Before the days of 24/7 social media, people used to sit at home waiting for a phone call to “hear news.” Today, we can get a text message update or phone call while traveling, working, shopping, and more. We once used to hurry out the front door each morning to pick up the morning newspaper and learn what was going on in the world. Now, we can scan the news headlines before we get out of bed.

The world has gotten “noisy” now. Information, news, and Emails interrupt our lives daily… no, hourly. Yet, in spite of the ease and profusion of communication today, the common courtesy of responsiveness seems uncommon. In fact, I’m not sure we know what is essential for proper communication and responsiveness. And I know it’s becoming an issue because often when I respond quickly, people (whose lives are spent in the virtual world working with others) will reply, “Thanks for the quick response.” Unfortunately, I am as guilty for not responding as often as I am for being quick to get back with someone.

The working statistic is that 28% of a workweek is spent answering Email and that less than half those Emails really deserve our attention.

Now, to be fair, some of us have so much happening and coming at us that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the inflow. 50% of those Emails are This Email proliferation has caused a re-evaluation of the role it plays in the workplace (see David Burkus‘s book Under New Management, for instance. In the early part of the book he shares research on how companies are addressing the problems Email presents to being productive). We hit “reply to all” too often and we send Emails as method to get someone else to solve our problems rather than working them out on our own. It’s what’s prompted many business, ministry teams, and nonprofits to move to Slack. I use Slack Social for two of my groups and LOVE it!

Though I’m not the model for responsiveness, I’m working at being better each week. As I’ve studied it, I’ve discovered four helpful elements that I think of every time to make sure I’m being “complete” in responding to others.

4 Essential Elements to Responding Well

  1. Timely – The first two on this list come from my good friend, Jim Hampton at Asbury Theological Seminary. At one time, and they may still, ATS had a goal for their professors to respond (e.g. grading papers) in a “timely” fashion. That meant, for them, within two weeks. So, as you receive your Emails and texts, think through how can you respond in “timely” fashion. Is someone else waiting on your response for them to continue their work?
  2. Substantive – The second essential from ATS prompted teachers to not just give a grade or to write “Good job!” on papers, but to respond in ways that build future success. So, as you receive communication and then look to respond, think about what is particular to them. How can you respond in a way that adds value? 
  3. Courteous – I’m super task-oriented so I have to be careful that I don’t get going too fast. And, based on the communication I receive, I’m not alone in the task-ness. I try to spend a few moments in my writing to connect with the other person. It reminds ME that I’m dealing with someone who is trying to do his/her best as well. And s/he has a story that is intersecting with mine in that moment. We have to pay attention to the other. In our multicultural world, this is growingly important.
  4. Complete – The old “time management” axiom in the pre-digital days was “only touch a piece of paper once.” In other words, don’t keep shuffling papers from the IN box to the TO-DO pile to a drawer and so forth. It’s like the TO-DO lists some of us keep making each day and then we copy them over to the next day’s list. When you respond, make sure your response is complete for the matter at hand and doesn’t require a second Email from you.

Navigating the communication clutter is a central concern for most of the leaders I work with in Christian ministries, schools, nonprofits, and businesses. It’s why Slack and other vendors are growing in popularity and usefulness. Keep these four words nearby as you answer phone or text messages, Emails, and more. They’ll help you be focused and complete in your communication.

What essential elements or reminders do you use to help you tackle the communication monster? I’d love to hear about them!

AND, don’t forget that I’m giving away a copy of my latest book, TEACHING THE NEXT GENERATIONS, each week for 2016. But, you have to sign-up to win!

Photo by Delwin Steven Campbell