It’s The Waiting That Kills You

Like a lot of folk I meet plenty of interesting people, talk and share ideas, make proposals, follow up enquiries. It’s part of what is commonly referred to as looking for work, or looking for purpose, or maybe even looking to learn. I then spend time following these things up, Sometimes a conclusion is reached, and often, at some point the dialogue just fizzles out. Calls aren’t returned, emails aren’t responded to.

I’m not talking here about speculative approaches – ones where I think I might have spotted an opportunity and take a punt. On the rare occasion I take that kind of approach – I do so with no expectation of response. No – what I’m talking about is situations where I’ve been asked to submit something to someone else for consideration, feedback, follow up conversations and so on. I’m not the only one who experiences this – am I? Does this happen to you too?

People’s plans change all the time, mine included. I understand that, and when my plans change, I let people know. It would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? Putting the simple lack of courtesy to one side, this course of action burns energy and wastes the time of the person following up. I read a very interesting piece by Alexandra Samuel on the Harvard Business Review where she talks about new opportunities which come our way and the need to think carefully about which to engage with, and which to say no to. Alexandra’s advice is quite simple, we need to learn to say no, politely and effectively.

What really hit me as I read the post, is that not saying no burdens the recipient of the proposal or enquiry too. Perhaps not as much as the person doing the following up, but the recipient still has to read the approach, ignore the approach, think about not returning that call. This stuff takes time and effort and consumes energy. We can all do without this so I think it’s time to get over the anxiety of delivering so called bad news, and as Alexandra Samuel recommends, just learn to say no. Politely and effectively.

I wrote this post in 2010. At the time I called it ‘Yes or no, but not nothing’. I’ve updated and retitled it now, in January 2016. Six years since writing this remains one of the biggest challenges I face. With help – I’ve got better at parking these stalled conversations, and even so – I’d much rather they were dealt with, rather than left to hang around on the edges of my mind, like unwelcome guests at a party. If this is something you experience and you have a useful way of dealing with it – I’d love to hear from you please.

I can live with the no far easier than the silence. A no, or even a not now, helps me plan, so let’s make 2010/2011/2012/2013/2014/2015/2016 the year of saying yes, or no, but not nothing. Thank you.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

7 thoughts on “It’s The Waiting That Kills You”

  1. Doug, I could not agree more with your comments about saying ‘no’. I would much prefer people to be honest – all parties then know exactly where they stand and it saves valuable time and energy.
    It is only good manners to respond honestly to a person who has taken the time to make contact even if it is with a ‘no’! Then everyone knows exactly where they stand!

  2. Doug, what a terrific point — and thanks for your nice comments about my post. Your perspective really helps fortify my own willpower by reminding me that I really don’t do people any favors when my mouth says yes even though my heart (and datebook) scream no!

  3. Hi Valerie and Alexandra. Thanks both for getting in touch, and I sincerely appreciate your feedback. Here’s to starting a new movement of purpose and politeness and getting things done 🙂

  4. I am totally with you on this, but somewhere along the line (not quite sure when), I got to the point of asking myself some questions when I get impatient for things:
    1) am I trying to force something that I should leave alone, that I think I am supposed to want/have rather than it being something I need?
    2) am I locked into a particular outcome?
    3) why am I so uncomfortable with waiting/not knowing? (if it’s because I want to do something else, than I evaluate if I can do the “something else” and come back to the thing that I’m waiting for).

    Also, I assume people are busy and if they actually wanted me to do the work (especially if I’ve followed-up once or twice) that they would have contacted me, and they will contact me when they are ready, so until I know something different I assume it’s not going ahead and pursue other things.

    Sometimes I go with the, “it’s not time yet” do something else 😉

    Finally, there is something about experiencing the sense of time that other cultures have that has helped me be more patient.

    1. Thanks Stephanie – your feedback and ideas are really useful to me. I’m conscious that none of us work in splendid isolation, and your thoughts will help me improve how I process this stuff and move on in good spirits. Cheers

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