Why Business Communication and Responsiveness Need Clarity and Consistency

Advisory | Glenn L. Friedman | Jun 01, 2022

When the telephone was the primary mode of business communication, people would expect a call back in a day or two, depending on the nature of the call. When email became the dominant form of communication, that window to respond shortened to 24 hours at most.

When communication moved to mobile phones that are never more than an arm’s length from the owner, demand for a fast response increased. As more people became comfortable using real-time communication applications like text and direct messaging for business, real-time response became the expectation.

It doesn’t matter if that call, email, text, or direct message came at night, on the weekend, on a holiday, or during a vacation. You’re expected to respond.

Where do you draw the line?

Moving from the Wild West to Policy

Every individual is unique and some people have more patience than others, but let’s face it. We live in a society that demands instant gratification. People want what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. Business communication is no different.

Right now, most organizations work in the wild west. Anything goes.

Because we’re talking about business communication, each business should create a policy that clearly states where lines should be drawn. When you leave it to individuals or departments to set their own rules, you end up with inconsistency across the organization, which opens the door to disputes and conflict.

A policy should clearly explain:

  • Types of appropriate communication
  • How quickly a response should be expected
  • Times of day and days of the week and year that are off-limits

Will there be exceptions? You bet. If two people have a mutual understanding that communication outside the boundaries set by your policy is necessary on a temporary basis to get the job done, that’s okay. If one forces it upon another, it’s not okay.

Of course, you can also lay out exceptions that require urgent communication in your policy. Leave as little as possible to interpretation.

I admit that I’m guilty of sending emails late at night. Although I don’t expect a response until the next day, does sending an after-hours email imply that an immediate response is expected? It could. We all need to do better.

No policy should come with a wink and a nod. If the policy says no phone calls after a certain hour, that should apply to everyone.

Reinforcing Policy with Common Courtesy and Respect

Policy is important. Human beings are more important. Policy that doesn’t fully account for the impact on real people is bad policy, and policy that change behavior in a positive way won’t work.

Clearly, there’s no excuse for nagging a coworker every hour and saying, “Did you get my email? Did you get my text? How soon will you be able to get that back to me?”

By the same token, the recipient has to think about how to respond, not just when to respond. The subject of that email may not be important to you, but it could be very important to the sender.

Before firing off a dismissive, one-word response, take a second to think about why someone is contacting you and what they need from you. Consider your tone. A thoughtful, timely response could help to alleviate someone’s stress and anxiety and resolve the issue without the need for more emails.

More than anything else, show a little courtesy and compassion. Be respectful. Treat people the way you want to be treated, regardless of your title or salary.

Technology has made it easier to communicate, but one could argue that the quality of communication has never been worse, especially via email, text, and direct message. We’ve devolved from well-written letters to acronyms.

Again, the company should take the lead by offering training on communication best practices. Business communication training might include the following:

  • What to include in every communication (the purpose, what you need and why, level of urgency, etc.).
  • How to explain yourself as concisely as possible.
  • How the recipient can respond constructively and compassionately.

For example, nobody will read giant blocks of text, especially on a mobile phone. Being long-winded is just as bad as being too abrupt. People can be trained to say what needs to be said in a way that makes it clear and easy to absorb by the recipient. Better communication results in a better, faster response.

The Business Impact of Consistency in Communication and Responsiveness

Responding appropriately in terms of timing, tone, and content has a direct impact on how a business functions. People are more productive and less stressed. Work gets done faster. Teams are more cohesive and collaborative. All contribute to a better bottom line.

By the way, we haven’t even discussed communication with clients. Think about how clients would perceive you as an individual and an organization if you applied business communications best practices and basic common courtesy and respect to all client interactions.

Given the growth of mobile and remote working, business leaders need to establish policies and boundaries around communication and responsiveness. Consistency and clarity breed success in every area of an organization, and this is no exception.


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