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The Lost Art of Getting Back

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Returning phone calls is so 2008

A recent post from Big Picture Leadership reminded me how mystified I am that so few people actually return calls or emails. Twice in the past two weeks I’ve had conversations about this phenomenon. And these conversations were with people in positions of power, which makes the phenomenon all the more difficult to figure.

I get that everyone is busy. I get that we often we think we know why the person called or emailed, and that their issue is not our issue. Or perhaps the answer is “No” but we don’t want to say it aloud. But I think not-getting-back is deeper than just busy. I think it actually says something troublesome about people, perceptions and power relationships. I am guilty too—on all three counts.

These days the medical device industry regularly purges employees for one reason or another—just like every other industry with human capital. What once was a stable position in a stable company is now neither. A person in a stable position in a stable company has a certain perception of power that tracks with their budget and mandate. That perception of power vanishes the instant the person is called into the corner office to be downsized. I know this because I see these people working LinkedIn like crazy.

I have some older people in my life these days and I’ve been listening to what they say about the sense of being marginalized and invisible. George Tannenbaum’s recent reflection on Work. And death is apropos and could also have included what happens as people slowly fade into their age, which is to say, into the woodwork.

Over the last few months I’ve also had opportunity to email three philosopher/authors who works I love reading (Drs. Sean Hand, Robert Sokolowski and Michael Purcell). I had obscure obscure questions or comments about something they had written, and would they comment further? I was amazed—indeed, it was remarkable—that all three gave very generous responses and even provided extra source material.

These philosopher’s responses remind me that I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t take power distance, assumptions about what my friend will say or mere busyness as a reason to not acknowledge someone’s humanity.

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Image credit: terra99 via 2headedsnake

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Written by kirkistan

November 14, 2012 at 10:21 am

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