8 Dreaded Words? “I’ll follow-up and get back to you”

It has become the dreaded phrase you don’t want to hear; “I’ll follow-up and get back to you”

Gosh It's... Bad Manners

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Why? Because when you hear that phrase you know that 90% of the people you deal with won’t get back to you.

I’ve stopped chuckling when I get the email from someone with whom I’m scheduled to meet (“Are we still on to meet at 2 PM tomorrow”) because I realize we live in a world where people, rather than do as they say they’re going to do, do as they say they won’t.

There’s the person from Atlassian who met with me for 50 minutes recently, leaving with “I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks.” When I followed up a month later he wrote back “About the looping back. There have been some personal challenges that took me away from the office for some time. Of course I should have written a quick note – and could have – and I’m frustrated with myself for not doing that in a timely manner. I apologise.

Or the the comment from a interviewee from some 360 degree interviews I was conducting for an exec coaching client who said, “Sadly, she is the exception to the rule – she does what she says she is going to do. She gets things done.

The downside of not doing what you say you’re going to do? Three thoughts:

  1. It’s a small world. You get a reputation as undependable, and unreliable. My friend Wendy Yanowitch’s comment (“The world is made up of 6 people and lots of mirrors.”) is largely true; you are a degree or two of separation from 80% of people with whom you relate and work. There is little room to run and hide and don’t deceive yourself; people really talk and people notice.
  2. You’re not so efficient. It’s hard work battling people who follow-up expecting you do do what you said you’re going to do. Time spent avoiding phone calls, ducking people in hallways or wading through emails you don’t intend to returns sucks time away from stuff you want to do, and actually might do – even if it’s just goofing off.
  3. People start cutting you out. Your phone stops ringing, and you no longer get that email asking for your help. If you’re a consultant, your business suffers. If you’re an employee, your role with your name on it suddenly has a large “expendable” colored circle around it.

So apart from good manners, it’s simply smart to do what you’re going to do. And who wants to be thought of as stupid?

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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