Response Time Speaks Louder Than Words

In any social hierarchy, professional or personal, there’s an easy metric for identifying the one in charge: communication response time.

When an investor contacts us, we scramble to respond within the day. Within the hour, even. There’s some ill-begotten logic that if we don’t, we’ll be dumped for a better opportunity that might somehow surface in the next 59 minutes.

On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable for a VC to wait weeks before replying to our messages. We still take their meetings with open arms.

Silence doesn’t actually equate to no response. The response is heard loud and clear: YOU ARE NOT A PRIORITY. By ignoring someone, you dominate the conversation without saying anything at all.

A Columbia University study correctly identified top-level managers at Enron by calculating average response times from the Enron corporation email archive [1]. Managers will take their sweet time when responding to subordinates. Even the CIA uses this metric to identify leading players when monitoring the communications of terrorist groups.

In an argument, the person who has the last word doesn’t really have the last word. The person who has the last word just makes the last noise. The one who goes silent owns the relationship.


1. G. Creamer, R. Rowe, S. Hershkop, S. Stolfo. Segmentation and Automated Social Hierarchy Detection Through Email Network Analysis (March 25, 2012). ADVANCES IN WEB MINING AND WEB USAGE ANALYSIS – 9th WEBKDD and 1st SNA-KDD WORKSHOP at KDD 2007.

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