Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Proactive Steps You Can Take Should Colleagues Leave You Hanging

It happens to the best of us, especially those of us who are in charge of anything. Anything like a project or a newsletter, or a blog, or a publication, or an event. Someone you were relying on is late, or nonresponsive, or seems to have suddenly left the country, or for that matter, the world. You did your part - explained to them what you needed and the deadline. They said "no problem," and that was - well - let's just say it was a while ago.

When I was the communications manager of a national healthcare organization, we had a new board of directors every year, and each year, there were always a variety of problems getting the materials submitted that we were supposed to receive.  One trick that always worked: let them know you're publishing their photo. No one wants their photo published next to a blank column!

Anyone who has assigned a guest blog post, or a book chapter, or a newsletter column to someone else, knows that terrible sinking feeling when the article or blog or photo or video clip or whatever it is, does not appear, and you're left with only that "Bermuda Triangle" of your inbox.

Here are 5 tips on what to do when you're not hearing back from the person you need to:

1. If you want to save time on e-mail, that's fine, but you need to be urgent about it. If your tone is too casual, the person won't think it's so important. I find using the word "concerned" in the subject line really helps get the person's attention. For example, the subject line would read: "concerned I have not heard back from you..." This has worked for me on several occasions so that I could progress happily along in my project.

2. Pick up the phone. In this age of social media when everyone is used to tweeting and pinging, sometimes we forget how to pick up the phone. Yup, it's the regular old phone approach, and if you're lucky, you'll get the person live. Be straight with them and ask them when they realistically can turn in the project they owe you.  Also, give them an out. There's nothing worse then waiting for something that never appears, and if you know this in time, you can fix the situation. If you end up having to leave a message, again, use that word, "concerned." Most people appreciate the fact that you called and will get right on it. In many cases, people have just plain forgotten they owed you something, or else they had an unforseen conflict.

3. Have a backup plan. This can mean anything from having an alternate story, article, or blog post lined up that you can use instead; to pushing up your deadlines significantly so you have time to assign another writer; to being willing to jump in yourself and cover something originally assigned to someone else.

4.  Don't make the same mistake twice. If you gave someone a chance to collaborate with you and they flaked out on you for no reason, don't make the mistake of giving them another chance without a really good reason. If they didn't have the good sense to communicate with you the first time that they needed more time, or that they had a problem with the project for some reason, chances are they will not have miraculously changed overnight. Move on and give the next person a chance.

5. Check their social media posts. If the person you have engaged is active on social media, chances are they are reliable communicators and will publish a post or tweet explaining if something significant has happened in their lives that has kept them from communicating. If they are active as usual with a continuous stream of posts and tweets, they have no excuse for not keeping their commitment to you.

A word of caution. Social media is not a place to admonish people in person. If you are having a conflict with someone, take it offline immediately and communicate with them privately. It's the classy thing to do.

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