How many email addresses do you have? And how many inboxes on top of that? And how many slack channels do you monitor? And WhatsApp groups? Telegram messages? iMessage or plain vanilla text? Group-specific, preferred platforms?
My parents use Viber, my cousins Facebook Messenger, my Norwegian mates Snapchat.
And social media platforms? Twitter and LinkedIn and insta and and and and…
Have you ever ended a day with clear decks? No pending messages, no blinking notifications, no backlog of things you haven’t even looked at yet? No matter how unimportant?
And does the backlog of things you haven’t gotten round to responding or even looking at seem to be getting worse with every passing week of lockdown?
Now that our personal, family and work lives are all streamed. Video chats, messages, emails and texts.
Your entire life is screen time, endless, unbroken screen time.
And you are a captive audience anyway, because where is there to go? Work, school, entertainment or time with friends is all screen time. And since you are there, you are bombarded. By all and sundry.
How many times a day do you get an unsolicited email asking you to jump on a “quick call”? How many LinkedIn messages do you get, off the same person, asking for time without even bothering to get your name right?
How many reminders did you get that your clubhouse invite will expire and how many passive aggressive notes did you get from the people who invited you to clubhouse about the fact that this was special and they wasted it on you, ungrateful thing that you are? And how many times did you say I don’t need any more noise in my life?
I don’t need another newsletter. I don’t need another inbox. I don’t need another WhatsApp group. I don’t need another thing to monitor.
I don’t need another call. Definitely not “to explore” if there is a reason to have a call. So if you need a call with me, if you need some of my time, some of my energy, then it’s on you to make it easier for me to give you that. Don’t demand it.
Be thoughtful. Be kind. Take a step back. Think.
Be kind, rewind
Lockdown is almost a year old and its cumulative toll on our mental health is considerable and digital overload is part of the strain.
Screen time is pervasive and draining. And constant.
Being cooped up at home, lonely or with no headspace because of juggling a job, homeschooling and fear.
With family far away or way too close.
Nobody is having a good time of it even among those who have it good, the uncomplaining and the fortunate.
We are all experiencing strain.
Our patience is fraying, our concentration is fraying. And we are not helping each other.
About a month ago, I had a call with an industry contact who suggested introducing one of his guys to one of my guys. A few weeks later the sent an email intro. In his own time and no issues there. It wasn’t urgent for either of us.
His man emailed on the back of it. A day or two later. As I said, not urgent.
And then emailed again the following morning to put his entirely non urgent, non-time-critical note, in his own words, “at the top of my inbox”. Less than 24 hours later. Because now he was ready for this to happen, whatever it was.
You know what will happen? Nothing.
You know what should have happened? He should have rewound before hitting send. He should have thought: is this helpful or is it noise?
You know what could have happened? I could have been allowed to respond when I had headspace and energy and time and all would have been well. Now I won’t respond at all.
Here’s another one.
I did a thing for someone in the summer. Let’s call it a favour.
A few weeks went by. A bit of back and forth. Then an email request for something to wrap things up. On a Tuesday. Which I didn’t even look at, frankly, because I was working 14-hour days and this was non critical.
Then a chaser without a deadline on Friday afternoon.
Then a LinkedIn message on Saturday night.
Then an email chaser Sunday morning.
My phone buzzing relentlessly with notifications from this one person over a thing that suddenly and with no warning became urgent. To him.
You know what will happen? I won’t do this person a favour again.
You know what should have happened? He should have rewound to the very start of our engagement, thought about what he needs from me, given clear asks and timelines and made it as easy for me as possible to do whatever it is he needed. Because he needed it and, therefore, it was in his interest to make sure I do it. And harassing me in my limited downtime for something that he hadn’t given me a timeline for is not how you achieve success in a situation such as this.
You know what could have happened? He could have treated my time with respect thus buying himself an unqualified “yes” next time he needed my help. That looks like rewinding before hitting send, rewinding before even needing to send all the messages and saying “this is what I need from you” right at the beginning, this is when I need it by, does this work for you, seeing as you are doing me a favour and all.
That, however, didn’t happen. That often doesn’t happen.
So now I will remember him as the guy who bombards me with messages over the weekend like a jilted teenager over something that had not been flagged, even less, agreed as a deadline.
Stop. Think. Rewind.
