The Art of Following Up
I’ve got a short story for you. Two friends decide by text message to meet for coffee.
“What time works for you?” says Marla.
“How about Thursday at 10:00 a.m. at Starbucks?” says Jen.
And then the conversation stops.
Fast forward to Thursday at 10:15 and Marla is waiting, cooling latte-in-hand, for Jen to show up.
“Where are you?” Marla texts Jen (secretly blaming Jen for suggesting a time and then not showing up).
“I didn’t think we were getting together!” Jen texts back (secretly blaming Marla for dropping off the face of the earth).
It’s a textbook breakdown in communication, and in professional settings it can have disastrous consequences.
The funny thing is, the solution to this problem is the easiest and most effective communications method out there, yet many people don’t do it: Follow up.
Here are some amusing excuses people make so they can avoid following up:
- “I already told so-and-so about our meeting/task/deadline.”
- “They’re a grown-up and don’t need reminding.”
- “I’m too busy.”
- “We already have an understanding.”
- “What I have to say doesn’t matter.”
- “I have nothing to say right now.”
- “This issue isn’t a big deal.”
Actually, it is a big deal. That one little message can save a lot of time and mental energy. Marla and Jen would have saved a lot of grief if one of them had simply followed up to confirm that 10:00 on Thursday was a go.
Unfortunately, following up does have a cost. You’re going to have to take the time to say or type a short message. Tough, I know.
But the results can be rewarding – even wonderful.
How to follow up as a communicator
- A quick status update reassures colleagues, clients or journalists that you’re still working on their project, and gives them a better idea when they can expect the results
- A “Did you have a chance to look at my pitch?” can get a journalist to retrieve your story pitch from the heap
- A quick scheduling reminder helps clients and journalists remember to connect for interviews – saving everyone the time and hassle of rescheduling
- Dropping a journalist who is already covering your story a line saying, “Did you need photos or anything else for this story?” helps a news outlet produce a great piece of coverage for your client, and shows journalists that you care about their needs
- A thank-you boosts everyone’s spirits and reinforces positive relationships
How to follow up to build your team
Following up internally will boost your team’s morale and efficiency, and you don’t have to be the team lead to do it.
Motivation can drop in a team that doesn’t communicate simple things like, “Thanks for your message. I got it.” When a team loses touch over time, a subtle sense of non-caring infiltrates the project, and that can seriously dampen morale and motivation.
“But I have no news to tell my team! What’s the point of saying anything?” you might protest. You don’t have to have any news. A simple follow-up of, “I’m still with you,” will help your team members move forward with more confidence, because they know you’re still supporting them.
Obviously, giving kudos to your team members is a great follow-up too, as long as it’s sincere.
But it’s not just about making everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Following up with your project team helps you identify issues that might otherwise have been swept under the rug, only to pop up in the future as full-fledged problems.
So instead of trekking alone and scared in a barren wasteland of non-communication, take the time to regularly invest just a few words of follow-up with your friends, colleagues and clients. You’ll produce relationships that are more positive, teams that are more effective and goals that are more focused.
Some words you can say
If you’re inspired to do more following up, but don’t know where to start, here are a few phrases you can borrow:
- “Just wanted to let you know that I’m still working on ____. I’ll be done ____.”
- “How are you doing with that thing? Any way I can help?”
- “Thanks for that thing you did. I appreciate it.”
- “I’m following up to confirm that we’re meeting at that place tomorrow. Does that still work for you?”
- “I got the ____ you sent. Thanks!”
- “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll give this some thought and get back to you.”
Please feel free to follow up in the comments section below.