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How to Be Awesome at Followup

How to Be Awesome at Followup

    Photo by Marloes

    Most people are unexceptional at following up: it sounds obvious, but it shouldn’t be this way, because followup (I spell it as a single word) is key to combining smaller achievements into bigger ones. Actively following up on conversation is also a trait of people who’re successful, focused, and relentless about living their dreams. Lofty yet elegant — and if you excel at followup, you can be sure to incite delight wherever you go, too.

    “Correspondences are like smallclothes before the invention of suspenders; it is impossible to keep them up.” -Sydney Smith

    Here’s how I do it. You’ll need to find ongoing processes that work for you, but the main ideas are easy to get into!

    Don’t be the first to reply (or at least, give it a little while)

    This sounds counterintuitive. Say you get a work email Cc:ed to you and several other colleagues. Should you reply right away? Unless you’ve already thought of a sure answer and/or it’s time-sensitive, likely no. Let it “stew” and even wait for someone else to reply first — you can star it in Gmail and check the thread a day or so later.

    Why? First, you’ll be less rushed. That much is clear. Second, by letting it simmer, your mind will have more space to digest the contents. You’ll be able to sleep on it, and if it’s really a memorable email you need to give input on, your feedback will be richer and more worthwhile than something concocted in haste. Third, you can also thank the person(s) who did reply first for chiming, and consider their ideas — if they said what you had in mind, you save time, too.

    A day isn’t too long anyway, and plenty of time to still be responsive. Try it!

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    (Granted, this won’t work if all your coworkers read this… you may want to keep it a secret! ;) )

    Be a batch-processing, pirate-ninja hybrid

    Some people say ninjas are the awesomest. Others will argue it’s pirates. I like to consider what would happen if you combined both their traits: the sleek stealth of a ninja paired with the skilled sailing of a pirate.

      Photo by hober

      What do you get? Well, it doesn’t sound as exciting as life on the high seas assassinating renegade ronin, but here’s what I mean:

      When you get cool links shared with you, be they viral videos or articles of interest, they can be time-suckers and distractions from making progress on what you’re doing now. Sure you wanna check those links out, but not yet. Instead of jumping on them right away, I use Firefox 3’s star icon on the location bar (aka “awesomebar”) to bookmark each page with a single click to an Unsorted Bookmarks folder. You can access it later by going to Bookmarks menu > Organize Bookmarks, as this lovely video tutorial will show you:

      This is exactly what I’ve been doing for several weeks, and I find myself a nice berth on the weekends to chillax and peruse through one link after another. I get deeper into the content. Some are blog posts which merit a comment from me (a type of followup). Others are clips I want to pass around. And the rest which aren’t worth my time? They get deleted and forgotten. Which is fine.

      Related suggestion: save up video clips to watch on TV. I do this with my wife: we unsubscribed from cable and line up YouTube & friends’ madness to watch at dinner (and other times). With a DVI to video cable, we connected a MacBook Pro to our TV. Not only did it save us money, it makes us less passive selectors of what we consume, and raises the quality of our entertainment. And sparks discussion and sharing — followup!

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      By creating an intense, focused space for all this material, it places your experiences directly in-context of being receptive to both absorbing and feeding back information.

      Clip it… to remind yourself!

      There’s no end of to-do reminder programs out there. My means are simple: I use Google Desktop’s To Do gadget (included with default install) which always sits on the left-hand sidebar of one of my dual monitors.

        I quickly jot down short phrases when I’m in a rush, then have the leisure of expanding on it later — you and even drag-and-drop to recorder, and affix manual [TAGS] for visual ease. By now, you’re noticing this and the previous 2 sections are about you controlling time.

        In addition to bookmarks, I use Firefox’s Scrapbook add-on for saving parts of webpages to read offline and refer to later (it has a handy annotation feature which can highlight passages but I don’t use that), and EverNote (the offline app, not the version 3 beta). My point being: you don’t need the most feature-filled tools, just ones you habituate to using regularly.

        For time-specific, recurring stuff, you’ll want to set up alarms and appointments. I use Google Calendar to remind me when to pay the bill and when I might expect mail-in-rebates to arrive (so I can call if they don’t) — and oh yeah, it’s very nice that Google Desktop also has a Calendar gadget which shows me the day’s events. It’s unintrusive, clean, and saves me daily refreshes of the Gcal webpage, which is what most people do. Don’t be most people.

        I’m also searching for a simple, cheap, spontaneous voice recorder. Got suggestions? This may be overkill for some folks, but if you’re like me and have ideas sprouting out at odd hours of the day, you’ll want to capture those sprouts because your creativity is worthwhile.

