Smart people get it

A Tennis ball Author: User:Fcb981

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every morning I get up, start the coffee, grab the newspaper and check email. That last item is often a list of push emails from places like the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education and blogs I follow. It is a one-sided conversation.

Years ago I heard a speaker who had a great idea for teaching a child the art of conversation. He would face him and gently toss a tennis ball in his direction. Once the ball was caught, the child could hold it or toss it back. So goes any conversation, he noted. A child — or adult — who catches the ball and holds it misses the opportunity to engage. On the other hand, if the ball is tossed back and forth, a relationship develops.

In the same vein, modern communication — email, texts, blogs, etc. – presents a similar dilemma. What is our response? Do we hold the ball or do we throw it back? Take that one step closer to home. What about Facebook messages?  What about telephone calls? What about letters?

When one tosses the ball back, so to speak, it affirms a relationship, and secondly, it’s a positive investment in that relationship.  Two of my personal pet peeves are companies that do not respond to customer inquiries and potential employers who fail to acknowledge applications. Though I risk being called old fashioned, I say anyway: It’s rude.

Poor communication is rude.

With a plethora of modern communication, it’s easy to hide, easy to ignore emails, easy to ignore phone messages and easiest of all to reduce communication to only those one chooses. Few things irritate me more than a person who fails to respond to an email or who doesn’t return a requested call back. On the other hand, responsive individuals have my lasting gratitude. For instance, an architecture professor at UVA, an entomology professor at the University of Georgia, and QVC have all graciously and generously answered questions for me over the years.

People who respond to email queries, especially for something entirely mundane or utilitarian, do themselves a favor as well. For their part, they’ve established a relationship with me, one I’m likely to honor with continued business, and they have positioned themselves in a positive light. A company, a business, an organization or a university that makes the effort to establish a relationship with potential customers or employees does much for its reputation.

In today’s too-busy-to-breathe society, it’s easy for organizations and individuals to fail to find time for that all important response. It’s a shame. I’ve conversed with numerous friends who are job hunting. It seems that the standard procedure now is to handle potential employees at a distance (“apply online only; don’t call us”) and if we’re interested, you’ll hear from us. The silence that ensues is not only maddening for the job seeker, it turns companies into jerks. And it begs the question: What is the time limit?  Does one assume that two weeks after the position closes can one fairly assume that no news is no job?  Or is it a month?  Or three months?

Rudeness abounds these days — from companies, from institutions, from any number of entities that could, would and should understand that a reply, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of a correspondence is a valuable, indispensable and all-too-ignored investment in people. Smart companies and smart people get it.

When I started writing this post, I had one special group of people in mind: those who follow this blog.  By following and sometimes commenting, they’ve established a relationship and for them I am exceedingly grateful. You know who you are.

It is sadly ironic that in an age of enhanced communication we are gradually losing the art of keeping in touch. Perhaps a simple tweak could change all that; perhaps an individual commitment to acknowledge and respond to correspondence would change everything.

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