How an auto-reply can make a lasting impression (or not)

Andrea Howe
Category : Weekly tips April 5, 2015

This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

I’m once again beating the “trust is personal” drum.

There are hundreds of ways to personalize your interactions with people. Why not start with how you’re in touch when you’re out of touch?

A little back story: I’m out of the office a lot. I lead workshops that can consume me for days at a time. As I write this message to you, I’m on a writing retreat (because I’ve learned that going off-site with a buddy helps me do better work).

You’re familiar with the out of office ramifications, of course: The massive email pile-up.

Why not turn obstacle into opportunity?

I started getting creative with my email auto-replies shortly after The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook was published and my travel commitments quadrupled. My experiment was borne out of guilt; I didn’t want clients getting “I’m out of the office without access to email” again and again. (And I didn’t want to NOT have auto-replies, because I believe in being responsive and accessible.)

An easy start: I provided a little information about my location.

“I’m speaking at the SHRM National Conference in Orlando today…”

Over time, I played with being more creative:

“I’m in North Carolina, home of the Krispy Kreme doughnut, through Tuesday evening …”

I’ve also tried quotes, and humor (and both):

“Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.’ Today I’m working on the former, curbing my email addiction so I can focus …”

Make no mistake, these still feel risky to put out there for various reasons, and it’s been a few years. I’m just more confident about doing them now because I’ve gotten so many positive reactions. (One client, when interviewed for feedback on our work together, made an unsolicited mention of the auto-replies: “She’s present even when she’s not present. She’s probably the only person I know that you can get an out of office message and still feel like she’s talking to you … you never feel like you’re disconnected from her.”)

Some of my examples may not be right for you. Adapt to suit your style. Just don’t play it too safely. Part of the point is to take the risk that others might get to know you a little.

Trust is personal, after all.

Make It Real

This week, draft three different auto-replies that you might use the next time you’re out of the office (or in the office and craving a little breathing room to get stuff done). Experiment with different levels of personal risk-taking. Then commit to using one of your drafts.

Learn More

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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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