Would you like an astonishingly simple way to get a reputation for being an exceptional communicator? Just reply to the e-mails you receive. Yep, it’s that simple. Not just the few essential e-mails that absolutely require a response – but all of them.
You’re probably thinking that’s preposterous, impossible and completely unnecessary. And you would be right – at least about the unnecessary part. The main reason for doing it is if you want to demonstrate your knowledge and appreciation for one of the essential elements of a true communication process. Another important reason is the basic truth that effective communication is the cornerstone of employee engagement and customer relationship-building.
Don’t be the Road Block – or the Dead End
Going back to the early days of communication theory and the creation of the Shannon-Weaver model, one key factor has stood out as a requirement for effective communication. That’s the inimitable feedback loop. Put simply, if you don’t have an observable exchange between a sender and a responder, you have not engaged in communication. All you’ve done is sent or received a message. If that’s all you care about, then forget about requesting a reply or responding to a message that you receive. But if you want to make sure you’ve made a connection, always insist on feedback.
If you think that’s overkill, consider this. When people tell me what we need around here is more two-way communication, I ask them, “What the hell other kind is there?” Sometimes, they look at me funny and say something like, “Well, you know, all the presentations and announcements and management edicts and stuff like that.” To which I reply, “Oh, I get it, you’re talking about message distribution. I thought you meant communication.”
Two-Way is the Only Way
Here’s the bottom line. If it’s not two-way, it’s not communication. What people typically call one-way communication is like one-handed clapping. It may move the air around a bit, but it rarely makes a meaningful connection.
Now, if you’re still hung up on how “preposterous” and “impossible” it is to respond to every e-mail, here’s a simple solution. With the vast majority of them, you can cover your communication bases with three words and one punctuation mark – Got it, thanks! Sometimes, you may have to go a bit further, and add one more short sentence – Get back to you by (specified day). Now, that’s real communication. And guess what? Unless you’re a really slow typist, that takes all of 10-15 seconds.
To be honest, I don’t suggest that you reply to literally ALL e-mails. Unsolicited promotional messages from people you don’t know and who don’t know you don’t count. Reply to them or not – it’s up to you. If you don’t, it really doesn’t matter much because people who send those messages actually don’t expect to more less than a 1% response rate in the first place. I’m of the opinion that no one deserves to get anything more than they expect out of life, so don’t sweat it and don’t waste your time on it.
Beyond that, show the world you know what it means to be a “real” communicator, and hit that reply button whenever you can. Got it? Thanks!
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