Communication Hacking

Communication Hacking

Was it always difficult to stay in touch? Or is this a new thing?

Perhaps it’a byproduct of the Internet. Email, texting, chat, video messages. It’s moving ahead so rapidly, the protocols are evolving faster than we can memorize the terms.

If you value keeping your relationships fresh, as I do. Then it can be a bit troubling to feel like it has become harder to just write a note to a friend or colleague and trust they’ll respond.

Lots of testing and analysis on this subject has concluded that people are too distracted. You can’t send an email with more than 5 sentences and expect a response. Chances are it was too long to read, so the recipient set it aside for later, and then 80% of the time the recipient forgets to reply. Probably because they got another 30 emails since they first opened yours, and there are already new emails to read later which will mostly be forgotten as well.

What a wonderful world.

This being the case, the best way to get a response to an email if a response isn’t received within 48 hours of sending, is to send a follow up. And if the follow up doesn’t get a response, or perhaps it does, but the response is just a “yes I plan to get back to you today” kind of message, then after 48 hours another follow up message can do the trick. And so it goes. After the 4th or 5th follow up an “ok I’ll assume you’re not interested or are in some serious trouble, should I call for help?” is probably an acceptable bow out.

See, the way people process the messages they receive is fragmented. If they get a message that requires more than a basic response like “[Message] ‘do you like ice cream?’ [Response] yes I like ice cream”.  The recipient will need to take more time to think about it. They will look at the email many times, even up to 20 or more if question in the email contains conditional issues.  And the more time that is needed [the more that is asked in a message] the greater the chance the message will never be responded to.

An email like “Do you want to meet for drinks in a couple weeks?” Is simple. This can be responded to almost immediately, spare maybe a glance at the calendar. It might take the recipient 3-5 views of the email to reply. Once to see it, once more after checking the calendar, but not yet ready to respond. And then finally a third time (we’d hope) to say yes “I am free, what day works for you?”.  If the recipient has multiple calendars, and possibly pending engagements with other people, the amount of views before being able to response increases, as does the likelihood they will ever reply.

Add more layers on complications, and the number of views increases, to the point where, unless the recipient is highly motivated to make the plan, you may have just overwhelmed them, and you won’t hear back unless they are worried about offending you, which generally might just create a “sorry I’m way to busy right now, let me get back to you”. This cop out, is really just a way of saying “It is too difficult for me to analyze your request and provide a respectable response back”. Sadly many people are too busy these days too, but they’ve just defaulted to not replying if it isn’t super easy to do so. Apparently, not responding to emails just doesn’t count as a diss in the modern world. It’s not a diss to ignore someone if we like their photos on Facebook right? (sarcasm)

In work settings: when dealing with these situations, there may be motivation to respond and work through complicated requests via email, from colleagues and potential partners out of the sheer desire to keep their jobs/business positive. But this context doesn’t automatically generate immunity to failure, and if the recipient has nothing obvious to lose by ignoring your message–even if they have nothing agains’t you–then you may also be out of luck, simply because they will have more time for other pressing issues by ignoring you.

This last topic, communicating with people who don’t have a strong motivation to respond, in fact we can say, they are the recipients who stand to lose time by responding to a pitch email, is the most difficult and a really big focus for me. A fool proof solution does not exist, however repetition, simplicity, and a positive manner can go a long way.

How do we keep the 2 way messages flowing? If single sentence emails are the most response friendly, yet least able to carry the information needed to get the next step.  How do we pitch and not scare?

I’ve taken to experimenting with automatic reminders. The idea is basic, I track all emails I’ve sent in the last two days. If I haven’t gotten a response on day #2, I write a reminder, or continuation of the last email, but always maximum 1 sentence in length, and the reminder shouldn’t somehow add information, this would add complexity, adding additional time for the recipient to process or decide not to at all. Then I schedule the reminder email to be sent in 2 days or less depending on the urgency of the communication, only if the recipient doesn’t respond to the original message first. 

This works. It probably wont work forever, in an ever evolving world of communication, we adapt to stimuli by decreasing our tolerance for interruption. And if too many people use the same method, the results will have diminishing returns. So then what?

What ever it takes.