No Response is Still Not a Response
A No-Response Response Is Not Okay
A minor rant revisited
I wrote the original version of this post back in May 2015. I’m not usually one to rant, but on this particular topic I just couldn’t hold back, so I decided to let ’er rip. On reflection, after living through a pandemic, global lockdowns, and incendiary politics, with a major military conflict now staring us in the face, I may have been a bit judgmental seven years ago. Maybe even a wee bit arrogant.
But the point I was making is just as valid today – and I continue to bristle at business professionals who believe ignoring a colleague’s email is somehow a valid response.
It’s not. And as far as I’m concerned, it never will be.
Common courtesy goes a long way
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where something you agreed to do has legitimately fallen off your plate? While it may be embarrassing, the best thing you can do is man up and tell the uncomfortable truth.
OMG — I just realized that you pinged me on LinkedIn changing the date of our appointment to yesterday!!! I am so sorry. I completely missed this. Please forgive me. I absolutely want to have that follow-up conversation. Can we please reschedule?
More often than not, Maria is going to understand. But occasionally, you may come across someone who simply refuses to forgive you and move on. Ironically, they may communicate this reaction with no response at all. Ouch! How does that feel?
Courtesy in the face of ambiguity
Perhaps you’re hung up because you just don’t know how to respond to a given situation. Maybe you’re waiting on more information. Actually, that can be a very good place to start; a little honesty mixed with humility can go a long way. Be transparent. Learn to deal with ambiguity. Write that difficult response, even if it means giving a no-progress report. If you don’t know what to say, say so.
I know you’re waiting to hear back from me. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you yet. I don’t want to leave you hanging, so this is a heads up to say I’ll get back to you as soon as I have that answer.
Thank you, for your patience.
Not all that difficult, right? Robert may not be pleased, but at least he knows where things stand. And you get points for having provided a proactive update.
Look, I get it. We all run into situations where circumstances are beyond our control. And things don’t always turn out the way we’re expecting. Plans change. Budgets get cut. Companies are acquired, advocates get fired, etc. But none of these situations justifies ignoring a respectful email or voicemail from a colleague.
Courtesy to salespeople
A persistent salesperson may be just about the last person you want to engage with. But even this scenario merits a gracious response. It takes so little effort, and a simple, direct response can spare both of you from unnecessary angst.
Thanks for your email. Unfortunately, we are not a good prospect for your company. I’ve been in sales myself, so I understand your job. I certainly don’t mind your contacting me, but I do ask you to please respect my request to disengage. I assure you there’s no sale to be had here – your time and energy will be better spent elsewhere. Should things change on this end, I won’t hesitate to contact you.
Clear, civil communication. Imagine a world where all of us treated one another this way. The alternative in this example is to ignore countless emails from someone who’s really just trying to do her job. Fail to respond, and you’re literally putting a target on your back. How much better to offer a polite heads up that this salesperson is barking up the wrong tree.
If I’m completely honest, with the dramatic increase in LinkedIn marketing — a direct consequence of the pandemic — it’s been more difficult for me to follow my own advice. Now, it's strictly on a case-by-case basis. Electronic SPAM doesn’t generally merit a response. But if the message is written thoughtfully enough that I don’t feel as if I’m being stalked by a robot, I’ll make time to respond. Even if it’s just a quick “thanks but no thanks,” I can move on knowing I was as gracious as the situation required.
There are times you may find yourself in an exploratory conversation. The exchange may have started out on a promising note, but now you’ve come to realize there’s no realistic chance that nothing productive will come of it. Rather than ghosting the individuals involved and hoping they’ll take the hint, remember that it’s okay to take responsibility for changing your mind. Actually, it’s more than okay. But if you’re going to take the high road, you need to make sure you let others know what’s going on.
I know I was enthusiastic about this idea. But given other priorities I’m facing, I cannot give this any further attention, now or in the foreseeable future.
I apologize for any inconvenience.
Pretty straightforward. A person could be blindfolded in the dark and still read the handwriting on that wall. But at least you took the time to respond. If the recipients of this message aren’t happy about it, that’s on them. You’ve done your part.
Courtesy to Vendors
Let’s say you’ve been discussing an upcoming project with a vendor. Or for an even more complicated scenario, let’s say this vendor is someone you consider a friend after working together over the years. But this time, some aspect of the job has dramatically changed, and your vendor friend will no longer be included. Remember, going silent is never a good option. Far better to send a personal note (or better yet, a phone call – remember those?) explaining how the situation has changed. Don’t make an awkward situation worse by dodging your responsibility to deliver bad news.
I know we’ve been discussing the XYZ contract, but there’s been a change in strategy. Unfortunately, this project has been shelved. I know comes as disappointing news, but I wanted you to hear it from me directly. I assure you this was through no fault of you or your company. We’ll definitely keep you in mind for future possibilities.
Thanks in advance for understanding.
I’ve been on both ends of this conversation. Whichever side you happen to be on, it’s never fun. But acting with transparency and candor is how grown-ups behave. Or at least how we’re supposed to behave.
Courtesy to job applicants
If your job includes interviewing candidates, at some point, you’ll find yourself needing to gently break the news to someone you’ve chosen not to hire. Drop him, her, or them a sympathetic note. Even a form letter is better than dead air. But you can’t beat the power of a personal note for humanizing this potentially uncomfortable situation.
It was a pleasure meeting you. We interviewed many great candidates for the role you were interested in. I regret to inform you that we’ve extended an offer to another applicant whose qualifications seem more aligned to this specific position. From what I gathered in our interview, you are both talented and resourceful. I am sure you’ll land the right role soon.
If you’re prone to ignoring difficult emails or conversations, I hope I’ve persuaded you that there will always be a better alternative to the no-response response. If your job includes managing others, please consider sharing this principle with your team. Together, let’s all hold each other to a higher standard.
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Steve, you make an excellent point. It reflects my thoughts/feelings about this as well, and I always appreciate some kind of response even if it's a "I'm thinking and I'll get back to you soon" kind of email. Clear communication is always best. Good reminder to all!