One of the constant frustrations for many professionals is having to follow up again and again to resolve matters. None of us like to be nagged, and I doubt too many get pleasure out of nagging others. Constantly following up wastes time, consumes mental energy that can better be allocated elsewhere, and can damage trust and collegiality. Tempers can run short on both sides of a dysfunctional relationship when nagging is the mode of operation.
Here are some tips for setting your nag threshold at zero so that coworkers, bosses, vendors, customers, and others can rely on you to handle matters the first time:
- Communicate – Listen to the concerns that are expressed by your business counterparts. Ask open-ended questions to get to the root cause of the matter. Don’t jump to conclusions or seek out quick and easy fixes, but recognize the variables and ambiguity of each scenario. Sometimes the problem solving process takes time, and it is important to communicate all along the way.
- Provide updates – Along with the previous consideration, be sure to proactively let others know where the issue stands. If you do this before they ask, by definition no nagging will ever come into play. Perhaps you are waiting on information from another person or organization. Let your counterparts know that you have followed up, that you have so far handled the matter to the extent that you could, that you will keep pressing for answers, and when they can expect the next update.
- Don’t dish off – I recently had a representative from a well-known national managed services provider tell me several times that she had passed my matters off to different groups in her organization. Evidently those groups had the same lack of excitement to handle my problems as she had. She had not previously demonstrated a satisfactory level of understanding about the problems I brought up, so I asked to speak with members of one of those groups. Her response was that the group did not have a “call center” to interface directly with customers. So I pointed out that she was the only contact I had with the organization, and as far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter which group was supposed to solve my problem. She was the person I had access to speak with and was relying on to handle client concerns, so the problems were squarely on her plate. She did not give a good impression for her organization because she did not take ownership of my problem that I was relying on her to solve. She did not follow the steps of communicating, following up, and working the matter to full resolution.
- Manage expectations – If you tell someone you intend to have information to them in three days but that becomes impossible for some reason, don’t wait until day four or even day three to mention this. Manage expectations all along the way as soon as new information is available. Your counterpart might be relying on you for the information on day 3, but if you can provide an update on day 2, the counterpart might be able to readjust in time to avert a crisis. Anytime we can know what to expect so as to avoid problems, even if it means making adjustments to previous plans, we’ll take it.
Showing a consistent pattern of taking responsibility will enable people to rely on you. Because reliability is a rare commodity, you will be that much closer to making yourself indispensable in your key business relationships.