Communication: are you responsive?

Ignoring someone’s email is digital snubbery.

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There is a guy on my team who scores well on four of the five C’s of trustworthiness.

  • Character – He walks his talk. He pretty much does what he says he will. He’s not duplicitous. He doesn’t say one thing and do another.
  • Commitment – When we have challenges, he willingly makes sacrifices and volunteers to help.
  • Competence – He’s a smart, knowledgable, professional pilot who handles dynamic situations in the air calmly and thoughtfully.
  • Connection – I spend a good amount of time to understand his perspective, ideas, concerns, and recommendations. He feels free to contact me any time.
  • Communication — Here’s where the problem resides and prevents him from making the leap from a good teammate to a great one.

The problem — He’s slow to respond to emails, phone calls, voicemails.

When I ask for assistance, his opinion, or additional information, I never know if or when I will get a response. Too often I have to follow-up with another request or two or move on without his input.

I’ve brought this up a couple times, asking him to set a goal of returning calls and emails within 24 hours, at least acknowledging receipt and when the sender can expect a reply. His poor responsiveness caused significant unhappiness among his direct reports as they took it that he didn’t care, didn’t think their inputs were important, or didn’t manage his time effectively. As a mid-level manager, he was a bottleneck to resolving issues and had to be reassigned.

Adam Grant touches on this in a recent NYT’s opinion piece, “No You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude.”

I’m really sorry I didn’t say hi, make eye contact or acknowledge your presence in any way when you waved to me in the hallway the other day. It’s nothing personal. I just have too many people trying to greet me these days, and I can’t respond to everyone…That sounds ridiculous, right? You would never snub a colleague trying to strike up a conversation. Yet when you ignore a personal email, that’s exactly what you’ve done: digital snubbery.

Adam Grant, New York Times, 17 Feb 2019

I’m not suggesting you should answer every email and answer or return every phone call. You shouldn’t. Some don’t deserve answering. And if you want to get anything of significance done, you can’t spend all your time responding to other people’s demands on your time.

But email is a critical way to communicate. Get over it. And your team is depending on you to be responsive to requests, information, and updates. Often you can save a cumulative hour of writing multiple emails back and forth by sending a quick reply – “I’ll call you at 11am to discuss,” and then having a 10-minute phone call to address and resolve the issue.

Bottom line: my colleague’s poor responsiveness prevents me from trusting him when I need quick action. I now go to others who I can depend on. His effectiveness and importance to our team suffers. I need to address this with him again, clearly and directly, and share my view of the consequences to our team collectively and him, personally. He’s a great guy who has much to offer and it’s my job to help him be more effective.

Back to Adam Grant:

“When researchers compiled a huge database of the digital habits of teams at Microsoft, they found that the clearest warning sign of an ineffective manager was being slow to answer emails. Responding in a timely manner shows that you are conscientious — organized, dependable and hardworking.”

A. Grant, NYT, 17 Feb 2019

Be a High-Trust Leader: help your team increase trust by establishing processes and procedures that enhance communication. Coach individuals to be more effective and responsive, including you. It’s worth the effort.