proposal I was writing for a client.

Rather than write an email asking for a clarification, I picked up the phone and called. Within minutes, I had my answer and we have a project.

2. Politely ask for a response

Sometimes, people get busy and an email they were meaning to respond to moves down in the queue and becomes forgotten.

Considering this, it's perfectly fine to politely re-email and gently ask your question again.

Also, review your original email. Were you clear with your request?

If your question was implicit, you risk not getting a straight answer. Don't forget that people generally skim emails. Use bullet points, highlight your request, or put the request paragraph in bold.

3. Make sure to respond to your own emails punctually

You know you want to receive responses in a timely manner. Therefore, it's essential you act in kind.

I have a cautionary tale on this point that I'm embarrassed to say comes from me. Recently, a client asked me to prepare a proposal to train a group of executives in Switzerland and the US.

Meetings piled upon meetings and I confess I let the proposal slip. For over a week.

I had worked with this organisation for a couple of years and felt very solid in our professional relationship.

So, instead of touching base with my contact and apologising for my tardiness, I kept thinking, 'I'll get it out tomorrow, it will be fine'. It wasn't.

I woke up one morning to a frustrated email from my contact, basically telling me to get out the proposal immediately or lose the opportunity.

Mortified, I (finally) emailed her and promised to submit the proposal by the end of the day.

I did and we've sealed the deal. But I never should have gone dark in the first place. Things happen. But failing to communicate is a preventable mistake.

Speaking of timely responses, I want to share a lovely holiday tip related to that Santa-letter tradition from my always-on-the-ball business coordinator, Dorota.

Her husband happens to work for An Post, which estimates about 140,000 children mail letters to St Nick each Christmas season.

Dorota reminded me that each child who mails through An Post will receive a personal reply from Santa, if their letter is sent with a €1 stamp, and a return name and address.

Now, that is the kind of timely and personal response children of all ages are eager to receive.

Sunday Indo Business

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