The other day I was talking with a man named Scott, who asked me whether I agreed with a tip he had picked up in a presentation on writing email. The presenter had said that one should never write to a group–only to individuals–because that is the only way to get a response.
Whenever I am asked a never or an always question, I have to think about it. I took some time to think about Scott’s question and its implications in my email writing and reading. For a couple of days I noticed how I reacted to the email to “Dear Lynn” and to “Dear All,” and I thought about email I have received in the past.
Now I can say that I believe Scott’s tip was right–at least most of the time.
These are my observations:
- If I get an email as a “copy to” recipient, I read it. However, I don’t respond unless I feel I have an important contribution to make.
- If I receive an email as part of a group–and that email is asking for volunteers–I don’t volunteer unless the task is something I am completely excited about. I also don’t write back unless my relationship with the writer is important to me, and I want to communicate that I value him or her.
- If I receive an individual email asking me to volunteer, I respond positively if the writer explains why the task is important and why I am the person to do it.
- If I receive an email that pretends to be individual–that is, it says “Dear Lynn” but is obviously being sent to a large group of individuals (a newsletter, for example)–I often delete it without reading it–unless the topic or sender is important to me.
- If I receive an email that is obviously to a large group, I don’t read it unless I can see in the first two lines (one line?) that it offers something of value to me.
Based on my own experience, I suggest these guidelines:
- Do not expect any response from “copy to” recipients.
- Do not expect people to volunteer unless you ask them individually.
- Do not pretend to be writing to an individual when you are not–unless you are sending a newsletter, an announcement, or something similar. In that case, make sure that your opening is compelling.
- If you are writing to a group, grab them in the first couple of lines so that individuals will want to read on. Use the word you to engage each person.