From time to time in your life, you probably need to reach out to someone. This might be someone you barely know or used to know. It might be a complete stranger.
But if you’re reaching out to them, it’s probably because you want something or need something. And if they don’t know you very well, you’re on thin ice from the get-go with this outreach. This is easy to get wrong.
Today I’d like to address one of the biggest thematic ways that we all tend to get this wrong. We mess this up by giving people homework assignments.
No Finger Pointing Here. We All Do This, Me Included.
Before I go any further, let me confess to sending long emails. I mean, to be fair, I go overboard with everything in text. I tend to epitomize Blaine Pascal’s sentiment, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
In blog posts (or books), that can be a virtue when properly harnessed. In emails, usually not. How often do you receive a wall of text in an email and think, “oh, sweet, let’s dig into this?”
And yet, that’s what I tend to do, unless I fight myself. So understand that nothing I’m saying here is intended as drive-by judgment of others. Rather, it’s an examination of how we can fight the impulse to send self-serving communications — ones that inadvertently create homework for the recipient.
Empathize with Your Email Recipient
I own, as a partner or sole owner, 3 businesses. One of those has close to 30 people doing work for us, and another has me partnered with 2 folks in close proximity. With these two business, I have something like 20 regular client companies with different people working for them, and I don’t know how many prospects.
This puts the number of people I need to be responsive to at something like 100, whether responding directly or delegating. If all of them needed a lot of things in a week, I would work well over 40 hours just responding to them.
On top of this, I also have public-facing concerns. I have social media (though these increasingly broadcast only), a blog, blog comments, books, and more Slacks than I can keep track of. I’m a panelist on a podcast. Oh, and I also have friends and family.
I say none of this to ask for sympathy or to humble brag (complain brag). I love the businesses, the friends, the family, and the venues for public outreach. And I also really do make a concerted effort to respond to everyone that reaches out to me. (Ask my wife, who often asks “why are you still up” when I’m interfacing in these venues.)
I say this because, as someone with products, influence, and jobs to offer, I’m representative of who you might request a favor. And I’m going to frame the rest of this from my perspective, which is also likely the perspective of someone that you’re emailing.