Communication and the immediacy expectation: is patience the only answer?

The advent of the internet and, by extension, smart phones has seen the way we communicate become quicker and quicker. Everyone has, it would seem, as a minimum, a phone which they can receive a SMS message. The vast majority of people have a phone that is internet enabled and receive email as well on their phones or tablets.

Add this high level of connectivity to the plethora of means by which we also communicate by social media and the urge, nay the need, to communicate with immediacy has become ever more in recent times.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my smart phone and love the fact that I can communicate where ever I am no matter the time or day or the night. That said, I am bothered by these issues that flow from this communication availability:

1. All too often misunderstandings seem to arise when one does not answer a text, email or tweet immediately. I am sure everyone reading this blog has been in a situation where they have received, for example, a text but they have not immediately answered because you are focused on something else and then you receive a second text asking “Are you ignoring me?” or worse the person on the other end gets angry without any rational basis.

2. Particularly in the context of communications for business the urge to respond immediately often seems to lead to the sending of communications without thinking about the effect of the reply being sent or, worse, without checking that what one is saying is correct. Unfortunately, the expectation that email is a communication form that is read upon being sent leads to a further expectation that a response is going to be sent immediately. That pressure to reply can lead to mistakes.

Recent situations in both categories in my own life have gotten me thinking about how best to deal with the immediacy expectation that vests from the way we communicate in 2014. The following approaches I have jettisoned either because they are rude, unwieldy or they play right in to the hands of the immediacy expectation:

1. Setting up a rule in my phone / email accounts that everytime I receive an email or a text message an automated reply is sent acknowledging receipt and noting that I will reply as soon as I am able to.

2. Ignoring an email / text message until I receive a follow up email, text or call about the first email / text message.

3. Sending an email / text / social media message to every one of my contacts every day advising of my likely availability to reply to their communications on that particular day.

None of these strategies are all that palatable are they? Nor are they workable in my view.

Having considered all of these options I kept coming back to a central premise: we all (I should say I have been guilty of wondering and worrying about a delayed reply as much as the next person too) could just be a little bit more patient when it comes to communicating.

It is hard to believe but it is true that not 25 years ago very few people had mobile phones, the use of email was not prevalent and social media networks did not exist. Letters and calls to the fixed telephone were the only broadly available means of communicating. I am sure in those times people did not spend anywhere near as much time wondering if they were going to get a reply soon as we do now. Why? Because the nature of the communication methods available required an inherent level of patience.

Surely the application of a similar level of patience today in communications as that which was the norm 25 years ago is the way to avoid all of the issues that come from the immediacy expectation.

Maybe this is too simplistic an approach but it is one I am going to try. The next time you have the urge to send a message that says “Did you get my last message? or “Are you ignoring me?” maybe being patient could work for you too. I hope it works for me!

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