        Respond to the best

        What the heck does that mean? Simply, pay attention to remarkable, amazing comments. And thankfully I’ve seen a lot of them on Lifehack, like Shanel Yang’s. ;) Not all comments are equal and most aren’t worth followup, as a casual glance of YouTube vs. Flickr can show.

        But when there are:

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        • Eclectic questions you’ve never heard before (consider making a FAQ out of the ones you do get often)
        • Knowledge that adds to the value of your or someone else’s post and makes it that much more useful, and
        • Observations which have a inimitable brand of humor…

        That’s what you’re going to remember. Those words, connected to those people, is what’s worth continuing a discussion for.

        The simple reason is: those people are more likely to followup with you, teaching you applicable knowledge and making you smile. The best followup, as all healthy relationships are, is reciprocal. Give and take. If you’re drained without inspiration, you won’t have the attitude and enthusiasm to followup.

        Don’t force yourself to be social, it serves no earnest purpose and will eventually be forgotten anyway in the sea of the Internet. Time, once spent, is always depleted. If you get a lot of thank-you’s for something you posted, don’t be pressured to type a different thank-you to each and everyone. You could, if you’re imaginative and feeling lively. But don’t force it out — flow.

        You’ll learn from experience, as I have over 10,000s of forum posts and blog comments (and having earned distinguished status like being a Lifehacker star), what followup you get in kind.

        Use subscribe/keyword reminders whenever possible

        Obvious but underused, in my anecdotal experiences asking people if they utilize ’em.

        Don’t be passive: seek out integrated reminder systems! Many different web services have various implementations. You may be a forum poster accustomed to vBulletin’s subscription system, or you may use email/RSS alerts (different ways of getting the same info) on a money-saving site like dealnews.com — which is a lucid way of following up on an item you’ve wanted to buy for awhile, but think it should be cheaper. Give it time and you’ll be pinged when the price drops — Price!pinx is another tool that can help you.

        I also have a bookmark folder in Firefox called “Waiting for Answers“. It’s a very special one, and I drop links to questions I’ve asked on forums, blogs, etc. I detest when the trail goes cold to my curiosity, and I check this folder every few days. If longer than a couple weeks goes by without a reply, I’ll post a reminder to “bump” things up. Stuff resolved to my satisfaction of course gets a thank-you, and the bookmark is placed in a subfolder titled “ANSWERED”.

        Also useful for customer support tickets!

        Don’t say “Let’s do lunch sometime” if you don’t mean it

        This is mainly about your offline life: “false followup” is worthless.

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        Don’t tell a new acquaintance you want to have coffee at some indefinite point in the future if in your heart, you won’t.

        Some will argue “this is being polite”. I’ll clarify that politeness means not lying to someone if you have no intention of keeping a commitment. There are many other things you can say, and the easiest of all is saying nothing at all and smiling.

        Economy of words frees your energy for acting on things that matter more.

        Indulge in necessary terseness

        It’s better to be pithy than, well, something rude which almost rhymes.

        Followup is largely about (conversation) flow, and tl;dr work against being an effective communicator. Be colorful, be engaging, but don’t be boring. Like music, have a sense of dynamics, don’t engage in loudness wars.

        Instead of monolithic, gargantuan writings, divide ideas into sections or multiple installments, as we’ve seen from some of my fellow Lifehack contributors. That has the benefit of attracting ongoing readers and allowing them to digest your opinion. Again, it’s about controlling your time.

        “Chop the slop!” -Torley

        If the above wasn’t what you expected yet you’ve come away with some fresh recipes for followup, awesome indeed!

        Unleash your experiences in the comments and let me know what you’re thinking… and are going to followup on.

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        Last Updated on April 11, 2019

        How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

        How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

        Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

        I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

        I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

        Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

        How Communication Skills Help Your Success

        Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

        Create a Positive Experience

        Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

        When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

        What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

        Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

        As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

        Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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        Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

        Help Leadership Skills

        It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

        Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

        As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

        Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

        If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

        Build Better Teams

        Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

        In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

        If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

        When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

        Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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        How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

        There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

        Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

        1. Listen

        Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

        Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

        People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

        Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

        Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

        2. Know Your Audience

        Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

        Here is a good way to think about it:

        Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

        You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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        3. Minimize

        I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

        He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

        Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

        State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

        The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

        4. Over Communicate

        So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

        What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

        Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

        Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

        Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

        There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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        5. Body Language

        The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

        When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

        In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

        When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

        Conclusion

        Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

        Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

        There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

        Now go communicate your way to success.

        More Resources About Effective Communication

        Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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