Have you ever needed to email someone – a stranger, asking them for a favor? How can one compose email such that they will be read and responded to? How do we effectively email someone who gets a lot of email?
Whether personal or business, the ability to compose efficient and effective email is super useful – both in terms of productivity and responsiveness.
We’re all busy, and we’ve all received long, ambiguous and rambling email. Ironically, most of us have also been guilty of writing such verbose email while requesting for someone else’s time.
Now that I’ve had a little taste, on the receiving end of such email, it quickly became obvious which kind of email works and which do not. I have made some interesting and useful observations on effective email – particularly,
- What not to do when emailing someone (ie. a stranger).
- How to write email that people will actually (want to) read.
The point of this article is to share tips on how to approach people via email in the most efficient way possible, along with some common pitfalls on why some emails do not work.
Before we dive in, let’s lay out some assumptions:
- The recipient (person you are emailing) potentially gets a lot of email
- You need something from the recipient and plan on pitching it via email
- You either do not know the recipient, or she is an acquaintance, or she is a close friend and you’re asking for an unusual request.
Our goal is to construct email that:
- Will actually be read
- Will actually be understood
- Will not annoy the receiver
- Does not take up too much time on the receiver’s end.
Generally speaking, the sender and receiver see things from drastically different points of views. And from the perspective of a sender, we often do not spend time understanding who the receiver is and what their inbox might look like. Let’s have a quick glance at both sides:
Observing the Receiver
- Gets a lot of email.
- May receive compliments regularly, if they are a public figure.
- Regularly gets asked a standard set of questions and favors.
- Does not have a lot of free time.
- Does not mind helping you, if it is fast.
Observing the Sender
- Spends a long time crafting the ‘perfect’ (-ly long) email.
- Believes that their request is original, unique, and special.
- Believes that they are the first to ask for such favors.
- Cannot imagine why anyone would turn them away.
- Desires to tell the whole story, explained from every angle, so that the listener can understand their point of view.
- With such divergent perspectives, it’s no wonder receivers receive the kinds of email that they do, and that senders are wondering why their emails isn’t effective or eagerly responded to.
Now, putting ourselves in the perspective of a receiver (and we’ve all been there). When we are faced with going through an inbox full of email – coming back from a vacation for example, we have some natural habits that are worth noting:
- We tend to answer, or be drawn to email that are the fastest to answer or process. That means email that require very little work or thought.
- When we open an email that’s very long, our gut reaction is to close the email, or come back to it later when we might have more time.
- When we receive an email from someone wanting something from us, wanting us to buy something, or wanting our time, we instantly feel guarded and will automatically want to say no, even if the offer will benefit us in reality.
- We go through email while asking “what’s the point?”
- We go through email that is pitching something while asking “why should I care?”