“As we are, so we do; and as we do, so is it done to us; we are the builders of our fortunes.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about our pet peeves, values and what is next for us in our lives. While we have very different personalities and see the world in our own unique ways, we share similar values and, lately and unfortunately, the same experiences when it comes to humans.
More specifically, our experience with the lack of responses.
Granted, our experiences are subjective and therefore bias but nonetheless, we came up with a number of examples. We are very good friends, thus having the freedom, permission and courage to call each other out and name BS where it is called for.
Interestingly enough, we covered a range of topics, scenarios and life moments that, truth be told, left us rather deflated and, if I may say so, sad.
And yes, we took and are taking this personal as, well, it happened and happens to us.
However, to not go down the rabbit hole of feeling unworthy, unappreciated or even insulted, we explored the why next – not from the perspective of why us, but why are we experiencing the lack of responses more and more.
Is courtesy truly uncommon and is the decay of decency already among us?
Trying to shift our perspectives to what we are doing in our lives, how often we do not respond to others nor reply to emails or voicemails or simply forget to get stuff done, we pretty quickly agreed that, yes, we live in an era of overwhelm, distractions, information and request overflow. To-do lists, chores, bucket list items and commitments are piling up while making a living and living a fulfilling life itself.
Next up we looked at it through a professional and personal lens, which turned out to be an eclectic mixed bag.
On the personal level, meaning family, friends and loved ones, we were happy to report that we are grateful and blessed and that it really is a give and take. And yes, it is not always 50/50 and a give is not always followed by an instant take, but overall the universe is balanced and, for the most part, reliable while it still comes with its unique challenges.
This left us with courtesy and decency in the professional world, and oh boy, let me set the stage by saying that the balance is far from being in a good shape.
I will not lie, this part was a tough one to discuss as it meant to stay open-minded to feedback, yet vulnerable and, to the best of our efforts, as objective as possible.
“Politeness costs nothing and gains everything.” – Lady Montague
First, we talked about keeping up with our network, former colleagues, clients and acquaintances who you formed relationships with. This was a painful lesson learnt for me last year. Having just started my own business, I set out to contact former colleagues and customers I cared for and respected to share my news and a request to reconnect and catch up.
If you had asked me to name the top and bottom 10 to reply to my emails and to bet my house on it, I would not be living in my house anymore. Here is the thing, did it surprise me, yes, did it hurt me, hell yeah. Why? Because while I did not expect a reply within 24 hours nor 2 weeks, I was struck by the nothingness. While some might have read my email as a consulting pitch (which it wasn’t meant to be) and did not want to catch up over a call, a simple, even if overused, ‘Best of luck’ one-liner wasn’t in the cards either.
I fully understand that life happens and that, while having the best intention to reach out to someone, we all simply do forget many time. I am guilty of forgetting myself. But the nothingness continued even after reaching out a second time.
Next up, we dove into the world of recruitment and being out there in the job market.
Now, we all – almost daily – read how tight the labor market is with everyone competing for top talent, how tough it is to find skilled and experienced employees and how employers are struggling with being ghosted by employees or job candidates. The experiences my friend shared at this point left me frankly speechless. While it might be common to not even get a reply from a company or recruitment firm on the initial or unsolicited application as there might be a gazillion people going for the job, I was baffled to hear about the lack of follow up after an interview or after checking in with the recruiter weeks later. What does this say about a company or a recruitment firm, what standards does it set forth and how does it correlate with the aforementioned tense labor market?
Indulging in our third cup of coffee, we exchanged battle stories of our corporate and entrepreneurial lives, talking about the repercussions if we hadn’t replied to customers and clients almost instantly, answering their questions, attending to their very needs and solving any problem on the spot.
And no, keeping the job and getting paid for it weren’t our drivers, but providing customer service and extending common courtesy were and still are.
This, however, brought us closer to a potential why. The constant firefighting, the creation of the uber-urgency tied to all and everything and the inability to set sensible and meaningful priorities due to a constant pull from all sides have not helped the cause of staying human and putting humans first.
So, quite naturally, books and ted talks about setting boundaries are all the rage.
And yes, it is important to draw a line in the sand and decide what is important, what is mandatory, what is a nice to have and what is utterly irrelevant, especially for the sake of sanity and living life instead of sacrificing it.
However, boundaries should never be used as excuses for the lack of action and decency.
I don’t believe people are behaving like this intentionally, otherwise it would be a bleak outlook.
And quite frankly, not replying doesn’t even help the stress-level of the person who isn’t replying.
Now that I am thinking about it, this was probably the birthplace of why a sales person needs to reach out at least 6 times to beat a prospective client into submission and close the deal.
To be clear, I am not talking about the flood of unsolicited reach outs or emails that arrive in everybody’s inbox or phone day in and day out. These are not the human connections I am talking about.
What I am talking about is the lack of response and courtesy after being asked to invest time, effort and energy into drafting a presentation or providing value or after making verbal commitments.
My friend pointed out that this might actually be a cultural issue and that many people have a hard time saying no to other people as they don’t want to hurt others or even worse need to explain themselves when saying no.
With both of us pondering over thought, we just shook our heads and said that this is also not an excuse, especially in the professional world.
Because if someone request anyone, a supplier or an employee, to deliver something, it should not take 6 follow-ups for someone to reply and provide feedback or make a decision.
It should not take a leadership workshop to teach how to have crucial conversations.
What it takes is integrity and appreciation for someone else’s work and time – basic human values.
Without paper, signatures and notaries, you still enter a contract – a human contract based on respect, accountability and honesty.
At least a no is something definite, the end of a chapter and the signal to move on and start afresh, a permission to let go and make peace and keep on growing and learning.
Nothingness is like a vacuum. And ghosting is the perfect word – just like a ghost, being left without any response, keeps haunting you without the desire to keep on chasing the silence for a reply – no matter what the experts say.
By the way, my horoscope by Co-Star (fabulous app!) that day said, ‘Sometimes all you can do is kick the can down the road.’.
And that is what my friend and I will continue to do.
Because we believe that common courtesy and decency are still alive but strangely hidden.
And because when you least expect it something unexpected happens, such as receiving a personal note and response from a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company who I have never met before. And yes, these two sentences made my day and make me a believer that there still is common courtesy and decency amongst human beings.
“When the norm is decency, other virtues can thrive – integrity, honesty, compassion, kindness, and trust.” – Raja Krishnamoorthi
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