You know office hermits. The colleagues who, hidden within the confines of their offices or workstations, click away on their computer keyboards, mumble their way through conference calls behind closed doors, and slip in and out of their offices and workstations as quickly and silently as they can. It is almost as if they are members in a secret society comprised of individuals that pride themselves on how few colleagues they interact with on a daily basis.
Not all who are unresponsive can blame the overwhelming amount of incoming emails and phone calls as the cause of their behavior. Many of us tend to assume that other people’s low responsiveness is due to workload when, in reality, they may not possess a natural predilection to getting back to others in a timely fashion, if at all. Consider these various places you could find yourself when you attempt to balance a desire to be responsive with your actual responsiveness:
At some point, you will either have the answer your colleagues need or realize that you do not. If you have the answer they need – great! However, once you know that you are unable to help, let your colleagues know as soon as possible so they can go elsewhere. Avoid becoming the “black hole” or “bottomless pit” that exists in so many organizations – respond no matter what.
Once you have quickly acknowledged your colleagues’ outreach, you need to keep them updated on the status of their outreach. You may not have started working on it yet or you have been working on it and you don’t have a response yet. By keeping your colleagues updated, you will benefit in the following ways:
There is a big difference between acknowledging an outreach and providing an answer to the outreach. You may not have the answer or you may not have the time to provide the answer at that moment. Regardless of the situation and in order to help your colleagues make progress, you do need to acknowledge your colleagues. By acknowledging receipt of an email or a phone message, you will benefit in the following ways:
Although you cannot control the number of inbound outreaches to you, you can set expectations regarding how your colleagues will hear back from you. Expectations are the boundaries you create which reflect your unique style, calendar and workload. Here are some ways to set expectations/boundaries with your colleagues:
You may feel that you should not respond to colleagues until you have the answer to their questions or requests. You may assume that others know you are working on their problem and you don’t feel a need to keep them updated. You may rationalize that you are too busy to get back to anyone except your boss. While these are reasonable perspectives, days could go by before you have an answer (especially if you are dependent on others for information) and colleagues who originally reached out to you may feel forgotten. Without a response or an update, your colleagues are unsure if you received their email or if you are working on their request at all, allowing frustration to grow and progress to stall.
As my tenure as a coach grows, and as I meet an increasing number of client prospects, I have noticed recurring themes among individuals who do not think about working with a coach, or who do not want a coach, which I have recapped below.
Today, colleagues and information can reach you at any time of the day, in an endless number of ways, in milliseconds. It is estimated that over 6 billion mobile phone calls are made per day in the United States. Smartphones have created a world of socially acceptable stalking. You can be found at anytime and anywhere.
This ability to connect to you frequently and instantly highlights an interesting human behavior. The speed in which a colleague reaches you creates an identical expectation as to how long it will take you to respond. Similar to a fast-paced ping pong game, your colleagues expect a response as quickly as they got the ball to your side of the table.
“Responsiveness is the degree to which you get back to colleagues and foster progress.”