Hi all! Today’s topic is about a simple rule I follow to maintain my professional contacts, and my friendships, which I call the “30 Second Rule.”
Once upon a time, before the ubiquitous cell phone and instant messaging, some people had reasonable excuses for blowing you off, showing up late, and otherwise wasting your time and devaluing your friendship. Not good excuses, mind you, but reasonable ones. “I left a message on your answering machine.” “Well, I wasn’t home to get it, because I was sitting in the café waiting for you.”
Once upon a time, answering fan mail was a laborious task. Not only did you have to write a letter, and print it out, you had to have a supply of envelopes on hand and round up some stamps. Small wonder so many letters were never answered, or answered by an assistant with a form letter.
But not any more. People complain about the pace of technology, how “impersonal” everything’s gotten, but I’d argue the opposite. Our tech today makes it easier to be personal, to be responsible, to do the right thing in your relationships.
It’s allowed us to live by, if we choose to, what I call the “30 Second Rule.” Which is to say, there’s no excuse for being a flake anymore, when all it takes is 30 seconds to set things right. And not taking advantage of this opportunity can cause far more damage, to personal and professional relationships, than you might imagine.
Here’s two examples, one personal and one professional. I had a friend who’d borrowed money from me for an emergency, and repayment was becoming something that I was having to pursue, which in and of itself is no bueno for a friendship. The straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back event came one weekend, when she’d promised to get me some money “when I get paid Friday.” Well, Friday came and went, and so did Saturday and Sunday, with no contact. Finally I texted her on Monday, and the excuse was… “Our roommate moved out and we were so busy moving our furniture in to her bigger room that I just didn’t have time.”
Look, okay fine, even if you couldn’t get out of the house during your very important furniture arranging session…you could have taken thirty seconds to text me and say, I can’t get the money to you, can you come get it?
I had a business client who also promised to pay me by the weekend, and again I had to pursue that person on Monday by email (to keep a paper record). And then she said, O I don’t have it, I’ll pay you next week.
Now, if she’d taken thirty seconds to drop me an email that said that…on Friday, I would have understood, financial needs come up unexpectedly, and I would have accommodated her.
In the past, flaky people had the excuse that “I couldn’t get hold of you,” or whatever. But no longer. Leaving aside the possibility in the first case that she, you know, just didn’t want to pay, that thirty seconds could have prevented serious damage to a friendship. Because my reaction was, you just didn’t care enough to take those few seconds, out of 48 hours, to do that. If you’re busy, you don’t have to make a call and get stuck on a long conversation – just make contact.
If you’re running late? Do you just let someone cool their heels, or do you take that 30 seconds or less to text, “I’m running late.” See how easy it was to respect someone else’s time?
As a professional writer, I’ve found that people who contact you just want to know you got their message and appreciate it. I hear writers who say, “I can’t manage my fan mail!” Well, we should all have such problems, but really, you don’t have to answer a piece of fan mail with a long reply – just write back, “Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!” Thirty seconds or less to do that, to acknowledge the compliment and the contact.
When people comment on my Facebook posts, or tag me as a favorite author, I know that from my notifications. There’s the notification. Click on it. Type “Thanks!” 10 seconds. Maybe 60 seconds to clear all the notifications.
Or when fans and friends have birthdays. There they are, in your Facebook notifications. Click it, you get a list of people having a birthday today. Type “Happy birthday!” in the first one, then you can even copy and paste it into the others. There, you’ve made five people’s day in, you guessed it, less than 30 seconds.
I think most of what overwhelms people isn’t the task to be done, it’s thinking about how overwhelming the task is. And it can be, if you think of the task as something that needs a ton of work to accomplish.
But the most necessary human interactions are simple – they just consist of making contact, keeping someone posted, letting someone know you haven’t forgotten about them, that you care about their time. You don’t need to get sucked into a dialogue; you can set the rules. If someone wants to engage you furiously after you contact them, you can say, I’m sorry, I don’t have time now, I just wanted you to know X right away.
If someone can’t spare me thirty seconds, that’s not a relationship I want to work to maintain.
Question: have you dropped a personal or business relationship because someone didn’t have thirty seconds for you?
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