The more important the person, the faster the response

Much like our readers, I send numerous daily emails and text messages — in reality, too many — but that’s the subject of a future column. For now, I want to focus on an interesting phenomenon I noticed, particularly of late, that I now use as an assessment tool.

Don’t panic if you are one of those who fall outside my new criterion, but it might be worth thinking about it.

My gut sense and unscientific conjecture is that those who are at the top of their game seem to respond to messages dramatically more promptly than middle managers and business newbies. This is because the higher the level, the more confident people are about what they have to say. And they have learned to be quicker decision makers. I also suspect that they have trained themselves to do it once, do it right, and to be fast rather than allowing distracting material to accumulate in the inbox, which can be a visual reminder of their inefficiencies and procrastination. There is something extremely satisfying about looking at a sparsely populated screen of messages.

In preparation for this article, I started keeping track of how long it took for someone to respond to me based on their position. What was astounding is that the more prestigious the responder’s title, the more accelerated the reply. These people are likely to be busier than most, but their efficiency makes them more productive and focused, which hastened their assent up the corporate ladder.

I believe most would rather have a prompt “no” than a painfully slow “maybe” or half-hearted “yes.” Of course, a great deal of this depends on the subject and complexity of the initial message, but even when it is not possible to provide a quick turnaround, a better alternative is simply, in as few words as possible, to acknowledge receipt and to provide a timeframe of when a more comprehensive answer could be forthcoming.

This not only sends a message of respect, but also helps all parties in the communication chain and enhances productivity. In addition, it confirms that the intended recipient received your update.

There are several rudimentary methods to manage communications and projecting a sense that one is in control. Most obviously is setting aside time every day to make sure you’ve not missed anything important, particularly business-related. This excludes unsolicited, obvious promotional offers or anything that sounds too good to be true, because typically it is.

Those messages that fall into the latter category can be instantly relegated with a single click to the trash bin on your device. This gesture also provides another cathartic benefit as in, “I won’t let you waste my time.” I also advocate blocking repeat offenders, exiling their future messages to permanent electronic purgatory.

There is little reason to believe that internet communications will be reduced in the future. Therefore, managing your workload, minimizing anxiety, and striving for a pristine and uncluttered inbox reflect a day’s work well done. Those goals also frame the perception others will have of you for being professional, efficient and engaged, not to mention respectful yet decisive.

Serving on a number of boards, Michael is a frequent national speaker, and author of the business books “The Benevolent Dictator” and ”Tips from the Top.” 

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO