We’ve all been there: You send a text or an email and get ignored. No response for hours or days, or sometimes at all. I’m not talking about a ‘hey, how are you’ message (although it would be nice if people acknowledged those too!) but specifically a message that warrants a reply, usually in the form of a question that needs an answer.
As a newlywed with a full-time job, a freelancing business and an active social life, I want to preface this post by stating that I realize that everyone is busy. In fact, we’ve normalized the term ‘busy’ so much that in a totally unscientific poll, I’ve found that when you ask people how they are, the most common response you get nowadays is ‘busy.’ So I get it. But still.
Recently, I’ve felt my frustration build up as I follow up for the third time to a work email that has gone completely ignored, or waited for a response to a question I texted a friend four days ago. This frustration stems from knowing that in our hyper-connected society, the majority of us live tethered to our devices. We check emails and texts all the time, even while driving (I’m talking to you, lady in the car next to me, trying to text, maneuver around a cone and cut me off!). Yet, seemingly more and more often, our messages go unanswered, despite the fact that we can be fairly certain that they’ve been seen. In some cases, 100% certain (read receipts, anyone?)
So what gives?
I know some people shrug and don’t take this behavior personally. Meanwhile, to others, it’s a huge faux pas, and they’re quick to write people off for being unresponsive. I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, and most often am simply confused (ok fine, sometimes hurt!) by people’s inability to respond. I’m the first to admit that I almost never go anywhere without my phone. I check email often throughout the day and if someone texts me a question, I make an effort to reply as soon as I see the message. I do this because with how busy life is, I’d likely forget to do it later, and also because I simply consider it rude not to respond!
When it comes to professional communication with clients and customers, I’m often even more responsive. How could I not be, when these are the very people who make it possible for me to earn a living? Many clients nowadays have moved beyond emailing and phone calls and prefer text communication. Initially, this felt somehow too personal to me, but, as we tend to do with technology, I’ve acclimated and treat work texts just like work emails. In general, if it’s a work day, people hear back from me within hours or at the latest by the next day.
I want to be clear that I’m not writing this post to advocate that people always be ‘on’ or available. Technology is already encroaching further and further into our personal time, so setting boundaries around connectivity is incredibly important. Just because a colleague can text you at 10:30 p.m. to ask you about tomorrow’s meeting, doesn’t mean they should. And it definitely doesn’t mean you should feel compelled to respond. The same goes for the friend who texts you in the middle of a work day and then blows you up when they don’t get a response in five minutes!
That being said though, in a world that’s increasingly busy, I think it’s more important than ever that we are intentional about our communication and how we treat others. Civility still matters! Ignoring emails or texts that need a reply is akin to telling others that they aren’t worthy of your time or concern, or at least not enough to warrant a response. I’m hard pressed to believe we’d treat people this way if we weren’t doing it from behind the comfort of our screens. Imagine if someone you knew, either personally or professionally, asked you a question face-to-face and you simply walked away without a response. While most people would never actually behave this way, isn’t it essentially what we’re doing when we don’t respond electronically?
I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this! Have you noticed a lack of response to emails and texts? What do you think the appropriate timeframe for a reply is? And is being unresponsive rude, or do some of us just need to get a thicker skin?