How do you deal with unresponsive colleagues?

When you send an email or leave a voicemail for someone, do you ever feel like you are shouting into a black hole? You put your request out into the world, then sit with your fingers crossed at your desk, waiting for a prompt reaction. But all isn’t lost! Here are a few ways to deal with colleagues who are unresponsive and get what you need.

  1. Chill. Might it be that certain departments or management that you don’t know about have some burden on their shoulders? Take a moment to get acquainted with what they do and also with what is required of them.

2. Oh, be empathic.

It may simply be that given that they have a million other items on their plate, your request is a lower degree of significance for them. Like you, only. That, really, you can’t blame them for. You do think that your dilemma is the most critical one at present. Everyone we do. They could even wait for someone on their own and get just as irritated as you are.

3. On their calendar, schedule time.

Submit a 15-minute meeting request, or work with the assistant of the person (if they have one) to get a short block of time on their calendar. Then, when you sit right in front of the person, you can ask for what you need.

4. Make it simple for the individual to give you a fast answer.

Some individuals put off responding to requests because it seems time-consuming and they think they’re going to do it later (and then sometimes just never come back to it). By making it very easy for them to give you a fast answer, you can sometimes head this off.

Try to ask yes / no questions, for instance, so the individual can easily answer. (One thing that helps is to offer a fast suggestion and “does that sound okay to you?” instead of an open-ended “what should we do about X?”) And keep short emails so that the individual doesn’t have to wade through dense paragraphs.

5. Propose a plan of action that you can take before you hear back.

In all cases, this won’t work, but it’s always nice to say “If I don’t hear back from you by Monday, I’m going to recommend X to the customer so that we remain on track” (or send the file to the printer, or book the tickets, or whatever makes sense in context).

The trick to doing this is that you have to give the person a fair period of time to respond; it is not acceptable “if I don’t hear back within an hour” unless it’s a genuine emergency. When using this tactic, you typically need to give at least a few days so that the person really has time to say, “No, don’t do that.” (And, of course , make sure that your message is not hidden in a long email they may not even read.)

6. Try a new communication process.

Often I speak to people who complain that their emails are never answered by a coworker, but when I ask if they have attempted to call or speak in person, the answer is no. Although yes, individuals should respond to their emails, it’s time to find another mode of communication if you need a response from someone who doesn’t. Pick up your computer, and see if it fixes that.

7. Ask the person directly on how you can do it.

If you chronically have trouble obtaining answers from others, ask for their help! Say something like, “I’ve found that I just don’t hear from you about requests I’m sending in an email-is there something you’d like me to do differently when I have things I need from you?”

This will at least draw the attention of the individual to the issue, but you will also get input that you can use, such as that their inbox is overflowing and you can pause for something important in person, or that you can flag action items in the subject line, or they can field emails in the mornings more easily, or who knows what else. Raise (politely) the question and ask!

Check out my related post: How to manage upwards?

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