What are you trying to achieve? Forget how you are feeling. Forget how much pressure you are under for a second. Forget how annoyed you are that this is the 26th person you have to chase for something minor that is key to your livelihood and shouldn’t be so hard for all these people to do. Forget that if they couldn’t do the favour they should have said so in the first place.
I get it. And you are not wrong.
But forget about your perspective for a second and think about your impact.
What are you trying to achieve?
And is what you are doing getting you anywhere?
One of the biggest lessons I learned from shadowing our chairman when I worked in a big, big bank is that you never know what meeting your senior stakeholder is coming from. What room they walked out of, a few moments ago.
How fraught, hard, worrying, dull or annoying whatever this person was doing moments before was and what you need to do to get them in the room with you, mentally. What the distance you need to help them cover is, in your 30 allotted minutes.
That’s not an easy task and it’s where a lot of things die. At the altar of emotional impossibility, fuelled by the outage or regulatory fine or HR issue discussed in the meeting before your meeting that has nothing to do with you and you didn’t know the first thing about and yet it becomes the context in which you blindly and unknowingly advocate taking a risk, taking a punt, taking a Moonshot.
Now the good news about COVID is that you know exactly what the context you are shooting arrows into is.
People are restless, worried, tired. They are zoomed-out. Their day is parcelled up in tiny, occasionally overlapping, digital interactions. Their inboxes are full to bursting. Their attention span drained, their mental reserves depleted.
Someone recently came a few moments late to a board meeting because they were trying to get their four-year-old set up for a Zoom music class of pretend-flute.
I love the story as much as I love him for sharing it. Because it’s real. And it got us all in the room with him.
This is life now and, before you press send on your eleventh “have you not seen my previous ten messages” or your passive aggressive “I am only following up on what we agreed” missive… think. Not about the other person. That may be too much some times.
Think about what you are trying to achieve, and whether this is the way to do it.
Be the change you want to see, said Gandhi.
Be the light you crave, said Amanda Gorman.
If that’s a bit of a tall order then aim lower but still try to not be the noise.
This thing we are living through is tough for everyone and, in an industry where there was a surplus of noise anyway, we are getting worse by the day.
Outreach on steroids, endless emails and chasers of a frequency bordering on harassment.
An email followed by a WhatsApp followed by a LinkedIn message followed by a text saying, have you seen my email. All within the space of a day or two in aid of whatever timeframe you have decided is relevant to you.
How is it working out for ya?
I am going to go with “not so well” judging from the avalanche of messages I get daily.
Now here’s the reality:
If you are cold-calling, becoming annoying has no downside. You are losing nothing.
But if you are not cold-calling and you are trying to get someone you actually know or share enough context and contacts with to be “real life relevant”, if you are trying to get a real person to give you something – time, an introduction, an answer, money, help – I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that making it easier for them to not say no is in your interest. COVID or no COVID.
But particularly when our attention is under constant assault and our ability to recoup and replenish almost depleted.
Before you hunt and hound people, think: what am I trying to achieve and will this work?
Before obsessively pressing the button, doing the easy, low-calorie thing of chasing and chasing and chasing via digital means at the time that suits you and in timeframes that suit you and pouring all your frustrations into those messages, before doing all that: pause, rewind.
Think: what are you trying to get out of the person you are haranguing and is this the way to do it? Would this approach work with you? Is everyone like you? So even if the answer is “yes, it would work with me”, that isn’t enough. And chances are, some of the passive aggressive snappy messages I see flying around wouldn’t work on anyone.
Seriously. Before hitting send.
It’s good advice at all times, particularly good advice when the people you want something from are inundated. By, among other things, hundreds of messages just like yours. And by that I don’t just mean on the same platform although also that.
I mean also passive aggressive and oppressive, coming too close together, without consideration or consent.
I also mean important to the sender but not to the recipient and the avalanche simply makes you want to turn away. Because time and attention are in short supply and annoyance is not how you will get your share of a scarce resource.
So, take it from the start.
Find another way.
If this is important to you and you are fighting for attention because of everything, think and think again.
Don’t repeat the mistake that didn’t work last time.
But also. Be kind.
Be mindful of the person at the other end of your communication.
Make it easier for them to help you by being specific, polite, respectful of their time and cognisant of the context in which they are operating. The stuff you know because it’s universal right now and the stuff you have no way of knowing but can assume is taking up time and energy and focus on their side.
You may find that, whatever your ask, this is a USP in its own right.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!