How to deal with long reply times or no answer

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Ease of communication and hyper-connectivity comes with a myriad of advantages as well as disadvantages. As good as it can be at times, I am probably leaning towards it having dragged along as many new problems as it solved along the way. Not that we shouldn’t have it, but we need to adapt to both the strains and expectations it puts on both us and others. In the Utopian scenario all this connectivity just helps us communicate more, developing closer and deeper relations with others, but in my opinion it really ends up doing the almost opposite. The ease of communication detracts from the quality of the message.

Have you ever tried writing Christmas cards? (If not – then please do. They will make a lasting impression on your recipients unlike anything ever sent or written electronically. But more on that in a later post.) The thing with cards and letters written by hand is that they are really hard to write. You have to think about what you will write. Perhaps even make a draft before putting it permanently on the intended card or paper. With electronic communication you can always just send a message more, back paddle a bit, if your recipient misunderstands you or explain a bit deeper, which all reduces the effort that goes into the text in the first place.

But wasn’t this post about reply-times? How are they related to effort? We’ll get there. Be patient my friend.

The obvious conclusion at this point would be that I’m trying to say that reply-times are related to effort – but that is not the case actually. I think they carry a history together, but it is not the end point of this blog post, we will get to that.

People are generally quite good at recognizing effort and feel a somewhat internal responsibility to acknowledge it. People will generally have a harder time ignoring something that a lot of effort went into as opposed to something that clearly hadn’t had any effort. If you gift something you have made yourself to someone, then taking aside the quality and aesthetic properties of the item, people will have a harder time turning down a gift that you clearly have put a lot of effort into as opposed to something you clearly just developed with two strokes of a very big hammer. Even if both are turned down, you can be pretty sure that the “effort-heavy” one was making the recipient think harder about turning it down.

Now as said earlier the point here is not that long reply-times or no answer at all is directly related to effort of electronic communication, but I do think that the ease of communication has made us feel less of a strain when not replying or replying late to something. The world quickly moves on.

But then how do we as individuals actually deal with this perceived long response times and perhaps even no response at all? For all my life I have been somewhat bad at managing this. I have gotten a lot better, but still catch myself getting a bit to wound up for unimportant reasons.

First of all there as I see it 3 categories of people each deserving their own distinct approach. Friends, business contacts, and prospects. Friends is pretty obvious as to whom it includes. Business contacts contains all people that you for one reason or the other are “forced” to be in contact with, so it doesn’t have to be business related. Prospects cover people you would like to be/come in contact or closer contact with, both personally and business wise.

Common for all is that you need to start by taking responsibility for the contact/interaction and realize that the problem resides with you. You are the one getting angry, you are the one thinking up scenarios as to why the other party isn’t answering. You are the one with the problem – not them. Handling these late replies and no replies then differs for each of the 3 categories as we will get to. But start by taking responsibility for the anger and problem, by doing so you are in control.

As a general rule people treat you the way you “let” them. This of course is more relevant to friends and “business contacts” as these two categories generally involve more rapport between you. Being super assertive and dominant with people whom you are trying to get in contact with, might not be the best strategy of the line. But what I’m trying to say is that if you always have been the type of person who has just smiled and let it pass without any confrontation each time friends has stepped over your line, then they will “learn” this behavior and inadvertently know that if they find themselves in a situation where it is between stepping a bit on your toes and another who clearly states his or her boundaries, then you are most likely to draw the short straw. If you hate it when people don’t answer your texts within a day then let them know! Don’t expect people to sit waiting to write you back every 5-10 min. But within 24h most people, not counting vacations, illness, family trouble etc. should have had a chance to write a text, maybe just saying “Sorry, super busy – will get back to you in a few days.”

But then how do we handle friends that keeps crossing these lines and ignore our texts/calls/whatever? If you have already confronted them as written above, then take the hard consideration as to whether you would like to keep them in your life. They can be super busy people so perhaps you need to order your friendship around that and only see them a few times a year, but in the end YOU need to decide whether the value they bring to your life outweighs the negatives of them willfully or not bringing conflict into your relationship. This of course is a balancing act. As said earlier don’t be the 10 yo child that can’t handle a few hours of delay on a reply. Or you could be – of course you make the rules in your life, but if you then end up with no real friends around you then perhaps the problem isn’t as much with them as with you.

Now “business contacts”. This is a bit different as you don’t necessarily have the same amount of control about whether to have them in your life or not. The point about people treating you as you allow them to do applies. But as well as you not being in as much control about leaving them, they will also know that they probably can get away with quite a lot more than otherwise if your business together relies on the fact that you communicate. So again. Don’t be a 10 yo child! Communicate with respect and write in neutral but form language that their late responses of total lack of responses is not to your liking and that it has the consequence of x,y,z to your relationship or business. If you out anger into it, they will most likely respond with anger. Don’t try to force people into something, convey objectively and explain your point.

Finally prospects. Here your expectations should be really low. As a rule of thumb expect no answer at all. If you do not know people and have close relations to them, then don’t expect anything. They can have a thousand other close relations to cater to so why should they potentially risk any of those just to answer you. So don’t expect anything. But wrapping up the point from earlier, a minimal amount of effort put into the inquiry will most likely help. Write something that is clearly personal and aimed at them but without trying too hard. Give them an easy way out and be precise in what you try to accomplish with your message. This as said in the beginning of this paragraph by no means ensures an timely or even an answer at all, but it should increase your chances.

Happy communicating, and remember to always think the best of the other party. No one is by default mean or aiming to hurt you. They can have a thousand struggles in their life you know nothing about, so don’t judge them.