Community Futures Meridian

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Unanswered Messages – The Black Hole of Doom

  • April 2, 2019
  • Written by Meridian Admin

Have you ever scheduled a conference call and the person in question simply doesn’t call?  Did you then call them, only for it to go to voicemail? Perhaps you then emailed them and said something like, “I thought we had a call scheduled today, did I get the day wrong?” When what you really mean is, “You unreliable idiot, I arranged my day around our call and you couldn’t even be bothered to turn up!”

How did that make you feel? Unimportant? Angry? Frustrated? Did it ruin your day? Did your opinion of the person’s professionalism take a major hit? Did it make you more or less keen to work with him or her in the future? Of course, it did. Unreliability in every aspect of life is bad, but in business it can be very damaging.

Have you texted someone who didn't answer, and then several days later they do and expect you to answer them immediately? Do your emails sometimes get totally ignored? If they do, do you start thinking it must be all about you? Does the voice in your head start saying, “Perhaps they are annoyed with me or they don’t like me?”  Or, “I’m simply not important enough, or what I had to say/ask was not relevant or a priority.” Maybe you start thinking that perhaps they didn’t get the message, or they missed it?

If you are prone to Machiavellian thinking you might consider it as a power play, or they are asserting their dominance. Of course, all of this is catastrophic thinking, but none the less real to you. They may just be considering their reply, or genuinely think you didn’t actually ask a question, so a reply was unnecessary. Or your message simply got lost in the mix. The average businessperson gets nearly 100 emails a day, and these days probably almost as many texts. There is an increasing need to prioritize.

It used to be we wrote a letter and mailed it and didn’t expect an answer for a week or two. Today we find a delay of 15 seconds to a text, unacceptable at times. The world of communication has sped up to a point where the number of messages hitting us a day is out of control. If we consider texts and emails alone, could you imagine receiving and having to answer several hundred letters every day? But the truth is, we are expected to do just that or be deemed unprofessional or unreliable.

One of the reasons we expect a near instant reply, is that we think/know that everyone carries their cell phone everywhere with them at all times, so they must have seen our message and must be ignoring us if they don’t instantly reply. Whether this the case or not, perception is reality, so if you are the perpetrator of a delayed reply, it can come across as either rude or unprofessional; whether or not you mean it that way. We need to consider how a customer, a co-worker, a friend will feel if we ignore their phone call, text, or email. What will they think? Is there a chance they will feel slighted, or think you unprofessional? Will they be anxious as to the reason why you are ignoring them?

When we're face-to-face with someone we deal better with silences; we can see their face and decide whether we should say something or just let them think. But an unanswered email is a black hole of doom.

Email anxiety is becoming an actual syndrome and it’s all down to the delay between sending an email and receiving a reply and what we read into that delay. And, when we do get a reply, we read nuance into every word and phrase, in spite of not knowing the writer’s state of mind when they replied. They could have just lost a major client or been screamed at by their boss. We have no idea of context, except what we ourselves read into the unembellished words.

As business people, we have to remember that texting and emailing is not conversation, even though at times it feels like it is. Where does this leave us as businesspeople? Regardless of how we are treated, our personal or business communication etiquette needs to be as good as our face-to-face communication. No matter how poor the people we interact with are at communicating electronically, we have to be quick and efficient if we are not going to be thought of as unprofessional, or send recipients into uncontrolled anxiety-driven, emotional tail spins.