Silence Doesn’t Mean Squat

Excuse me while I take a deep breath.

Thank you. I needed that because this one really gets under my skin.

Here’s a little quiz for you. What is the difference between the following two dialogues?

  1. You ask, “Will you let me know when the job is done?” He says, “Count on it.”
  2. You ask, “Will you let me know when the job is done?” He says, “Tell you what. If I don’t call you by noon, that means it’s done.”

Notice any difference? If not, you’re asking for trouble. Here’s why:

In the first dialogue, a question is asked and an answer is given.

In the second, a question is asked and BS* is given.

Think about it.

When the guy doesn’t call you back, does that mean the job is done? Or could it mean the job isn’t quite done and he forgot to call and tell you? Or could it mean he passed the responsibility onto someone else and doesn’t know the status of the job one way or the other? Or worse, does it mean he got distracted and forgot about you and your job entirely?

The truth is, not calling someone back doesn’t necessarily mean anything. And yet, people everywhere take this approach when they’ve been asked to accept responsibility for communicating when something is complete.

The phone company told me a technician would be at my house between 8:00 and 5:00 one day. When I asked if they would call to verify the appointment, the person said that if they didn’t call to cancel, that meant the appointment was still on.

She was wrong. Of course, I didn’t find this out until after I took a vacation day off from work and sat around all day waiting for them to show up.

I asked a client to let me know once their check was on its way to my office. They said that if they didn’t call by the end of the day, that that meant the check was in the mail.

Never forget that absence of follow-up is not evidence of follow-through.

It didn’t. Of course I had to wait a week to find this out.

But the consequences of this type of “minor misunderstanding” can be more than aggravating; they can be devastating.

You ask your accountant to call when she has filed your tax return. She says, “If I don’t call, that means I filed it.”

Does it really?

You ask your child to let you know when he puts out the candle he left burning in his bedroom. He says, “If I don’t call you, that means I blew it out.”

Really? Do you care to risk it?

The point is, not getting back to someone doesn’t tell that person anything. Really. It doesn’t.

Of course I could go on and on but what’s the point? We’re not going to stop people from trying to pull this garbage on us. Perhaps the best we can do is to stop relying on people who do.

Does this seem harsh? It shouldn’t, because if I know anything, I know this:

People who are too lazy to follow up are almost certainly too lazy to follow through.

So no matter what anyone else tells you, never forget that absence of follow-up is not evidence of follow-through. In other words, silence doesn’t mean squat.

Do you agree? If I don’t hear back from you I’ll take that as a yes.

Originally posted on January 06, 2006.

* When I first published this post, it included some profanity. However, my wife suggested I remove it. And since I’ve never known her to make a mistake – other than deciding to marry me, of course – I took her advice.