Responsiveness: when should you reply to a message

How quickly we respond to a message (email, phone, sms, chat, etc.) is an often misunderstood function of our work and is further complicated by leaders who institute temporal rules like “within one business day” or in less than two hours.

Here is a partial list guidelines regarding responsiveness:

1. Responses are not mandatory.  You do not need to, and should not respond to informational mails that do not contain a request for a response, nor should you respond to mails where you are in the Cc:.  Also, we should assume that someone has received a mail if it doesn’t bounce.  “Did you receive my mail, sms, phone message, are veiled outdated control mechanisms.

2. You should not respond to every mail that requests a response.  It is always a question of appropriateness regarding the sender and the recipient.  Taking a moral approach like “you should respond to mails out of courtesy” falls prey to discourteous people who unwittingly or wittingly steal your resources with inappropriate or very low priority (maybe not for them, but for you) requests, i.e . “Hi Jim, this is Rich, I’m a friend of Bob’s and he told me that you were in Cancun last year.  Could you recommend a good resort?”  Not everything should make it into your agenda and filtering these types of requests is part of anyone’s job.

3. There is no rule about how quickly you should respond to a mail.  Time limits are a function of the type, content and sender of the mail.  Temporal limits like within 2 hours or 24-hours are enacted when organizations are not willing to spend the necessary time educating employees on importance and urgency.

4. Unless you put a deadline on a mail, don’t expect a timely (according to the content) response.

5. The best way to know how quickly to respond to a communication is to put yourself in the shoes of the sender while remaining conscious of your own need to be effective and efficient.

6. Quite often it is the sender that impedes responsiveness through ambiguity.  • No deadline; • too many topics; • no use of bullet points; • too complex; • you didn’t make it clear as to what you actually wanted

7. If someone requests something by a certain date it is always a good idea to let them know that you are in agreement with the deadline as soon as it is efficiently possible for you to respond so that they are not wondering if there is agreement.

8. The better you are at understanding the above guidelines, the more the right people will like you and the wrong people will leave you alone.  Think of attraction and filtering as a synergistic combination.

Michael Hoffman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.