I was paid an unusual compliment this week.
Partly because such warm words don't come along that often, but mostly because there's a useful lesson in it, I thought I'd give it a mention.
The compliment was this -
I love working with you because you always answer my emails quickly.
Ok, it wasn't a tribute to my rugged, chiselled good looks, or snappy, sassy dress sense, my elegance or charm, not to mention my talent (unsurprisingly on all counts), but it was informative.
I asked my colleague what he meant, and he said most people took between a week and a fortnight to reply to messages.
Which I found surprising. Because -
They involve potential work, which means generating business, the like of which we're supposed to be in, and, as professionals, reasonably good at.
He's a fine man, trying to do a difficult job well, so it's only decent to support him.
And who wants a backlog of messages nagging away at you anyway?
But there's a more important point behind this little thought stream.
One of the most common complaints I hear from people who are trying to get something done is that they're left in the dark.
Their efforts have disappeared into what seems like a black hole, from which no answer emerges. Not for ages, at least, anyway.
Which makes for frustration, irritation, annoyance, and often the loss of what might have been a great initiative, or piece of business.
Ok, I know we're all busy and often deluged with emails. That's modern life.
But if something comes in which I can't get to in the next couple of hours, perhaps because I'm teaching, or in a meeting, I send a holding reply to explain.
I say I'll get back to you by six o'clock with a proper response. And - critically - I do just that.
Likewise, if I'm working on a project for someone and the timescales slip, sometimes for unavoidable reasons, I keep the customer informed, openly and honestly.
That knowledge means they can plan and prepare. And it cuts out a whole lot of potential bad feeling.
Ok, you might say, that's all very cute, kind and considerate. A big cuddly hug badge for Simon. But how does it help me in my day to day life of doing a good job, or running a business?
The answer is this.
My colleague, who uttered the compliment, went on to say...
We've got someone else who could do this. But we need to get it sorted ASAP, so we came to you.
Which means another lovely commission, with a bit of travel and fun. Because of that edge of efficiency, and consideration, in getting back to my colleague quickly.
Write soon might have been the standard sign off from lovers in those sweet old days of penning actual, physical letters (remember them?)
But it still retains a relevance in this age of the email.
Ps. Regular readers of my musings will have noticed a lack of something at this point.
In fairness, it's not exactly easy to get a pretty picture into a blog about emails. So, as you've been kind enough to give this your time, have an uplifting treat on me -
This is one of the hidden treasures of Cambridge, the gardens of Peterhouse College, behind the Fitzwilliam Museum.
It's well worth a visit. I had a stroll around on Thursday lunchtime, in a break from work... and replying to emails.