Guilt: the great motivator
My experiment was borne out of guilt. When my workload increased dramatically earlier this year, I felt like I had to change my auto-reply approach. I didn’t like the idea of clients constantly getting the same ‘ol “I’m out of the office without access to email” messages. My incessant need to be available and accommodating multiplied when I started taking advantage of the usual summer lull in my schedule to grab some extra R&R before September when workshop season hits like a gale force wind. That’s when I decided to try something new and a little different.
Location, location, location
Looking back at my auto-reply messaging since the experiment began, I’m fascinated by my unintentional pattern of increasing levels of risk-taking—relative risk-taking, I should say. (If you’re thinking risqué or off-the-wall, be reminded I’m a career consultant; professionally speaking, we’re a pretty conservative bunch.)
I began by sharing more about what I was doing and where—at least directionally: “Thanks for your message. I’m heading south and will be on client site through the end of the day Thursday.” Boring, I know, but a start.
I progressed by offering more specific locations: “I’m at the SHRM National Conference in Atlanta today.” Another time I added a little twist: “I’m in North Carolina today, on-site with a client (and looking forward to BBQ).” I figured why not celebrate my location’s local flavor?
When personal vacation days entered the mix, I started with a small step there too: “I’m off the grid all week—substituting emails, conference calls, and deliveries with rest and relaxation.” Then I started to get crazy out-there-and-more-personal (OK, not really, it just felt that way): “Today is my first wedding anniversary and Alan and I are spending the day together.” It was a very happy day for me; I thought why not share it?
Next I tried experimenting with a little self-deprecating humor: “Happy Independence Day for those in the U.S. I’m observing the holiday on Wednesday and taking advantage of others’ vacations by going on light duty Thursday and Friday, which means I’ll be slightly less obsessive about checking email.”
When my third vacation in as many weeks came around, I took this route: “Summer’s almost over and I’m taking every opportunity I can to rest up before things get busy again in September. I’m out of the office Friday and Monday, driving to North Carolina for a weekend art workshop. Please call my mobile with anything urgent and I’ll pick up as the mountains allow.”
What started as a self-oriented guilt reduction strategy has had unexpected results.
First, I noticed a colleague started doing something similar.
Then, I started getting replies to my auto-reply. The irony of getting more mail as a result of being out of the office isn’t lost on me. Several clients wished me a very happy first anniversary, and even repeated their congrats the next time we spoke. One client replied that she could totally relate to my obsessive email-checking. Another client wrote, “I LOVE LOVE LOVE your out of office alert—so unique and friendly and personal. I hope the art workshop is wonderful and I am going to consider this type of out of office [sic] the next time I am off!!”
Finally, in the “don’t that beat all” category, yet another client stood up in front of 35 people at a workshop I was leading and recommended my auto-replies as a best practice for developing intimacy at work.
That’s when I started to think I might be on to something.
Little things make a big difference
Here are my takeaways from this experience:
- We humans generally like to learn personal things about our fellow humans.
- Intimacy (the professional kind) is created when we take risks and share things that others can relate to.
- Little inklings about doing something different are worth listening to and acting on.
- Experiments are a great way to try new things over time without making a life-long commitment.
- Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
Are you heading out of the office any time soon? I dare you to try something new and more personal with your auto-reply. Have you been ignoring a little inkling about something—anything? I double-dog-dare you to do something about it.
Originally published by Forbes
Latest posts by Andrea Howe (see all)
- Reprise: A different kind of resolution for a different path to better relationships - January 2, 2023
- A word to the wise about adjusting your fees after your quote - November 13, 2022
- Reprise: What to do when your clients or colleagues are untrustworthy - September 18, 2022