Effective Communication about Communicating

I have a three-step process for getting in touch with one of my executive clients. 

I email her once.
Sometimes I have to send a follow-up.
Finally, I call her. She usually picks up.

And I say, “Save the apologies, I know you’re busy, now let’s get to it! ”

She laughs and says, “Yes. Thanks. Phew!”

If you’re a busy entrepreneur, CEO or executive director, I know you relate. And you’re probably grateful when people are understanding about a communications delay. But some in your world may not be so understanding. Occasionally, if they’re on a deadline, they can end up downright frustrated. And that’s not good for the relationship, or your reputation.

Here are three things I recommend to business leaders whose inboxes look like a New York subway car at rush hour.

1. Study your dance: Take a minute (I know, it’s the very last thing you have, but it will save you many minutes in the end, I swear) to determine the patterns you have in getting back to people. Is there one or five people who tend to get a response over others? What time windows are usually the best for people to reach you? Knowing your patterns and preferences for responding will help you communicate them to others, and set expectations for success.

2. Communicate your preferences: When starting with a new client, vendor, board or staff member, let them know about the best ways to get in touch, e.g. “I’m not great at responding to email, but here’s my text. [Or insert preferred way of communicating]”; “I don’t usually respond to email after 5:30pm”; or “If you don’t get a response to an email, please don’t be deterred. Sometimes I don’t see them. Send it again.”
Here’s a simple one: “If you need me to see something, put the word “urgent” in the subject line.”

3. Set an autoresponder: In the final stretch of prepping for a huge event? At a business conference?  Or, on a much needed weekend away?  Or, are you simply lousy at responding to emails? An autoresponder, easily set up in most email programs such as Outlook, Gmail, etc. (call IT if you have no idea what to do) can help set the expectations for communication without your having to converse about it. Example:
Please allow 1-2 business days for a response. If you have an urgent matter you can insert instructions here.

I know this all seems rather basic and common sensical. But with so many channels to keep in touch these days, I encourage you to take the time to reflect and streamline your communication. Making it easier for people to connect with you makes all the difference to your reputation and efficacy, and will strengthen your relationships with staff, board, vendors, colleagues, constituents and donors.

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