What’s Your “Real” Agenda?

 In Pei Blog

When we get overwhelmed with responsibilities and tasks, it’s easier to treat people as a “means to our ends” — but we must resist doing that.

Part 4: Following Up

I felt deflated.  A friend had sent me a long e-mail with flowery language, asking me to do a favor for him.  After much consideration, I wrote back and apologized that I couldn’t help this time… but offered other ways I might be able to help.

I never heard back from him.  

E-mail is not always the easiest format, and sometimes there are communication slips or misses that happen.  But I couldn’t help but feel a bit like this person just wanted me to do something for him… and if I couldn’t do it, I didn’t really have much value.

It felt transactional.  And it could have been prevented with just a simple e-mail back from my friend saying, “I understand, and thank you for considering.”  It could have been prevented if there had just been a quick attempt to follow up.

Have you experienced anything similar?  Or maybe we’ve done it ourselves.  Sometimes I’ve asked people for help or information, and when they can’t help I immediately think: “Darn it… now I have to do more work and figure out someone else to ask — or I have to do it myself!”  It’s very common that we can get so self-absorbed in our tasks and anxiety with what needs to get done, that we fail to honor the people we’re interacting with along the way.

Again, it could be prevented by just one more e-mail.  Just one more follow up.

Or maybe it’s a “thank you” e-mail that we receive from our boss, with effusive praise.  Only, there’s a couple sentences at the end that ask, “So, can you just do this one more thing for me?”  And we realize that maybe he/she wasn’t just wanting to appreciate us.  There was another agenda.

Don’t get me wrong — we all have things we need to get done.  But sometimes I’ve noticed the danger in many worlds and professions, from business to even ministry, where we can be tempted to treat people transactionally… as “means to the ends” of our tasks.  If these people help us and thereby relieve our anxiety, we treat them well.  If they can’t help us, we ignore them and move on.

However, if we choose to honor people in our communication, I believe it’s actually an even more effective way to get results in our jobs.  After all, who accomplishes anything truly great, without cultivating relationships along the way?  And often in the end, we realize that the relationships were what mattered most anyway.

So with this in mind, here are some things we can do to become more relational, and less “transactional” in our communication with other people: 

  • Always send one more e-mail… after we get what we’re asking for.

We should try to be the last one in the e-mail chain, even if we just write, “Thanks so much!”

One of the reasons why follow-up is so crucial over e-mail, is that there’s a limited ability to connect relationally over the Internet.  Sometimes the best way to compensate is not to write a longer e-mail, but to write two shorter e-mails so that there are two points of connection.

For example, one thing I try to do is after a significant meeting with someone, I’ll follow up with this short e-mail: “Just wanted to check in.  How are you doing since our meeting/conversation?” 

In my experience, so much happens in-between meetings.  People talk to other people.  They sometimes think about things more and start to feel emotions about it.  Some people need time to process things, like internal processors.  A short follow-up is all we sometimes need to help them feel heard, and to get to know them and build trust!

  • Send relational e-mails with no other agenda.

Try sending a few e-mails this week simply asking how someone is doing, or appreciating their efforts — and leaving it at that.

We need to practice not throwing in one more demand.  For instance, the other week I got a text from someone just telling me that they appreciated me and our friendship.  That was it.  Or last month, I sent an e-mail to a colleague to thank them for making a vital professional connection for me.  No other agenda but to thank them.

People always appreciate these kinds of communications.  Why?  They want to know they’re valued for who they are, and not just what they can do.  They want to know they’re not just a means to an end.

Try to follow up this week with a family member, friend, or coworker.  Send one more e-mail and let them know how much you appreciate and value them.  It doesn’t take long to do, but they’ll probably remember it for a long time.

Check back in the weeks to come for more in this productivity and communication series.

Part 1: Prioritizing 

Part 2: Responding

Part 3: Initiating

Part 4: Following Up

Part 5: Making Ourselves Available

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