Improving communications habits usually isn’t high on the list when thinking about how to make better impressions. Yet, how you communicate – especially responsiveness and follow through – influences impressions you make. Not only do these behaviors impact what colleagues, partners, vendors, clients, investors and other contacts think about you as an individual, they impact what others think about your company too.
Poor communications habits can limit opportunities and damage relationships, both immediately and over the long run.
For example, if you:
- Take 3-4 days to respond to an email introduction to a potential client, you risk loss of business. Slow response can convey lack of interest (even if unintended).
- Wait to return a recruiter’s call, you may miss out on a (great) job opportunity as they move on to more responsive candidates.
- Don’t respond to clients until they follow up several times, you can jeopardize the relationship and future referrals. Clients deserve and expect reliable communications.
- Make offers to colleagues, but never deliver, you risk losing their trust and develop an unreliable reputation. When colleagues believe you won’t follow through, they may exclude you from desirable meetings and events.
With so much at stake in these examples and countless others, here are some ways to make better impressions:
1. Don’t leave people guessing.
When you need more time to respond to a message (because it requires research or sourcing additional input, for instance) or determine someone else should handle the request, still reply in brief to lay out next steps (e.g., I’ll have the prospectus to you by Monday; John, cc’d on this email, can answer your questions and will take it from here). The quick response acknowledges receipt, keeps communication moving and shows that you’re paying attention. Of course, if you promise to do something, set a realistic timeframe to follow through accordingly. This is critical when making and receiving introductions too.
2. Know when to pick up the phone.
While business communications are largely conducted via email, sometimes a quick call is the most efficient and effective way to handle something – especially when discussion is needed to reach next steps or a conclusion. If you’re exchanging many rounds of email without making any progress, consider calling to wrap it up more quickly or propose scheduling a call when mutually convenient. Emailing endless dialogue and debate is time consuming. Driving resolution more efficiently by phone will be appreciated by all.
3. Respond to key LinkedIn invitations & messages quickly.
Building relationships effectively impacts success. When someone invites you to connect on LinkedIn and you intend to accept the request, don’t wait a week to do so. This is extra important when you receive an invitation immediately following a meeting, when the connection request includes asking you for timely information (and warrants response) or when receiving direct messages. Accept/reply when you’re still top of mind for the sender. If you wait too long, you may lose momentum in developing the relationship. Non-response, or a very delayed one, can (unintentionally) signal that you’re not interested in engaging (further) with a contact.
4. Accept, decline or suggest an alternative to meeting invites.
When you receive a meeting invitation (or email with possible dates for an upcoming meeting), don’t leave the sender hanging. Check your calendar ASAP or delegate to the person who manages it, and decide accordingly. Putting off a response causes others frustration because it leaves tentative blocks of time tied up in their schedules. If you’re unsure about your availability due to pending commitments, provide the meeting organizer with a timeframe by which you’ll confirm. Responding shows interest and that you respect their time.
5. Respond to voicemails.
A voicemail often indicates a timely question or inquiry. Instead of ignoring messages because you don’t check frequently or have a packed calendar and don’t have time to return calls, listen at your earliest chance and send a quick email (or text, if appropriate with that contact) to acknowledge receipt and indicate by when you’ll call back.
If you don’t have time for a conversation and the issue can easily be handled via email, respond in a reasonable timeframe with a message that clearly addresses it. If someone leaves a voicemail with little detail, you can write back asking how you can help and then set up a time to speak as needed. Above all, acknowledge the original message so the caller isn’t left thinking you never received it (or are ignoring them).
6. Use an away message.
When you’ll be out of reach due to meetings, business travel, vacation etc., set up an email away message to outline an expected delay in response. If you generally receive a lot of phone calls, change your voicemail greeting too. When out for an extended period, also designate a backup person and include their contact information in the message, in case of any urgent matters.
This proactive communication saves internal colleagues and external contacts from wondering when you’ll respond (or if you received their message) and minimizes frustration. Providing a backup contact puts people at ease if there’s something that’s deadline-driven. Plus, it can save you if problems need to be addressed immediately and prevent you from missing out on opportunities.
7. Don’t delay delivering on promises.
Communications play an important role in relationships. If you offer something to a contact, don’t delay following through to provide it. The information you promised – an answer to a question, introduction to a job candidate, vendor recommendation, etc. – may be critical and timely to the recipient. If you keep them waiting, it can imply that they’re not that important to you. Failure to deliver on a promise is even worse, potentially leading to a reputation that you’re “all talk.” This doesn’t speak well to your character and can negatively impact relationships.
8. Be extra timely during a job or board search.
If you’re pursuing a new job or a board seat, relatively fast responses at every stage of the search process are critical. Unfortunately, candidates are not afforded the same latitude in communication delays as recruiters or hiring managers. Prospective hires risk losing out to other candidates if they wait too long to reply about opportunities.
Even if you’re not interested in a specific job or board lead, get back to recruiters, hiring managers and other connections ASAP when they reach out. Timely responses make good impressions and convey gratitude and professionalism. This encourages future sharing of other opportunities.
Similarly, if someone in the media reaches out to you for an interview, expert opinion or perspective, always reply in a timely manner (regardless of their deadline). Quick responses to media contacts, even when you’re not available or interested in the story or outlet, will significantly increase the likelihood that they’ll reach out to you for future queries. They may even refer you to colleagues for other opportunities.
Response Time Matters
How you handle communications influences what people think about you and your company. Competing priorities are commonplace, so if you occasionally forget to return a voicemail or take a few extra days to respond to a meeting invitation, others will usually understand. However, if delays or non-response are the norm for you, your behavior is negatively impacting your reputation and potentially that of your employer as well.
This can translate into immediate and long term consequences, affecting relationships, business and other opportunities. You will make better impressions and strengthen your personal brand when you develop a reputation for responding in a timely fashion and following through on promises.