The Art of Responding

The Art of Responding

Are you like me and hate when people just cannot reply promptly? I think it is just plain rude. No real excuse. Not only is it impolite, it is unprofessional.

O.K., let’s be straight here. I am not talking about leaving a voicemail, social media message, or email and expecting it to be returned within ten minutes—or even six hours—but I think most people should be able to respond to a piece of communication directed specifically to them (not carbon copied on an email) within 48 hours. That is my limit.

For those of you who email or post when I have a rant like this with a question such as “You must have had someone not respond to your call for months and then just call today and say they want something by tomorrow!” Believe it or not—not recently—there is no specific occurrence trigger. It’s just that I was reading an article about professional communications and this came to mind—hence, the TMC this week.

So, let me rant my thoughts and you can tell me if I am off base, bang on, or somewhere in-between.

  • When people tell me they are too busy to return an email, phone call, or social media message, I sort of chuckle. I get over 100 emails a day, work with clients all day, take over 100 airplane flights a year, and am able to respond to people in a timely fashion—usually within six hours and never more than 36 to 48 hours.
  • People say they didn’t have an answer. Then, at least respond to say you received the message and it will be three days, one or two weeks, or whatever before you can get me the information I am asking for. Be professional and respond providing feedback on whether there will be a delay. Sometimes, my response will be nothing more than, “Got this. Thanks. I am at a conference for the next two days, then away on the weekend. I will have this back to you by the end of next week.” That lets the person know, politely and professionally, when they can expect a response and does not leave them hanging.
  • Then there is the “Sorry, I was away on holidays” or “Sorry, I was at a conference for a week. Then I was so busy when I got back that I am just getting around to your message.” My thought—so what century do you live in? First of all, you could have put on an out-of-office message to let people know! And two, If you are at a conference, why can’t you respond to emails at breaks/lunch or during the evening in your hotel room just to say, “I am at a conference for the next two days, then away on the weekend. I will have this back to you by the end of next week”?
  • I had a meeting with a lady about two months ago. She had asked for the meeting and I agreed to it. We met. She was excited about the outcome and how we might be able to help her. I was fine with providing services to her and knew we could help, but I was really busy and not going to push it on follow-up. I would be glad to do the work and would make time for it, but was not going to chase it. As always, though, I sent a follow-up email thanking her for the meeting (within 48 hours), letting her know I would be glad to work with her, and that the ball was in her court to keep me up-to-date on the process. There was nothing until about two weeks ago when she responded, “I am ready to roll.” We had no agreement. In the meantime, we had gotten busier. I had to say, “Hey, would love to do this, but I have not heard from you for six weeks. I presumed you were not interested or you would have at least responded to my email telling me it would be four to eight weeks before you had an answer. Then I would have kept some time open to work on your project. So now I cannot start until at least September.” She was not pleased. My reaction—respond to my emails or messages in a timely fashion and you will get results. Leave me hanging and I need to make presumptions. (Yes, I could have reached out, but I did not need to right now. I lost the business, but can live with that, especially if that is the way she responds to messages—six weeks later!)

Thanks. Let me know your thoughts—when you have time, of course!

© 2017. All rights reserved.


  1. Couldn’t agree more with this. Great article!

    • Thanks John! Hope all is well.

  2. I agree 100%. There are many times where I’m left wondering if my communications even got through. Leaving me wondering the next steps.

    • Ian,
      I know.. it is so frustrating. Thanks for reading and for sharing!

  3. Great article Brent, I totally agree with it!

    • Thanks so much Mitch! I hope your summer is going well

  4. I’m with you on this Brent; I think 48 hours is a reasonable limit and if you’re out of the office, let people know that you are.

    • Chris, so true! It is simple to let people know you are away form the office. We used to update our voice mail on the phone when we went out!

  5. Bang on Brent! I drive this message home to my staff and they see the results. Some customers are surprised they even get a response…now that is scary. Thank you for sharing.

    • Paul… thanks for reading and for sharing! I know, people are often surprised when the actually get follow up!

