Learning how to deal effectively with other people is one of the Solo Elite 4 Fundamentals. People skills is a broad term tossed around. What does it mean? In my opinion, it's the ability and skill to effectively build relationships with other people so that they know, like, and trust you. I want to focus on one people skill today. It's responsiveness. How responsive are you to customer inquiries and complaints? If you have employees, how responsive are you to their questions? What about your personal relationships? How responsive are you with your spouse, children, parents, siblings, close friends, church and other acquaintances? What boundaries do you have? What standards do you have? I'm going to focus this episode on helping you develop a single boundary in your communication and responsiveness. Are you always available in your business 24/7? Do you have an off switch or a boundary for personal time? What is an appropriate reply time? Let's dig in!
I need to first take you back in time. I found this article from a staffing company that is very interesting about business-as-usual before the advent of email. The article references two old-timers in corporate America. The lawyer said this. "The difference between the 1990s and today is that things move more quickly, the primary advantage being the ability to attach documents. Here today, there today. Fax machines suck, have always sucked, and will always suck. But I see the Federal Express driver a whole lot less these days." A business consultant shares her perspective. "Then, in our prior email-less world (gasp!). Mornings consisted of riffling through your inbox of hand-scribbled notes from your colleagues and phone messages from callers interpreted by an assistant. Can you imagine it? You responded by scribbling the responses and dropping them off in everyone else’s inbox. You wrote lengthy letters to clients, dropped them in the U.S. mail, and waited 7-10 days for a response. All letters were official, on letterhead, so everything was written formally. No mistakes. No sentence fragments. At this pace, the quick decisions we are accustomed to today were more than hard to come by. Modern workers, especially those who have never lived in an email-less workplace, could not imagine functioning like this. Still, just as email has solved a lot of our problems, it has undoubtedly created some as well. Messages from clients and colleagues come by email, but they are sent and opened around the clock. You are on 24/7! You write to clients as quickly, briefly, and often as informally as you do colleagues.”
The lack of technology and universally understood business hours provided built-in boundaries on our expectation of responsiveness. Everything back then was 7-10 business days when mail was concerned. This is up to 2 weeks! Can you imagine having to wait that long for a response now?! Most business communication was done formally and at much longer response times. That was normal. That allowed workers to be off the clock after they left the office. There were other forms of communication back then too. There was something called a phone and an assistant. The boundary and expectation was simple. You make a business call to the assistant of the business person you need a reply. They took a message and you would hear back within a few days. 48 hours was a reasonable expectation. If you waited longer, you'd consider it poor responsiveness. If the written communication took longer than 7-10 business days, you'd again consider this poor responsiveness. Both are bad.
There is another side of bad. Imagine it's 1970 before the invention of email. You mailed a letter desiring a response and you got one back in 3 days? What if you sent an interoffice message on paper, which you expected an answer in 2 days and got one back in 1 hour? What if you called an executive, left a phone message with their assistant, and got a personal call back in 5 minutes? You would undoubtedly be happy to have such a responsive person. But honestly, would you respect them more or less? By the way, this didn't happen in 1970. People operated by a set of productivity expectations that allowed moms and dads to be home and present with their families at night or on weekends. There are always exceptions, but not the rule.
I believe this boundary-based-business culture is gone today. I have read articles on the effect of email alone on worker's stress and anxiety levels. It's bad! Technology has ushered in new tools like texting, social media, instant messager, and so on. We are obsessed with productivity and automation. The speed of business is faster than it's ever been. People get dinged all day long on their handheld multimedia devices alerting them of everyone in the world that desires their response. And they respond immediately. The ding releases happy hormones in the brain. People can't help to check their phones! An article from Zippia shares, "The average American checks their phone 96 times per day, or once every 10 to 12 minutes. Though we actually touch our phones up to 2,617 times per day and unlock our phones 150 times on average." This was in 2022. I found a 2023 article from Elite Content Marketer, "Mobiles have become such a part of our lives that we feel uneasy if they are not around. On average, Americans check their phones 344 times per day. ie. once every 4 minutes per a survey of 1,000 adults." Is technology making our lives better? Is it growing companies faster? I would say no to both. The stock market continues to grow at the same pace in the 2020's as it did in previous decades going back over a 100 years. You would think a 100x in technology and productivity would create at least a 10x in growth. Nope. Our lives are no better. In fact, I see article after article and statistic after statistic showing the rise in distractedness. People are now available and responsive 24/7. There aren't business hours anymore. It shows in the 344 times we check our phones every day.
This is programmed into our physiology. Social media companies capitalize on the human's endorphin response to the chime of a new message or like or comment. People are subconsciously being programmed to respond instantly because it feels good. It is not 1970 anymore. Very few have set reasonable boundaries. The good news is this. You still can. I have an example. A local realtor friend of mine runs a whole team of realtors. He is very successful. Unlike most realtors that I know, he is not connected to his phone 24/7. Instead, he has a simple boundary. He will respond within 1 business day and never at nights or weekends. I called him once on a Saturday as I was figuring out a cleaning request from him. His voice mail simply stated. "Thank you for your call. I am not available after business hours or on weekends. I will respond within 1 business day. Thank you." I respected him so much more. I have another friend who has auto-responders set up while he is driving and while he takes a week off to be off the grid. They simply let me know that my friend is unavailable until a certain day or while he is driving. His phone notifications are turned off during these times. My realtor friend has all notifications turned off during non-business hours as well. This is called a responsiveness boundary.
