Wisdom//

How to Be ‘Responsibly Responsive’

Does every comment, message, and request require an immediate response? Or one at all?

At heart, I’m a communicator. I want my words to resonate. Inspire action. Every article, page of copy, or video I create is done so with the intent of generating engagement and dialogue.

That means that when I put out content, someone is bound to comment. It follows then that that person expects a reply.

But today, in the realm of social media where things seem to move at the speed of light, sometimes a reply isn’t enough; it must be a speedy reply.

But can you truly be responsive?

And more importantly, should you?

I confess that I wrestle with this dilemma daily. Yes, daily.

To me, communication is all about connection. And when someone takes the time to reach out — in a comment, through a message, or via a connection request — I want to acknowledge them for their act of kindness and begin that relationship.

As soon as I can.

But I’ve found that this sense of urgency, though well-intended, can create massive issues.

Yes, the person on the other end of that message/comments/email/request will feel heard, but perhaps they’d still feel that way if I responded ten minutes later, or an hour later, or even the next day.

It’s like I’ve become a slave to my notifications, feeling the need to respond instantaneously.

That’s not good for me, or even those seeking a response. Because by doing so, I’m training people to expect me to be available 24/7. Nonstop. No matter the day or hour. And sometimes, things can slip through the cracks.

Case in point: just days ago, a new connection sent a semi-nasty note chiding me for lack of response:

“It doesn’t take much to thank someone for connecting like I did. Not replying lacks a common courtesy in social media.”

Ugh. My worst nightmare! In my quest to respond to a flurry of new connections, I somehow overlooked his message. Fortunately, I was able to reach out, apologize, and begin a discussion that transformed a rocky start into a genuinely warm experience, and a positive, new relationship.

The other side of responsiveness is whether to respond at all.

What do you say to a mean-spirited troll’s comment? To a sexist remark? To a creepy, lewd, or suggestive message? To a connection request that turns into an immediate sales pitch?

It still amazes me that some people think it’s okay to engage in bad behaviors behind the protection of their keyboards.

While I initially cringe at the thought of being unresponsive, some instances warrant this tactic.

And though it can be incredibly hard, I choose not to engage with those mean-spirited folks. By ignoring them, their comments will die a fast death. They lack the fuel to give life to their negativity. I believe that words have power, and I choose to use my words for good. Always.

But let’s be clear: disagreement is fine. In fact, it’s encouraged, as long as it’s done civilly and with the intent to spur discussion and greater understanding. Listening, accepting, and considering other points of view are key components of forging strong relationships where both sides can respectfully co-exist.

So, what can you learn from my experience? Here are a few things that I’m beginning to implement:

Set boundaries — and expectations

If you respond to people 24/7, they will believe that 1) it is okay to message you at all hours and 2) if you don’t respond immediately, they might feel slighted.

Avoid this by setting boundaries and expectations. For instance, instead of having your notifications constantly ping you (which disrupts your day, decreases your productivity, and produces anxiety, especially when you can’t reply at that very moment), determine and schedule specific time periods during the day to check messages and other alerts.

In his iconic work, “The Four-Hour Work Week,” Tim Ferriss preaches the benefits of creating an autoresponder email to let people know how often you check your messages (in his case, twice a day) and to let them know that if it’s urgent, to phone or text you.

(Spoiler alert: most emails aren’t that urgent.)

Ferriss argues that by setting clear expectations, you’re eliminating possible frustration from someone waiting on a response. And by communicating in this way, you are more efficient and focused with your time: when you’re responding to messages and comments, make sure to give it your full attention and resist any urge to multitask.

Be responsive, but never to trolls

The only instance where being unresponsive is the best strategy is when trolls are involved. Never allow yourself to get sucked into their negativity spiral, and instead focus on those who engage with you from a place of respect, even when disagreeing with you.

I’ve also found that communities tend to self-police, and those who spot trolls will call them out on their bad behavior, so you don’t have to.

Aim to be “responsibly responsive”

In these ways, I’m striving to be what I coin “responsibly responsive.” My hope is that by doing so, I’m able to find the sweet spot of respectful engagement, communication, and connection.

I’d love to hear about your level of responsiveness and to know more about your experiences, so feel free share in the comments below. (But please don’t be put off if I don’t acknowledge you immediately — I want to be sure that when I do, you have my full attention.)

Amy Blaschka is a branding and positioning expert who creates highly engaging content for companies and career professionals. She’d be delighted to help you, too.

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