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6 Ways to Get Me to Email You Back - Adam Grant


Stashed in: Networking, Gratitude, Influence!, @ifindkarma, Awesome, @ericschmidt, Email, @tferriss, Psychology!, Etiquette!, Life Hacks, Business, Productivity, Give and Take, Relationships

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For people who get more email than they possibly can read, good subject lines are SUPER important.

1. Perfect the subject line. When it comes to information, it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover. In To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink covers a study showing that people are more likely to read emails with subject lines that create curiosity or provide utility. When people aren’t busy, they’re drawn in by subject lines that intrigue them. But when they’re busy, curiosity fades in importance; the emails that get read are the ones with practical subject lines. When you want to grab the attention of someone important, scrap the entertaining subject lines and focus on utility. Here are some of the most effective subject lines that landed in my inbox from strangers:

  • Curiosity: “Advice for a fellow teleological people-person,” “I do not want anything from you,” “Your book kept me up all night,” “I will fly up and see you; you interest me,” and “Dan Pink would want me to write a creative subject line here”
  • Utility: “Applying your techniques to recovering addicts” and “Getting you to Atlanta”
  • Both: “Can you help give away 4 million dollars a year?” [Here, the sender cleverly went on to clarify, “I know the subject sounds like something you'd get from Nigeria, but…”]

If you're going to use email, remember rule number 5:

5. Make your request specific, and keep it short and sweet. A large number of emails were mini-novels, spanning multiple single-spaced pages. The longer the message, the longer it took me to read and respond, and the more overloaded my inbox, the less patient I was in reading them.

As the psychologist Robert Sutton recaps the evidence in Good Boss, Bad Bosspeople are more helpful when they’re given clear directions on how to contribute.

When Tim Ferriss challenged Princeton students to reach out to celebrities and top executives, one got an answer from then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt simply by asking him about when in his life he was happiest. Schmidt responded: “Tomorrow.”

Ferriss suggests that the best approach is to “send a two- to three-paragraph e-mail which explains that you are familiar with their work, and ask one simple-to-answer but thought-provoking question in that e-mail related to their work or life philosophies. The goal is to start a dialogue so they take the time to answer future e-mails -- not to ask for help. That can only come after at least three or four genuine e-mail exchanges.”

An email from a stranger is so much less likely to be seen that I'd be more inclined to spend the time to get to know them than working out a clever subject line. Once I read their latest blog entry and leave thoughtful comment, then check their tweets and social profiles I can find some that they are more interested in than email. 

I save my clever headline to get noticed by my friends and network, where one of them is bound to have a recourse that will help the recipient. Often this leads to them emailing me so I don't have to try to stand out as a stranger waving his arms for attention 

Warren, that is a thoughtful approach: instead of a cold-email, write intelligently on their blog or Twitter.

That's a good tip.

I think Adam's point #6 is great.

6. Express gratitude. My least favorite emails made demands instead of expressing appreciation. One person wrote, “We should definitely meet,” and another implored, “Please answer this question.” In my research, I’ve found that people provide more extensive and useful help when it’s an enjoyable choice than when it’s driven by perceived pressure or obligation.

I was excited to help when I felt I could make a difference, not when someone was attempting to coerce me or create a sense of obligation. One of the least motivating strings of emails came from a reader who described a complicated family situation and demanded that I respond “promptly.” Within a week, I sent a three-paragraph reply. I explained that it would be difficult to help without knowing the people involved, but offered a suggestion, attached an article, and recommended a book. The reply from the person said, “I am in receipt of your email” without a single expression of gratitude, and extinguished my desire to be helpful.

Gratitude is more powerful than we realize. In one experiment, Francesca Gino and I asked people to spend some time helping a student improve a job application cover letter. After they sent their feedback, the student replied with a message, “I just wanted to let you know that I received your feedback on my cover letter,” and asked for help with another one in the next three days. Only 32% of the people helped. When the student added just eight words—“Thank you so much! I am really grateful”—the rate of helping doubled to 66%. In another experiment, after people helped one student, a different student asked them for help. Being thanked by the first student boosted helping rates from 25% to 55%. The punch line: a little thanks goes a long way, not only for encouraging busy people to help you, but also for motivating them to help others like you.

Additionally, I think of expressing gratitude in an alternate way. If we can express gratitude first by paying something forward, then we make a warm connection with the person we are emailing. Sharing something that may be of interest, sending an informative article, or helping make a connection are all ways to being grateful before anything has been received.

Warren, I definitely like your idea, and it seems to coincide with my thinking. Make a connection by giving first, and then when the time is right, the favor will almost certainly be returned. I've been able to build connections with some really amazing people this way.

The longer I do this, the more I realize that we're going to get to a point where ANY pushing of one's agenda will be seen as too pushy.

I have been a salesman for most of my life, promoting something every time I open my mouth. So like everyone one else, I was raised in the 20th century paradigm, where the guy with the biggest marketing budget or loudest blast wins.

Even as I write the line about not pushing, I'm thinking in my head "how can that be.. how can everybody only give?"  .. I don't have the math for it. Maybe Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" whuffies, or maybe we go back a couple hundred years when a salesman was a "carpet bagger"

We're not there yet.. but I'm sure having fun trying.

Everybody can't *just* give. That doesn't work.

I think the key is understanding that relationships are progressions.

Big favors are reserved for deep relationships.

Deepening relationships takes time.

All giving doesn't work.. but that doesn't mean we have to turn into takers.

The more I give, the more I receive. I don't have to focus on the receiving, but you are right, I'd be a fool to reject that. :)

Warren, well said.

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