  6. I agree 100% with you Brent…it is one of my biggest pet peeves. I find it a complete lack of respect for others time. Thanks for the great article…good to know there are others who feel the same way. Happy Tuesday 🙂

    • Happy Tuesday as well Gwen! Thanks for thew affirmation and the feedback. Many people have commented about the “respect” scenario.

  7. Great article! I agree with you 100%! Like others, this is one of my biggest pet peeves and shows a total lack of respect.

    • Cathy… like so may truly a big pet peeve for many. Thanks for reading and posting!

    • Couldn’t agree more! Unprofessional and lazy. It isn’t difficult to take a moment to send a quick acknowledgement/response. Communication is KING

  8. This post was emailed directly to me by the individual as noted at the end of his thoughts and feelings on this TMC. I have shared it with his permission. Several of his points I am truly in alignment with and I truly do like to receive this feedback as well! Please read and enjoy.

    From: James Hilborn []
    Sent: July 11, 2017 9:59 AM
    To: Brent Barootes
    Subject: Re: Tuesday Morning Commentary

    Hi Brent:

    I must admit I was (rightly) blushing a bit as I read your NL today. In today’s business world, you’re right: it is expected that I will return your message within 48 hours max. I wish that I could say I always do that. I try, but really should do better than I do.

    However, sometimes I think I am overwhelmed not only by the volume (like you) but by the fast-changing pace of technology. Your energy level seems awesome to me … What if you just can’t wrap your head around all of it? Some of what seem simple tasks to many, represent almost terminal overload to me … at least some days … and then other days I’m fine. How do you communicate on the road, late at night? If you’re just fatigued from a heavy day of meetings and activity … If your phone and computer don’t synch … if your email service isn’t quite ideal … if you can’t afford the latest iPhone or downloading costs … if you just don’t understand what you need to do to clear the log-jam … if you don’t know how to navigate all of the online and cellphone-based services, much less figure out which ones you need, and how each one works …

    While I do try (and mostly succeed) in responding promptly, I resent the fact that I am expected to do so, and am considered immannerly and disrespectful if I don’t. I also resent the fact that the need to respond all but instantly means that people I’m meeting with over lunch think nothing of taking calls while we meet. I turn my phone off during lunch, and guess that makes we old-fashioned and out of date. Very few people do that. I see people taking and making calls in streetcars and buses. I try to ignore my email messages on the weekends, but know that that is a lost cause. You’re expected now to be available constantly.

    You are a very thoughtful person. I think that allowing communications technology such an overwhelmingly dominant role in our lives is a backward step. I’m convinced that it reduces our ability to think, and plan, and evaluate, and balance and consider and analyze and create. You seem to be able to do all of that very well, and my hat is off to you. What about all of us ordinary folk, who just can’t keep up that pace? Something is wrong if we are second rate, or out of the game because we can’t run so fast. I protest! Don’t we lose valuable insights and contributions if only the communications athletes count?

    End of rant.

    Thank you for always being so stimulating.

    Jim Hilborn
    Hilborn:ECS • PGgrowth • Civil Sector Press •
    Nonprofit Employer of Choice Awards • Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy •
    Charity eNEWS • Key-To-The-Sector Workshops & Online Learning
    Box 86, Station C, Toronto, ON M6J 3M7 Canada
    Tel: 416.345.9403 Cell: 416.554.9403 Fax: 416.267.2622

    Hilborn connects charities to knowledge and resources that improve their results.

  9. I totally agree. I would love it if we had a value/practice as an organization that all staff committed to responding to contacts within 48 hours. Then we could hold each other accountable to it on internal and external communications.

    However I totally hear what Jim is saying – we need more ‘offline’ time as human beings. So when I go on vacation, I put on an auto-responder and actually turn my email off.

    So take time out people, just let me know when you’ll be back!

    • Meghan,
      Very well said! I am with an organization that works towards “progress versus perfection”. So work toward a 48 hour turnaround… but don’t kill yourself in doing it… and shut off when not at work!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This