Is There Anybody Out There?

Author: Fiona Burton

Just now, I am waiting on numerous email replies, a couple of text messages and a whatsapp or two.  Am I waiting patiently?  Not really, I’m irritated: “what is their problem?”.  Whilst I’m waiting, I look through my inboxes on the central control that is my iPhone.  It’s approaching 1am, and I notice a few emails I haven't gotten round to, that coffee date that I’ve not confirmed, and our book group whatsapp; what is next months book?  D’oh!  And why am I still awake at this time of night?

Indeed, one of the things that irritates me immensely, I am just as guilty of!  I am a hypocrite! In my defence however it’s something I’m cognizant of and try to put strategies in place to minimise.  I use it as an opportunity to reflect on what else is going on in my life and figure out what my problem is.

It doesn’t feel nice when we don’t get a reply, especially if it’s not for the first time from the same person on the same topic.  You begin to wonder if it’s been interpreted wrongly, that you’ve offended someone, that there’s something you don’t know… the list goes on.  I don’t believe that anyone is deliberately being rude, I genuinely don’t. 

One thing that I think we can all agree on is, that we would like more time to live our lives and do the things we want and need to do. When we’ve gone to the effort to use some of that precious time to reach out in whatever medium it is for whatever reason, we expect the recipient to respect that and give us the courtesy of even just a second of their precious time in reply.  At this point I have to give a shout out to my boss who is the master of ‘to the point’ replies.  He acknowledges the contact and replies in literally one word.  Not the meatiest but you know that you’ve been heard.

Well then, why don’t we reply more promptly? We are more inclined to park our response if it’s something difficult we have to say in reply, or sometimes we don’t know how to reply. Perhaps the communication irked us and we thought better of replying hastily, but just never quite got round to sending the perfectly composed mental version. 

Perhaps it’s more than that and we’ve taken on too much: we genuinely don’t have enough time to do it all. We’re checking our emails in the wee small hours just in case we miss that really important one from the Chief Executive at 3am! We’ve scanned them, but realise it’s not a good time to compose a reply and promptly forgotten the next day as we’re too tired from a broken nights sleep.

For me, it’s been all of the above at different times. When I see that text message sitting there without a reply, or that email I just can’t get round to answering, I have to take time to figure out why.  It’s not always obvious and sometimes I need the help of others to get to the bottom of it.

I’m pleased to say however, it has lead to things that have made my life better, whether having that difficult conversation I was trying to avoid or sharing some of my workload.  I like technology and I love gadgets, but I’m going to stop looking at these things in the middle of the night! I am going to charge that bloomin iPhone somewhere else and just use an old fashioned alarm clock. I can’t forget to reply to what I haven’t read and there’s really very little that cannot wait until the next day.

A poster spotted at Glasgow University.

A poster spotted at Glasgow University.

I said earlier that I don’t believe that non-responders are being rude but having listened to Dr Chris Turner (@orangedis) at the recent Learning from Excellence conference in Birmingham, he suggested otherwise.  Dr Turner is an EM consultant in the West Midlands who has launched the ‘civility saves lives’ website and ventured north of the border to the last Scottish RCEM clinical forum in Stirling to share his thoughts on rudeness in the workplace.  Sadly this is something that I still encounter on a daily basis and it’s truly fascinating when you look at the evidence presented on civilitysaveslives, but more on that next time round.

I’d like to conclude this piece by apologising to Hannah Bell for my lack of response to her emails. I was not being rude just overwhelmed at the thought of what was involved in writing a blog.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity, it has been enjoyable and somewhat cathartic. 

If I don’t get back to you in the future please feel free to nudge me, though the Christmas out of office is on just now!


Merry Christmas,


Hannah Bell