No need to reply

In a minute, I’ll give you the secret to getting an email reply from almost anyone. But first, some context…

Even though I’m only very slightly known in a niche and local industry, I get a lot of emails from strangers – and I do my best to reply to all of them.

The majority are kind words with a simple request, which I tend to reply to quickly. It’s usually something straightforward like “Can you recommend a mortgage broker?”: either I can or I can’t, and it’s a one-line answer either way.

A smaller number sit in my inbox for much longer, until the guilt of staring at them gets too much. These often contain multiple lengthy paragraphs of back-story, with the request buried somewhere in the middle or only hinted at. Even if the request is identical to the previous category, I hold off replying because it takes so much time and effort to locate it.

And an even smaller number I can’t meaningfully reply to at all. Sometimes it’s endless detail (sometimes with charts and graphs) about the sender’s plans, and a request for “your thoughts” – which would take hours to absorb and formulate a response to. Sometimes it’s a short message like “I read your book, do you have any extra advice for me?”, which makes me think (a) surely I would have included it in the book if I thought it were relevant, and (b) how can I give specific advice when I know nothing about you?

The general lesson here is the shorter the email and more specific the request, the more likely I am to reply. But there’s one type of email I’ll reply to quicker than even the shortest request: one I don’t have to reply to at all.

That’s because even the smallest question or request still creates an un-asked-for obligation that the recipient has to meet – and the volume of small requests becomes overwhelming, even for someone as non-famous as me. But if you share something kind or useful with no strings attached, it jumps the queue and I’ll reply because I want to – not because I feel I have to.

I’ve tested this out on other people, and received replies from lots of internet-famous people when I immediately release them from obligation by starting my email with “There’s no need to reply, but…”

So that’s how you get a reply from almost anyone: share something helpful and tell them they don’t have to reply. Even if you do want to ask for something, you’ve opened a line of communication that might allow you to make that request successfully a couple of emails later.

That’s the secret – now don’t use it cynically.