How To Do Life

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When They Don't Respond to Your Emails and Voicemails

How to cope with non-responsive people.

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Understandably, you can feel anxious, disappointed, or angry when someone doesn’t email or call by the time they promised.

Perhaps this mock internal dialogue may be helpful.

You 1: He’s so rude. You can’t trust a promise any more.

You 2: Calm down. Everyone’s busier and maybe he has a good reason.

You 1: At least he could have emailed me a one-liner saying why he hasn’t responded, like he needs more time to think about it, do research, or wait for someone else to weigh in. I’d be happy even if he just said, “I’ll get back to you within a day or two.”

You 2: You’re expecting too much of people. You aren’t the only thing he has to deal with.  

You 1: You can be busy and still respond briefly. I mean, every article on netiquette says you should respond within 24 hours.

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You 2:  It’s easy for advice-givers to tell people what to do. It’s a lot harder to follow through.

You 1: Even when someone promises they will?

You 2: Even when they promise.

You 1: But sometimes, it’s not just that they’re busy. Some people delay because they know it gives them power over you as you sit there hanging.

You 2: I don’t think that happens very often.

You 1: You’re naïve. People's kind-appearing front often masks darker impulses. And what about employers that hold off sending you a job offer because they think delaying will make you more insecure and therefore more likely to accept a lowball offer?

You 2: I guess that could happen.

You 1: That sort of thing makes me really mad.

You 2: Sometimes, people delay in responding for good reasons. For example, everyone has their own pace. Some people like to draft something and put it aside for a day or two so they can view it with fresh eyes.

You 1: So they could, at least email you to say that. Besides, I think you’re overstating how often that occurs. More often than not, people just don’t care about responding promptly. They just don’t sufficiently value keeping their promises. They’d rather indulge their tendency to procrastinate.

You 2: That’s all conjectural. I do know it’s a waste of emotional energy to think about it.

You 1: So I just distract myself and assume their email or call will never come?

You 2: You don’t need to go that far. Pick a date and time when you’ll follow up and until then, yes, put it out of your mind.

You 1: So I have to suffer for extra days because of their rudeness and failure to keep their promise?

You 2: Do you see another alternative?

You 1: I'm always responsibile and I hate having to just quietly accept their crappy behavior. (Sigh) How long do I wait before following up?

You 2: Double the expected time. So if you expected s/he’d reply within one day, wait two days before following up.

You 1: All right, I guess, but how should I follow up so s/he gets that I’m unhappy about his having not responded?

You 2: Occasionally, you’ll need to make that clear but more often, that will just make the person feel defensive and impose a bigger price on you.

You 1: So I just let them get away with it? I hate it. (Sigh.) So what should a follow-up look like?

You 2: Well, if you’ve been communicating by email, use a subject line like, “following up” or “checking in.” Make your message brief and not accusatory, for example, “I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to think about what I emailed you about. That email is below.” Use the same sort of approach on the phone or in-person.

You 1: It’ll make me choke to have to be nice to those inconsiderate cretins.

You 2: That’s the price you pay if you want to get what you want from people and be seen as having emotional intelligence.

You 1: (Sigh.)

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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