For a long time, I would get frustrated and stressed over what I labelled “poor responsiveness”. I would apply this label to people I worked with, friends and even family members. Mind you, not everyone got this label, only those I knew I needed to “track and follow-up” in order see a commitment carried out.
This behaviour is typically associated with procrastination, but manifests itself in all aspects of life. For example, you could be in a meeting where your colleague commits to taking an action after the meeting. Equally, you could be chatting to a friend on the phone and agree to talk next Thursday regarding going to a coffee or pint. Sometime after the event you realise neither has occurred.
In order to “manage” those that I felt weren’t responsive, I would create reminders in my “To-Do” system and then chase people down when I hadn’t got what I needed. This created unnecessary effort and the associated stress for all parties involved, because no-one likes being reminded of something they didn’t do.
I now know better.
I now understand what creates the perception that someone doesn’t respond appropriately. And I know how to be more effective in situations when someone doesn’t deliver on a commitment.
The first revelation is that the concept of “responding appropriately” is different across cultures, companies and communication mediums.
For example, in your business you may expect a response to an e-mail query to a colleague on the same day. However you may not expect a response from an external customer for up to 3 days. On the other hand, if you receive a SMS Text message from a loved one, they may get concerned if you don’t respond almost instantly. Therefore, we must understand who we are communicating with and what is accepted as the “normal” level of responsiveness.
The other revelation, and more critical aspect, is to do with an unfortunate inadequacy in the tools and techniques most of us employ. For example, things just don’t get done because it is “accepted” that e-mail queries with-in the office should be answered on the same day or even actions taken on minutes during a meeting need to be completed before the next meeting. Unfortunately, whilst I believe most people honestly aim to deliver on a commitment at the time the commitment was made, their system for managing that commitment lets them down.
The root cause in our “system” in most cases is our short-term memory. Unfortunately short-term memory is very flippant; it is easily distracted by the latest and loudest thing that comes into our world. Therefore, whilst we may have honestly committed to do something, that something will be replaced in our consciousness at some point, be it later in the day, tomorrow, next week or even as you leave the meeting and get into a conversation with someone on your way back to your desk. Even if a commitment is written down in your notepad, if your personal system for reviewing and organising these notes isn’t adequate, you will still be relying on your short-term memory to get back to the notes and those agreed meeting actions.
Now that I understand what is behind my misconception, I am better able to manage it. For example, when looking for something from someone else, I will be very specific about the outcome I expect and by when. Where as previously a meeting action might read “Quarterly results report (Joe)”, it would now read “Joe to export October to December transactions into the reports spreadsheet and forward to Brad by Wednesday lunchtime”.
Furthermore, if someone is still struggling with their commitments and exhibiting stress is doing so, I help them understand more about how they might better manage their “to-do lists” and inadequacies of short-term memory.
How are you perceived by your colleagues, customers, friends and family? Are you seen as “responsive”? Do you know someone who is non-responsive? What actions do you take?