Getting Responses from Non-Responders

“Don’t people know that they need to respond to their emails? Don’t they check their phone messages? They either have no manners or zero common sense!”

That was the exasperated holler from a miserable manager with a serious project and a team of people who truly believe they are “too busy” to communicate. In fact, this complaint ranks in the top ten workplace gripes. But here’s the reality: Most people do not feel obliged to check their email as often as you think they should, and they do not share your urgency for a timely response.

How do you get a response from people when you really need one? You use a Performance Conversation, because you want them to actually PERFORM, i.e., to do something or deliver something to you or someone else. Don’t try to motivate them, or explain something to them, or inspire them. If you are doing those things, you’ll be disappointed, because motivation, etc., just doesn’t guarantee performance.

Two steps:

  1. Ask them. Make a clear and clean request.
  • I would like a yes-or-no response from you on this before 12:00 noon tomorrow so I can take your information to the meeting at 12:30.
  • Please get back to me about your thoughts on this before you leave work today because I promised Dave I would get him the totals before his 7:00 PM class.
  • Your work schedule for next week needs to be turned in no later than this Wednesday, so I can factor it into my staffing plan for assembling our conference materials and room layouts.
  1. Then get a good promise from them. Don’t settle for “I’ll try”, or anything else that sounds wishy-washy to you. What you’re looking for is “OK. Will do.” Nothing less.
  • If you get an “out of office” response? You may need to talk with this person and establish a way you can reach them to get real-time responses. You may also want to hold an office meeting to discuss and agree on new communication “rules” for the group.
  • If they say yes and don’t do it? Don’t wait more than 5 minutes past the deadline you gave them. Contact them right away – a text message can be effective – and repeat the request.

When people don’t know that you’re serious about getting real-time responses to your requests, they may assume it’s just another thing for them to do – and they will add it to their “List”. Not everyone takes their communication seriously. If you do, then make that clear to the people around you.

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