When In Doubt, Reach Out

By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl 

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

There are so many ways to contact people in this day and age. The ability to email someone, send them a text message, or message a person on social media is readily available. Even contacting a stranger on social media is often accessible and even acceptable. Let’s not forget the phone, too, as a form of communication. Or, if we work in the same location as someone, we might be able to communicate face to face. I still like to send a handwritten card if it’s to thank someone for a gift or kind gesture.

Preferred Methods of Communication

Over time, I have noticed that certain family, friends, colleagues, and even myself, have a preferred method of communication. Some prefer to email or text, and others, often if they are of the older generation, prefer to speak using the phone. There have been several times when I have become exhausted of digital communication and prefer to pick up the phone and hear someone’s voice, too. Depending on the situation we are in, or others are in at a particular time, one form of communication over another may be necessary. For instance, when my husband is working in a lab, he can only text. I may not have the best cell service depending on where I am working one day to speak, conduct, or teach, which may dictate how I communicate, too. There can be many different challenges and scenarios with communication that we may not be aware of at the time we attempt to contact someone.

In recent years, I have noticed that some of my work colleagues have relied on text messaging instead of emailing. Over time, I have come to dislike this form of communication for work. For one reason, I can’t accurately document this communication as I would want to do so. I am unable to file the message in a digital folder or type freely or quickly on a keyboard. It began to bother me that I was receiving messages on my cell phone that would require a longer response or an attachment sent in reply. I also didn’t like hearing the ding or feeling the vibration of a notification at all hours of the day or night. These types of messages would interrupt other activities or cause me to become not as focused on my task at hand, depending on the context or content of the message. Also, I would feel I was sent a text message because an immediate response was wanted for something that was not an urgent matter, but simply on the timeline the sender preferred.

I have learned to kindly inform a few colleagues who have overused text messaging to please rely on emailing when communicating with me. I now have a standard line I use for this request. I let these people know what my preferred form of communication is. I assure them that I am good at responding to others in this format, and I let others know that I will respond within 24 hours, excluding weekends/holidays. If their message or request is an emergency or an urgent matter that can or should not wait longer than a day, then of course, the person should text or call me.

However, what may be a preferred form of communication for us, may not be the best form of communication for the person we are contacting. My husband has asked that I not call him during the workday on his cell phone unless it is an emergency, as he often needs to step out of the space in which he is working to take a phone call. He asks that I not send him an email unless it includes an attachment to sign or an item to be printed. We have agreed that anything else can be communicated through text or waited upon to discuss until we can speak to each other via phone such as on a hands-free call on a drive or in person. He would much prefer that I text with him during the workday. Although this is not my preferred mode of communication with him, I honor his request and understand how it impacts him and his working routine.

Missed Messaging

On the other hand, I have found that messages, particularly text or direct messages, sent in the middle of the day may go unnoticed by others depending on their working or living situations. To combat this, at the end of each day, I have put a plan in place to quickly skim my email, text message, and social media communication tools to ensure I have not missed someone’s message sent to me. I quickly respond or flag the message for immediate response in the morning. However, I can’t expect this to be the same protocol for everyone else.

No Response in Return

What happens when we send a message to someone—in any form, such as a phone call, email, text, or direct message—and do not receive a response? At one time, I would have been offended by this lack of response for a first-time attempt. However, now I realize that this could simply be a communication error, an oversight by the other person, or a greater priority could have taken precedence at the time of the communication. I have learned to reach out again, either using the same form of communication or a different one. When I do, oftentimes, I will receive an apology, or a response, such as “Thanks for the reminder,” “I meant to get to you sooner,” or “I am so glad you reached back out.” I have learned to reach out again earlier than later to avoid a missed opportunity or need.

I am not one to ignore communication such as a phone call, text message, or email. However, it has happened that I missed a message. A few times, if it was an email, the person’s communication ended up in my Junk/Spam folder, or my message ended up in another person’s spam. A few times, I have started to reply to someone via email or text and then my attention went elsewhere, and I forgot to get back to the response I started. We can never be sure if our original message was received or what was going on in the other person’s life at the time that we attempted to communicate with them. When we are in doubt if our message was received, kindly reaching out again might be all that is needed to receive a desired reply.

young woman wearing yellow top holding white smart phone in thought

Photo: damircudic / E+ Collection via Getty

Making Key Changes in Communication

Let’s consider some key changes we can make to reach out again to others when we are in doubt if they received our first communication.

  • Ensure the message was sent to the actual person whose guidance or response we required. Check your call record, email sent folder, or text thread to confirm the communication was indeed sent.
  • Consider contacting that person again using the same form of communication. On the second attempt, let the person know if some or all of the original questions have been answered, concerns addressed, or decisions made.
  • Depending on the nature of the communication, try a different form of communication for a second attempt, including possibly an in-person visit, a phone call, an email, a text message, or a direct message on social media.
  • Make the second communication shorter, kinder, or more direct.
  • Thank the receiver for hopefully taking the time to listen, read, or respond to the message.

I can’t say that every second attempt of a communication I have sent to another person has been answered. There have been times when I have felt like I was ghosted. This could have been the case, or my communications may never have been received, or the person couldn’t immediately answer. Unfortunately, I may never know. I do know that a one-time communication might not work with everyone. Although this can be frustrating at times, it may be necessary. Hopefully, this is not the case each time we attempt to contact a specific person.

Let’s remember that it may take a lot of effort or courage for others to reach out to us depending on the topic or need. If we want our messages to be answered by others, it is a good rule of thumb to respond to others. If not immediately, then as soon as we can kindly do so. And if we are unsure if our message was received, when in doubt—reach out!

About the author:

Lori Schwartz Reichl Portrait

Photo: Richard Twigg Photography

NAfME member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is the visionary thought leader of Making Key Changes. Her career began in music education where she learned the importance of a key change—a shift in the tonal center of a piece of music, often used to inject energy or produce significance. She eventually realized the necessity and impact of making key changes in all areas of her life.

Since transitioning out of one classroom as a public school educator, Dr. Reichl has uniquely created a global classroom for her essential work. She guides organizations, teams, and individuals to create and maintain a shared vision by making key changes in their communities, companies, classrooms, and careers by unlocking their greatest potential in collaboration with those they love, serve, and lead.

Learn more MakingKeyChanges.com. Subscribe to Dr. Reichl’s Making Key Changes newsletter. Listen to her weekly podcast.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

March 5, 2024


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March 5, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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