Dealing with people who don’t reply is frustrating.
However, when we ask “did you get my message?” it turns out we have a trust issue.
When we check in with people to ask if they saw our message, it’s a sign that (1) we don’t trust that they’re going to see it — or — (2) see it as quickly as we’d like them to.
We either want them to (1) see it right away because it’s truly urgent — or — (2) it’s our preference to hear back from them right away so we can get their input.
Most of the time we want people to prioritize our communication because it better serves ourselves.
Ouch. But don’t worry I’m guilty, too. Let’s unpack these two issues.
Issue 1: We ask “did you get my message” because we don’t trust that they’re going to see it
This can be an actual issue. If you’re trying to get in touch with someone who is difficult reach AND they don’t have a track record of following through, taking the time to follow up with them is great! It reinforces your reputation as someone who closes the loop.
Just because someone is difficult to reach doesn’t mean they won’t follow through. Unreachability doesn’t equal unproductive, unfocused, or unaware.
Another example: if you sent something to a new email address or different communication mode for them (Slack, Asana, etc), it’s fair to trust that they’re NOT going to see the message… so go ahead, ask away . . . did you get my message? Tip: exercise trust and allow them to read it and get back to you!
On the other hand, if the person is purposefully difficult to reach, but has a track record of getting back and closing loops, you can trust they’re going to see it within their typical intervals. You TRUST that they tend to get back to you in a certain timeframe.
This is different from someone who is non-responsive and non-reachable. If someone is unreachable and untouchable… for the purpose of their focus and deep work, trust that they will follow up.
Some questions to consider…
Has the person I’m trying to reach established a track record of getting back to me?
Did I wait to the last minute to start this conversation?
Did I provide a time frame that I need to hear back by?
Do I have a place to remind myself to circle back if I don’t hear back by a certain date/time?
Is this a true emergency for the both of us? Or just me?
Is the person difficult to reach for a reason? How can I assume the best in their lack of responsiveness?
Does this person have a track record of getting back to me in general? Can I trust that?
Is the written communication necessary — or could I wait until I’ll next encounter this person?
Issue 2: We ask “did you get my message” because it serves ME
What’s often urgent for you isn’t urgent for everyone else. However, when you’re juices get flowing… it can be tempting to want to reach out to people and get their immediate feedback to help you in your thinking process.
Sometimes it’s better to draft the message you want to send and keep it in a drafts folder or notes section to send at a later time. This gives you the chance to keep plowing through more productive thinking instead of getting pulled out of that zone (from an out-flow: clear thinking and planning) and into a different zone (in-flow: seeking input answers).
We want answers from other people because our brains think it will make the work easier. The truth is we don’t often need the input we’re seeking right in the moment we think of it.
Make a note of what you need help with.
But keep thinking…
What about situations that DO need immediate replies?
Ok… coaching question for you… do they really need to reply immediately? What are you trying to accomplish?
Can you agree before the situation begins that you need the team to be highly reachable?
Are there certain daily or weekly hours where you need to see a thumbs up or confirmation that they read what you wrote?
With some pre-loaded planning and thinking, you can agree when a team needs to be available for immediate synchronous replies.
During live events, conferences, and events or times of critical decisions (buying a house, or making a big deal) it may be appropriate for everyone to be constantly in sync. Even in those environments, it’s important to establish some ground rules of how you’re expecting people to confirm they’re in the loop.