CommunicationLeadership: Say it like a leader

What to do when you’re late to respond

By July 5, 2018August 3rd, 2019No Comments
PHOTO CREDIT: Stock Unlimited

Time is ticking by. The deadline is approaching. Your pile of action items is growing and then, much to your horror, you realize you are (again) late to respond. You’re earning yourself a reputation.

If you want tips to manage your responses on a more timely basis, read on.


“Marion, your recent newsletter about the importance of response times brought a flood of instances to mind where I was less than prompt getting back to clients. I met with a client the other day — 10 days after our initial contact. Files just pile up, not to mention having to act as team lead and fill in extra shifts while co-workers were on holiday. I find myself having to make excuses for why I haven’t contacted people sooner. I suppose the right thing to do would have been to take a few minutes to let her know I hadn’t forgotten about her.”
Signed, Overwhelmed in Edmonton

Marion’s response:

Dear Overwhelmed, you are not alone. It seems everyone these days is expected to do more with less. The proverbial “fat” has been cut so severely in some organizations, that the powers that be have succeeded in cutting into muscle. It’s difficult to live in an environment of increasing expectations and reduced resources. This type of workplace definitely puts a strain on how we communicate. Stress always does. Here are some tips to help you cope with all those items awaiting your reply:


If you’re late, apologize. It’s common courtesy. Your delay in response has likely inconvenienced someone, delayed a project, and possibly have jeopardized an event. You may not have meant to be late or non-responsive, but you still were. Pull on your big-boy or girl panties, own what you’ve done (or not done, in this case), and apologize for the headaches you may have caused.

That’s what you do in the short and immediate term. Beyond this, you’ll want to correct your habit so this doesn’t happen again or, at minimum, isn’t your regular routine. Fix it for future. Here’s how …

Manage expectations. Begin with yours.

  • You can only do what you can do. Even the most organized and productive person has a breaking point. Know what your boundaries are and when you’re approaching them, then tell yourself it’s OK to admit that you’re human. Set challenging and reasonable goals for yourself and allow some breathing and “contingency” room to get things done.

Manage expectations–theirs.

  • Once you know what your timelines and boundaries are, communicate that to the person waiting for your response. They might not like being told that you’ll be getting back to them next week instead of tomorrow. They might even be upset and disappointed. Even this is better than them thinking you’re responding tomorrow and them getting more angry by the day when you don’t respond for a week. As difficult as it may be, explain the reality. No communication at all is a void, and if you don’t fill it with information and expectation, the client will fill it with anxiety, anger, and disappointment. And those emotions destroy relationships … and business.

Meet expectations–BOTH of yours.

  • Now that you’ve set the expectations, make sure you meet them. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. It’s as simple as that. That’s how you build credibility and distinguish yourself from the competition. Much better to have a client, colleague, boss or employee dealing with a realistic expectation and you meeting it than just thinking you’re not responding at all. It lowers the stress for both of you.

For the past month or so, I’ve been shopping for “just the right” couch. I finally found one last week. It was the right colour (well, OK, it’s a tad darker than I’d like–life is full of compromises, right?), the right size (maybe just a smidgen too large, though it still fits), the right price (hey, leather’s expensive so a higher price is justifiable, isn’t it?) … and then the delivery date. What?! Eight to ten weeks? Are you kidding me? 

At first, I couldn’t believe the lengthy waiting period. We have already sold our old couches and are watching TV in the rec room downstairs while our upstairs family room is being renovated. As nostalgic as this “college dorm” look is, I wasn’t planning on two and a half months of this. Then the salesman said something that made a lot of sense. He explained, “Most other furniture places will tell you they’ll deliver in 6 to 8 weeks, but that’s just not so. We tell people 8 to 10 weeks because that’s what it really is. And if you get it early, bonus.”

He was managing my expectations.

He was absolutely right. Now I know that we’ll be a couple of months without our furniture and I’m planning on using that time to paint, refinish the floors, and choose accessories. In other words: He communicated a realistic situation and managed my expectations. I, in turn, am grateful to him for being upfront. You can use this same technique with your clients and workmates. I think this approach sets that furniture company apart from many others. You can position yourself uniquely too, just by being upfront about managing expectations. 

When you find yourself overwhelmed and simply unable to respond when you (or they) hoped, let the people know. You deserve to be relieved of undue stress and your client deserves an answer, if only to advise them when you’ll respond in full. That’s managing expectations, stress, and relationships. Allow yourself some breathing room and keep others up to date. Now, that’s worth communicating.

Until next time, here’s to …
Better communication, Better business, Better life!
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author  

© 2011-2019 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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