08/26/2012 11:27 EDT | Updated 10/26/2012 05:12 EDT

How to Relieve the Agony of Waiting


Follow-up fatigue is a malady that strikes professionals in every level of business. It goes something like this: You thoroughly impressed a prospective client by acing your proposal and pitch. They said they loved it, promised to be in touch, and then ... nothing. Or maybe it's your co-worker, who swore she'd send you the vital information you need to complete a time-sensitive project, and has suddenly gone AWOL. It could even be something as simple as leaving a phone message for someone who doesn't bother to call you back.

No matter what the circumstances are, whenever you find yourself leaving repeated messages and checking your e-mail every 2 seconds for a response, you know you've been bitten by the bug of having to bug people for an answer.

The longer we wait, the worse it gets. Our minds start working overtime as we begin wondering what went wrong or how we could have handled things differently. It's exhausting and inefficient to have to chase information and clarify commitments. Yet not dealing with these uncertainties is a surefire way to feed our anxiety, often leading to the point where we become so exasperated that we just give up.

If you've ever found yourself in this perplexing position, you're not alone. Ambiguity is one of the biggest factors in minimizing our potential to get solid results. Whenever we presume that other people place the same weight on our priorities as we do, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Here are six steps to help you alleviate the agony of Fate Wait, that disconcerting point in time when your future lies in the hands -- and calendar -- of someone else:

1. Ask for a date. Any time someone says, "I'll get back to you on that" reply with, "Great! When can I expect to hear from you?" Asking this question indicates that you are serious about moving forward in a timely manner.

2. Take it to the next level. After committing to a date, say, "On the off chance that I haven't heard from you by then, would you rather I send an e-mail or give you a call?" This simple question provides a mutual understanding of what the next steps will be.

3. Put it in writing. Send a brief note after your conversation that summarizes the main points of your discussion, confirms the timeline you've established for feedback, and outlines your agreed upon follow-up strategy. You now both have clearly documented facts to refer to.

4. Set an alarm. Diarize the scheduled follow-up date in your calendar, and avoid the temptation to ignore the reminder.

5. Just do it. If you haven't heard from the other party on the scheduled date, contact them that day in the manner you agreed upon.

6. Take a vow. Make a commitment that from this day forward you will consistently let others know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them.That way, you'll never waste another second wondering where things stand or who's doing what, when.

We all know what it feels like to be vexed by vagueness, so make it your business to let people know exactly when you'll call, deliver or show up. And then call, deliver and show up! Not only will you be saving time and angst, it's the civil thing to do.