Whether it’s a yes or no, responding earns respect

published by the Nashville Business Journal

When you take the time to make a personal call and leave a message, you expect to receive a response in a reasonable amount of time. The same principle applies to personal letters and emails. No one wants to be in the position of having to abandon an initiative or handle that uncomfortable follow-up communication. Likewise, no recipient is simply too busy or too special not to reply with even the shortest response or resolution. It’s a matter of respect. 

One helpful scenario is to put yourself in the position of a salesperson continually looking for new prospects. Every day you are making contacts with the hope of closing a sale. A “yes” is a sale—you achieved your goal. A “no” isn’t exactly good news, but you can respect a quick, clear, forthright decision and move on to the next prospect. But what about that buyer who never even acknowledged your effort or attempt to communicate? For many, that’s worse than a “no.” Conclusion: You’re thrilled with the buyer that says “yes,” respect the buyer that says “no” and hold very little esteem for the buyer who ignored you.

Now let’s say you are planning a big party at your house and you send 50 invitations. Twenty couples respond that they will be attending and 10 couples decline. Now you know for sure you need to plan for 20 couples, but what about the other 20? If they all show up the party will double in size. So how much food should you prepare? How much wine should you buy? Should you call the ones who did not respond? It is a quandary for the host. Obviously, the polite thing to do is to respond promptly one way or the other. 

Courtesy is no different in the professional world. I remember an incident when Walmart opened a farm store in Kirksville, Missouri, which created real sense of concern for my company, Tractor Supply. I took the initiative to call CEO David Glass who could have easily ignored me—just a guy running a small chain of farm stores—but he chose the opposite path. He answered his phone personally and invited me to Bentonville to talk about retailing. Our meeting helped put us on a mutually beneficial path that led to Tractor Supply eventually leasing hundreds of vacant Walmart stores. We later took over their farm store. Responding paid off for both organizations.

The next time someone requests something of you, spend the few seconds (or minutes) to provide a polite response. If the request is from a salesperson, a simple “no” allows that person to move on quickly. RSVP-ing to a party invitation allows the host to plan on the right amount of food. Answering to an employee needing a little advice might make the worker’s job easier—and yours. Responding to requests is simple courtesy, and ignoring someone’s communication will only undermine your reputation as a leader.  

When a request comes your way, consider the time and courage it took to the person to prepare and send such communication. Doesn’t it deserve a response? Each thoughtful and direct reply will move a leader one rung higher on the scale of respect. 

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