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How to Communicate with Non-Responsive People (3 Minute Read)

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You’ve sent an email to that client or customer multiple times, and you haven’t received an answer.

Or you’ve called someone, and left more than one message (or found their voice mail box to be full.)

You may have even resorted to sending snail mail, to no avail.What do you do now? The fact remains, that some people are just not responsive. They are either overwhelmed (i.e. the voice mail box that is full), they don’t have systems in place to manage their communications, they don’t have the answers you need or they don’t want to have the conversation you need to have.

While that may explain their lack of action, it doesn’t help YOU get what you need. So instead, try these ideas:

Try a different form of communication.

If all you have been doing is emailing, try calling. Or texting. Or using a social media messaging app you know they use. Go see them in person if they work in your proximity. Maybe their email isn’t working properly (I once experienced an increase of legit emails going into my SPAM box over a period of time…it happens.)  Maybe they got a new phone. Try one or two other ways to communicate.

Determine if you can move on without a response.

While not ideal, is it possible you can let go of involving this person at all? In many cases, perhaps you can.  Even if they owe you money, you can decide if the time and effort in reminding them repeatedly is worth it. Would you pay yourself your hourly rate to keep beating down the door of this matter? If not, move on, if for nothing else than your own peace of mind.

Involve a Higher-Up

If it’s a work situation, go to the next level of management to ask for their help/advice about the problem. Sadly, rank still has effect on getting people to do their work. If other means have failed, talk to the next level.

If you decide to move on, do one last courtesy communication.

In this communication, succinctly state that you have not been able to reach them for a ______ period of time (be as specific as you can be) and that you have decided to _____________.  This way they have a record of what is going to move forward without them, and you have documentation if you need it.

Phrases you can use:

If I do not hear back by DATE I will assume I have your approval to move forward.

If I do not receive payment by DATE I will turn this over to a collection agency.

I have decided to move forward without this payment, despite my disappointment that we could not resolve this matter appropriately.

So as not to be a bother, this is a one-time (or final) follow up on ________________.

Be willing to leave the ball in their court.

Once you’ve let go of involving this person, truly let go mentally and emotionally. This is harder than it sounds, particularly if you have been burned or you still cross paths with them regularly or happen to be connected on social media.  But for your own peace of mind, retrain your thoughts about that person. For example, instead of seething with frustration when you think about the past matter, or their pattern of non-responsiveness, just remind yourself, “Unfortunately, I can’t involve that colleague/friend/family member in projects/initiatives such as this” or “This customer must pre-pay for services any time in the future.”

Set up systems to circumvent non-responsiveness in the future.

Move to pre-pay retainers in your business if you can. Tell people up front that if you don’t hear back by a certain time, you will take the next step.  Set yourself up to clear the non-responsive hurdles from the get go by being gracious and assertive in the beginning.

It’s very frustrating to deal with non-responsive people, but you can’t control them. Instead focus on approaches that will help you get your work done while retaining your peace of mind.

What steps do you need to take today to handle a non-responsive person?