In many ways, emails and texts are disposable forms communication. We write them quickly, we send them quickly. We are forgiving of inadvertent mistakes due to clumsy thumbs and quick typing, and we do our best to get on with our day quickly and effectively.

And yet we also know there is a sense of permanence to everything we do. If we are rude or dismissive in a message or a post, people remember. If a typo is egregious, or especially careless, people remember. If we don’t respond, people remember.

Every message we receive is an opportunity. If we are working on a team, it is an opportunity to recognize someone’s involvement or value to the work. If we are a business owner, a simple response to an email, post or text is a chance to answer a complaint, appreciate a compliment or grow our business. In any situation, whatever our role may be, getting a response to a question, comment or complaint is an incredibly valuable action, and not getting a response can be like hitting a brick wall.

For many years, “Jack” drove me to the airport. Jack owned a car service of his own, and always did his best to get me to the airport and home on time, and at a reasonable price. I work for a non-profit organization, and after Uber and Lyft became popular, I realized I could save my organization some serious dollars if I used them. Also, helpful though Jack was, more rides were being forgotten, and he never went “digital,” and I did not like having to wait for him to hand write out paper receipts for my rides.

I sent Jack a text, which is how we usually communicated. I thanked Jack sincerely for his service for the many years I worked with him, and explained that I was switching away to save money for my organization. I expressed my hope that it would be OK to get back in touch with him if the need for a ride arose.

Jack never replied.

I take guitar class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I love my classes, but it is a long drive for me to get there each week. A friend suggested “Steve,” a guitar teacher who works out of his home right in the neighborhood. My friend got me his phone number, and Steve and I began to text each other. We arranged for a time to meet, and I dropped by his house. Steve explained his pricing and his approach to teaching, but after I got home I realized that I wanted to stay at the Old Town School.

I sent Steve a text to tell him I decided not to take lessons with him right now, and why, and that I may be in touch with him again soon for a class in the future.

Steve never replied.

I realize I gave both Jack and Steve news they did not want to hear, but as small businessmen, I think they both missed an incredible opportunity.

I told Steve I would not take guitar classes with him right now. He could have replied to me, expressed his appreciation for meeting with me and encouraged me to keep in touch, or to drop in anytime for a class. Had he replied, we may still be in touch, and I may still be taking classes with him right now. That did not happen. I hit a brick wall.

It could have been argued that I should have given Jack a call to tell him I would not be using his car service anymore. I didn’t. I sent him a text. At that moment in time, he could have called me to either encourage me to work with him more, to express his anger that I dropped him in favor of a large, faceless company, or even better, to thank me for his business and to encourage me to give him a call whenever I liked. Had he replied, I may have realized the value of the service he provided, and I would be riding with him to the airport tomorrow. That did not happen. I hit a brick wall.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about trying to engage users online rather than just trying to push information out. Rather than just walking up to a friend on the street, getting in their face and saying “I’m having brunch at my house, be there at 10:00!” we want to warmly invite our friend, encourage them to bring the cake they bake that is so delicious, and talk to them about our other wonderful friends who will be there.

What if we invited our friend to brunch, and they just stood there? Stone faced. No answer, no acknowledgement, no appreciation. We probably would not invite that friend to brunch again.

Success in any business or work environment is challenging, at best. We can all make our success a little easier by simply responding to the people who write to us. “Got it.” Or, “thanks.” Or, “I’ll get back to you.”

Reply to the message. Your opportunities will be endless.

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