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Wasting Time Waiting for the Right Time

June 1, 2023

By Katie Wachala - Senior Analyst

In the words of James Clear, "It's generally better to over-communicate. If you wait to reply because you don't have an answer yet (or because you don't want to share bad news), the other party often ends up making assumptions about what the delayed reply might mean. Silence frustrates and confuses people. Better to communicate early and often."

Sure, it’s a relatively intuitive concept, but do we consistently do it? It’s natural to speculate when you don’t hear anything from someone, preferring some kind of acknowledgment over nothing. Still, we all can recall instances when we’ve been the ones to delay response.

My mind wanders to the mental queue of “to be returned” text messages, which I didn’t reply to at the moment for one reason or another. I wonder if too much time has passed and it’s too late to reply. Do they feel forgotten or slighted?

I find that the most common reason I delay a response is that I want to be in the “right” frame of mind to formulate the most perfect reply, one that appropriately appreciates what they took the time to say or ask, strikes the right tone, and has the correct impact and end result.

But what happens in that waiting period? With a friend, they may understand we all have busy lives and not mind. Or they could have sought out the help or answer they needed elsewhere. Others still could think they’re being intentionally ignored. Professionally, in that waiting period a client could assume, “They surely must have it under control and are working on it” (but what if you haven’t even started?), “Do they not care about my business?” (when you care a great deal and are actively on top of it), or even, “This isn’t that complicated of a request, I don’t know why it’s taking so long” (when you actually have unveiled an unexpected challenge that needs extensive troubleshooting).

In our hope to respond perfectly, we may miss the window for the connection altogether when a short message with a preliminary answer or finding could more than suffice.

A client or colleague cannot know what you are working on or what your obstacles are if you do not let them know. Do not undermine your hard work by keeping the progress to yourself. By keeping people in the loop, they receive validation that their needs are being met. And further, by checking in you may learn that there’s no need to spend more time researching and polishing. The first pass may be just what they need. Quick communication could save you countless hours of superfluous work.

Now, there may be business relationships in which managing communication expectations is a challenge. This does not mean you need to respond to every single communication. Instead, figure out what works for you both, whether it's a daily or weekly status roundup or notes logged in a shared project tracker. However, even if a client only has one scheduled monthly call, don’t let them sit and wait to hear anything from you within those four weeks: “Silence frustrates and confuses people.”

Certainly there are gray areas in all of this, but ultimately it’s a reminder that timing can be more important than content. Striking that balance is an ongoing process and truly a practice.

And if you are a friend, I’m definitely not ignoring you. I’m likely cleaning a toddler mess/making a 5-year-old a quesadilla/finding the time to write you a thoughtful message you deserve but realize it’s midnight and I should wait until you’re awake… and so on and so on. You are important and I care! Gotta keep practicing.

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