10 Strategies for Getting a Faster Response to Your Email

Responsiveness is a critical life skill. In fact, I think it may be the single most important factor to your success. People who are not responsive miss out on many opportunities. Why? Because others get tired of waiting on them.

Woman Asleep at Her Computer - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bookwyrmm, Image #11268589

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bookwyrmm

But, let’s be honest—not everyone you or I deal with shares this value. Or, even if they give lip service to it, they don’t practice it in daily life. And so, you wait. And wait. Meanwhile, your own work stacks up and you look unresponsive to your constituents.

It would be great if you never had to deal with these people. The problem is that sometimes “these people” include your boss, a colleague you don’t have authority over, or an important customer. How do you get them to respond to you in a timely manner?

Here are ten strategies that I have found helpful:

  1. Put their name in the “To” field. This should be obvious, but if you want a response from a specific individual, put that person’s name in the To field and that person’s name alone. If there is more than one name, he or she might assume that one of the others will answer. Also, never use the CC field for any purpose other than FYI.
  2. Double-check the email address. A few months ago, one of my colleagues wasn’t getting a response from one of our authors. He said, “I’ve emailed him five times.” I was a little irritated myself, so I said, “Forward me your last email, and I will follow-up.” When I got the email, I noticed that my colleague had one character missing in the email address. I asked him to resend the original email with the correct address. The author responded within the hour.
  3. Write a relevant subject line. Think of the subject line like the headline of a newspaper. The goal is to get them to actually read the body copy. The more specific you can make it, the better. For example, if you are sending me a meeting agenda, don’t just put “Agenda” in the subject line. I get lots of agendas. Instead, put something like “Agenda for June 10th Executive Team Meeting.”
  4. Put your question at the top. Writing a good email is like writing a good blog post or magazine article. As they say, “don’t bury the lead.” Put the most important content (the “lead”) in the very first paragraph. Don’t assume that the recipient will read beyond that. You can use the rest of the email to provide support or background information.
  5. Keep your message short. Long emails only encourage procrastination. Think of your own behavior. What happens when you get a long email? Right. You save it for later. Unfortunately, many people never get around to “later.” If you keep the message short, you make it easy for the other person to digest what you have said and respond now.
  6. Use the high priority flag. You have to be careful with this, because if you use it with every message, people will “brand you” as someone who always cries “Wolf!” However, if you use this sparingly, it can communicate urgency. You can also begin the subject line with the word “Urgent,” a colon, and then your subject. For example, “Urgent: About to Miss the Grisham Deadline.”
  7. Offer multiple choices. Make it easy on the reader. Narrow the range of options down to two or three and then ask them to pick one. For example, “Which hotel do you prefer for our upcoming trip to San Jose: (1) the Marriott, (2) the Sheraton, or (3) the Hilton?” After you ask the question, you can provide the backup on each hotel.
  8. Provide a deadline. This makes your expectations clear, so the reader is less likely to procrastinate. I would advise against providing an artificial or bogus deadline. If the other person discovers that the deadline was not real, your credibility will be damaged. He will never take your deadlines seriously again. Instead, provide the specific date and time. For example, “by noon tomorrow (Thursday)” or “by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 7th.”
  9. Use a “negative option.” When all else fails, this is the strategy I use. Here’s how it works: You tell the person what you are going to do unless you hear back from them by a certain time. This makes their response optional. For example, “Unless you reply by noon tomorrow, I will assume that the proposal meets with your approval and send it on to the client.”
  10. Copy their boss. This is dangerous, I know. The person may respond, but they will likely also resent it. I never do this unless I am out of options, and I can’t get a response any other way. Before you use this strategy, you need to consider the collateral damage to the relationship. However, there are times when you have no other choice.

Finally, maybe you shouldn’t be using email at all. I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone prefers email. If the person isn’t responding, why keep beating your head against the wall? Instead, Twitter them (via DM), call them on the phone, or drop by for a visit. If the other person is your boss or customer, it is your job to conform to their communication preferences not the other way around.

What strategies have you found helpful for getting a faster response? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Mathewhongai

    never thought these i try now!

  • http://www.brandongerard.net/ Brandon Gerard

    Thanks for sharing.  Don’t Burying the Lead, this is an area I am working on improving.  At times it has proved to be harder than I realized. Focusing on this area has helped with writing better emails and making them much shorter.  

  • http://www.redplanet.biz/ Tufail Shahzad

    @mhyatt:disqus I’m using the similar strategies for the email communication, and recently started “Cold Calling” to my LinkedIn connections and I got few responses. I always use the first name in my subject line, as you mentioned above, and I don’t think if someone read your juicy & productive email strategies and he/she will not Tweet or spread these potential tips across their social networks like mine!

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  • Victor Carrere

    Between items 8 and 9 I would list an item that has worked for me: “Use the positive option”: Bring up the “whats in it for the reader of the email”. For instance: If I hear from you before Wednesday, February 6, we will be able to implement a plan. that features the options you wanted.

  • Manat

    If the sender is important to me, such as my boss. Yes, I have to take immediately action as the 1st priority. As well as we are the important guy to the receivers, they will quick response.
    I call them some time before sending some time after sending to let them know I did send or will send and need for their respond.
    I also use email for summarize what we’re talking and ask for their review and confirmation.
    For optional case, I also provide with my suggestion which one is better for their consideration. Because I ever had experience that they replied with no objection for both options, but finally they not satify with it.

  • uttamasara

    you can ask them like say hey how are you ? then ask something she like ok good

  • http://www.drjasonjones.com/ Jason E. Jones

    Great article, Michael. I’d also add, Pairing the email with a text message or phone message. This is a great way to get the person to know an email has actually been sent. Very helpful for people who get hundreds of email daily and have a strong email filter.

  • Melinda Todd

    This is one of those things that drives me insane when I can’t move on until I hear from this person. I hate those who wait until the last minute to get me something that I needed days ago, like a lesson plan for a class I’m teaching. I need time to read the material and prepare. These are good pieces of advice. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/ Rob Sorbo

    I’ve been soured on the copying of the boss option. One time my assistant director, director, and VP were copied on an e-mail asking me for a report. I think I may have been slightly late in getting the report to the person who needed it, but it wasn’t something that was time-critical.

    I then made the mistake of sending her the report without replying to all, so one by one all three of those leaders came to me to make sure I did the report.

  • Chris

    Sapulpa Historical Society sends many emails to members. Some of our members say they prefer a paper newsletter &/or invitations. When a response is needed, we always follow-up with a phone call.

    Every few months we give the option of being removed from our mailing list.
    Be sure to update you contact lists every six months.

  • ISSolutions4U

    Lots of great tips here! I’m going to have to revisit this one again. I’ll also be sharing it with others.