New Series: Don’t Do That. Do This Instead.

Have you ever had your relationship with a colleague, client or boss change suddenly – and not for the better? Yet you’ve not been able to put your finger on why.

Small actions. Big Impact.
I’ve always maintained that some of the smallest things we do often have the biggest impact on how our professionalism is viewed.  In this new series, “Don’t do that. Do this instead.”, I’m going to help you avoid the tiny (and not so tiny) things that can trip you up and place barriers between you and your success.

Small bites for easy digestion.
Each entry is intended to cover one small piece of a larger topic. However, even though seemingly small, each and every action has a big impact.

Too busy to respond
Today’s entry is about email.  More specifically what to do when you are so overwhelmed with work that you can’t reply to email.

Completely ignore your messages: DON’T DO THAT
I was recently in discussions about a project with someone who, after the initial conversation, completely vanished. After an enthusiastic discussion I was promised some key information would be emailed over. Nothing arrived. I followed up several times with polite notes, I even picked up the telephone and left a voicemail. Nothing.

Now, it could have been that he had changed his mind but that seemed unlikely given the nature of the original conversation.  In a last ditch effort, I wrote to his boss – again, a polite note, reiterating my interest in the project.  Lo and behold, 40 minutes (two weeks and 40 minutes) later I had an apologetic email from my contact.  Lots of reasons why my emails (and voicemail) had gone unanswered, chief among them the fact that he was too busy.

Keep in mind that he was trying to entice me into a project that would require an investment on my part, but he was too busy to answer my emails.

I’m not unsympathetic to a crazy schedule and an overflowing inbox but his lack of attention did start me wondering how he would manage the overall project.

Don’t let being busy send the wrong message.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Manage expectations
If you are going through a particularly nutty time with a project, or are generally overworked, then follow these steps:

  • Set an out-of-office message explaining that you are busy with a project and provide:
    • A time frame by which you will reply, and/or
    • The contact details of someone else in your organization who can help
  • Block out half an hour everyday (either end of the day works) to triage and answer all critical messages
  • Apologize and make sure recipients know that this isn’t ‘situation normal’ (which hopefully, it’s not)

By taking these small steps you will keep everyone up to date, no one will feel ignored or left in the dark, and you won’t accidentally tarnish your professionalism.

I followed-up, others won’t.
Keep in mind that I followed-up because it was in my interest to do so, however, it was also in the interest of the other person that I do so (remember, there was money involved). Not everyone will follow-up, in fact few will. Instead they will find other places to spend their money.

Small actions. Big Reward.
It takes nothing more than a few minutes to set up an out-of-office. By doing so you manage the expectations of  your clients and colleagues, and keep them on your side.


Your Stories
We’ve all fallen foul of rude or thoughtless behaviour…sometimes it’s even we who have been guilty of it.

If you have a story you’d like to share, please feel free to send me a note using the contact form and I’ll include it here.