Hopefully, I have shared enough that causes you to create boundaries for your life and family. You want family balance?! You better start here. When do you work? What are your hours? Who is allowed to contact you off hours? Who will you respond to? How fast of a response to email, text, voicemail, message, etc is appropriate to you? You need to set these boundaries or you will suffer and so will your families! This is step one! Set the boundaries.
Step two is simple. Make sure you demonstrate your stated boundaries to others or you will be considered out of alignment. You will be incongruent. You will lack integrity. Others will lose respect for you. You will be perceived as someone without good people skills. You will lose business. Here's a few examples. Let's say you pride yourself with being the most responsive person and set that boundary. Others expect a response instantly 24/7. There are companies that focus on this fast response niche. You call or message this person or company and they take 5 days to get back to you! You'd be angry and not want to do business with them, right?! Right!
Here's a second example and unfortunately, it's a personal one. We stayed in Sarasota with an AirBnB host for a month this February. The host was fantastic. She responded to every AirBnB message within minutes. She gave out her personal cell phone and we moved to text. She responded to every text within minutes. She never told me her boundaries, but I expected a fast response. This is what she demonstrated for a month. At the end of our stay, we wanted to rebook the house for February 2024. We wanted to save money and she offered to take the deal off-AirBnB to save the $800 in fees. Great deal. Here was the condition. We had to pay a deposit to hold the dates. That would apply toward the stay. If we canceled, she would refund us only when the dates were 100% booked. This was a gamble, but we wanted the house and dates. We paid the deposit. Then, we canceled the trip 3 months later in what was a tortuous decision. We're not going to Florida in 2024. We have other dreams to save for. Plus, we've already proven that the C3 business can sustain while we leave for a month. There are other goals to achieve. I texted the host to cancel. There was no communication for over 3 months and she responded in 3 minutes! That's her response time, just like before. We waited the summer out to see if the house would book. I checked with a text in late August. "Did you book the house for Feb 2024? We were hoping to get our deposit back." No response for 5 minutes. That's fine. 5 minutes is unreasonable, but not in her demonstrated boundaries. I texted a second. "When I look on AirBnB for the dates, the house doesn't come up as available." No response for 5 days! I was immediately suspicious. This isn't lining up with the host that's been responding immediately for 6 months. Is it a coincidence that the house is booked, she has our money, we want it back, and I get no response? I checked on AirBnB 5 days later. The house availability showed fully booked minus 1 day. Our arrangement was 100% refund when the house was 100% booked. I was excited. Surely, she wasn't going to hold the deposit for 1 unbooked day out of the 32 we originally booked?! I messaged her through AirBnB thinking she'd reply fast as usual, but suspicious still as my texts were 5 days unanswered. I asked for the money back. She read the messages right away. I saw that and called her out on it. I expected her to reply as she always did. She changed her tune. "Hey ken. I’ve not received your text if you’d like to try again. Sorry for that Ken I run multiple businesses I am not able to be Johnny on the spot. I’ll Be back with you today." Things got worse from there and I won't bore you guys. I don't know the status of our refund. I do know that the 32nd day was booked and we are due the full deposit. We are currently in a PayPal dispute and who knows? In another message from the host, I wanted to highlight something she said. "I'm sure you understand and a busy businessman being an immediate responder takes you away from anything else you're doing. I was being responsive and letting you know I'd be with you later that day." There it is... the point of my second example. She believes in her heart and has a boundary in her words that she is a busy business person with multiple businesses. She doesn't want to get pulled away from doing other productive things by answering immediately. I agree totally, by the way. However, her demonstrated actions and response times over a 6 month window is contrary to her words. Her words fall silent to me. They seem petty and offensive. They contradict what she actually does in practice. Then she says this at the end of a long text back. "I take pride in integrity and communication and again I apologize I missed your text last Saturday." I don't see the integrity here. I lost respect for her. I will never use or recommend any of her properties in Sarasota, FL. I can only hope to get our deposit back.
Ken, you're being too hard! You texted her on a Saturday and expected a response right away. Yep, I did. I texted her every day of the week in Florida including Sunday and the response was within 15 minutes on the average. I did expect to hear back that Saturday and worst case by Tuesday. But Ken, she may have really missed the text. Yes that's true. Anything is possible. It's totally out of character for her to miss my first text in 6 months when I asked for my money back.
My point in these examples are simple. Set your boundaries on response time and business hours. Honor them. Hold them. Be accountable to them. Otherwise, you will lose the trust of those you want to serve. It will tarnish your good name too!
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