Silence and stillness provide empty space. Space for us to wonder, space for us to question, space for us to make our own assumptions.
Sometimes, silence exists, sometimes it is created. In our connected world of email, phone calls and social networks, that rarest sense of silence and stillness is created when replies to messages are not made. Voice mails are not returned. Emails are not answered.
Nothing ends a conversation faster than the lack of a reply. Imagine you notice someone at a social gathering you would like to talk to. You walk up to them, introduce yourself, and ask them if they are enjoying themselves. Imagine they just stare at you in response, and don’t say a word. Time passes by, conversations are going on around you, and the person you are trying to connect with stays silent. Chances are good you will just walk away. The conversation is over, and you will do your best to never talk to that person again.
But it would have been easy. If that person had just said “Hi, I’m doing great. Thanks!” you would have felt more comfortable, you would have felt more accepted, and you would have felt more acknowledged and accepted.
Now, imagine this same scenario in your online Yammer network, or an email list, a Facebook group, or a Twitter hashtag. A post is made, a question is asked.
First, acknowledge the victory. A member of your community trusted you enough to make a post in an online space managed by you. They posted something they know, they asked a question about something they don’t know. May they acknowledge a mistake, hoping to learn from the experience. Information was shared.
But that sense of victory is fleeting. They made a post, and no one responded. Emptiness and stillness is all that is there. The person who made the post is left to fill in the blanks. “I asked a stupid question.” “No one has an answer.” “No one cares.” “I’m not really a part of this community.”
It’s like they are in an empty room. It’s like they are talking to someone who just stares off into space in response.
When we have worked so hard to set up our online space and we allow a post to go unanswered, we become our own worst enemy. If a question is asked, and there is no response, the community suffers. Posts are less likely to be made. Users are no longer engaged. Information is no longer being shared in a meaningful way.
Yes, all posts should get a response, but all those responses need not come from you.
- Allow time for others to reply first. 2 hours? 12 hours? 48 hours? Whatever feels right.
- If replies are not made, click the “Like” button. Without providing any answers or content, this person no knows that someone notices the post has been made, and hopefully other replies will be made soon.
- Reply by tagging others. “Great question, Johnny. I am tagging @GeorgeJones, @LorettaLynn and @ConwayTwitty. They are all smart (and busy) people who may have some good information to share.” Many good things happen as a result of your post asking for more help. The person who made the post is aware that his post has been seen. Others have been acknowledged as the people who have the knowledge and information to help. And, hopefully as a result of your post, helpful and informative replies will be made.
- If the post is really geared towards you, and you have the right answer to the question being shared, then absolutely make the response, but always do so while encouraging others to reply themselves.
- If time has elapsed with no response, pick up the phone. Send out an email. Tell others there is a post that needs a response.
If I am going to take the time and care to post in your online space, I expect (and need) a reply. If no reply is made, chances are good I will not return. I like silence and stillness in my home at the end of the day, but when I am at work trying to solve problems, trying to learn and share, unless I am doing so in a crowded, loud and busy place, I will probably find some other place to hang out.