4 Principles of an Email Request

Everyone wants a piece of you. Prioritize who you help; help those who help others.

man looking at email on iphone by Reuters - Ueslei Marcelino

I have naturally evolved to follow this tenant.  It is the only way for me to deal with the number of requests for assistance that come my way via email. More importantly, it is a way for me to magnify my impact. I am much more likely to help someone when I know my resulting effort or resources will in turn help many more. It is a way to extend my reach and multiply the amount of good I can accomplish.

Like Adam Grant,  I love small problems I can solve in a few minutes or hours. Quick wins that brighten my day and leave me feeling productive.  I also favor what “Adam Rifkin, calls the five-minute favor: a way of adding high value to others’ lives at a low personal cost.”

I recently read a wonderful Quartz interview with Adam Grant where he describes the four principles he wishes strangers would follow when emailing him for assistance:

1. Ask rather than demand. It’s remarkable that many emails from strangers have included statements like “I need your help” and “We should definitely meet.” When people declare their requests as statements or pleas rather than questions, I find myself less enthusiastic about helping.  Just asking politely, and acknowledging that I might be busy, turns out to be rather endearing and refreshing.

2. Tell me how I can help without requesting a call or meeting. It’s much more palatable for me to help a large number of people if I can make them the five-minute favors. During one week, I counted the hours of my time that strangers were seeking, and found that they added up to more than 24 hours per day. To manage that load, I find that I’m most helpful when the request is for me to make an introduction or share knowledge by providing references to relevant articles, studies, or books.

3. Keep the email short and sweet. After receiving hundreds of emails from strangers that were many pages long, it’s clear that longer messages require much more time to read and respond. I’m now aiming to limit my own emails to one paragraph or less, and it would be incredible if strangers did the same.

4. Show that you’re willing to pay it forward. I was taken aback by the sheer number of people who came out of the woodwork with requests for themselves. I want to invest my time where I can have the most significant and lasting impact, so I’m much more excited about helping people who are motivated to help others. The strangers who receive the most support from me are those who make it clear how they planned to pay it forward—and to whom.

I have just ordered my copy of Give and Take: An Revolutionary Approach to Success and I look forward to a wonderful read.

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Categories: Professional Development

3 replies

  1. Sage advice. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Viki,
      Thanks for liking this post and following my site. It’s early morning and I should be getting ready for work but I became completely absorbed in one of your posts and now must quickly sign-off. I look forward to receiving your future posts in turn.

      Have a wonderful day.


      • Thank you, Sherry
        It is lovely of you to say so. Even though I do not want to make you late for work, that is the aim for all writers, isn’t it, to get the reader hooked and keep them reading.
        Project R: Relationship Interrupted runs till the end of October. I was touched that other writers/poets/photographers/artists were willing to take time and think through the question of relationships so as to help me help someone I care about.
        Once the project is over (although of course, when it comes to relationships it never quite is), I will be able to share more of my own creations. Until then, I look forward to reading your posts.
        Hope you have a great day.
        And thank you for your reply and follow.

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