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The Golden Rule of Communication

August 31, 2009

Quick quiz to start off the school year: which scenario would you prefer?

  1. You need to contact someone for some reason — you send an email, leave a phone call, explain the urgency of your request.  And…nothing.
  2. Or…you make a few attempts at contact, the person you are trying to reach responds and continues the dialog you started or they tell you they can’t help/aren’t interested/don’t want to pursue the discussion?

My guess is most of us would choose scenario 2.

Yet, too often we’re all left hanging in limbo under scenario 1.  You’d think technology would make it easier to connect to someone, but it seems that it’s only gotten harder.  For one thing, if you send an email that goes unanswered or unacknowledged, is it because your recipient doesn’t want to talk with you, is too busy to respond, isn’t interested…or is it that they never received your email at all?

Voicemail — same problem.  Faxes are also subject to this challenge.

So you might say, “Just pick up the phone and CALL.” Talk with the person face-to-face.  But how many times have you seen a call come in, you just don’t want to answer it now or don’t want to talk with the person now, and you just let it go to voicemail?  I think we all have. I know I’m guilty of that.

If you’ve made several attempts over a period of time, using a variety of methods, you can probabaly feel pretty confident that your comminqués have been received — your recipient just doesn’t want to return your contact.

That’s rude. Plain and simple.  We have allowed technology and our busy lives to become an excuse for not communicating.  It’s much kinder, and more professional or considerate, to just TELL the person why you aren’t interested/are too busy/can’t help/aren’t able to participate…anything other than just continuing to ignore them and hope they go away.

If you’re not sure that this is the better way, ask yourself: “if it were ME, how would I want to be treated?”  Most of us would rather be let down than to keep calling, following up, checking in, ad nauseum.  That makes people feel pesky, but they’re also worried that if they just drop the contact attempts, the recipient will feel ignored.

Communication requires TWO parties — one to initiate and one to respond.  Whether you are the one initiating or the respondent, consider the effect your verbal, written, or non-verbal communication leaves on the other party.  Silence may be golden in some cases, but not when it comes to interacting with others.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heidi permalink
    August 31, 2009 1:57 pm


  2. September 3, 2009 11:38 am

    Actually the golden rule of communication is “treat others the way they want to be treated.” As long as we think of our preferences as the correct one for someone else, there is a greater opportunity for miscommunication.

    The scenario you mention of someone being non-responsive would be acceptable in high context cultures,such as China, where not getting an answer is a very clear answer. Gen Y would much rather get a text or email than have to sit through a face to face communication. The Baby Boomer would probably prefer the more personal interaction.And don’t even get me started on the different communication styles of men and women!! Audience awareness is the best way to make sure your message gets across

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