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Ryan Standil is a former lawyer and the owner of Write To Excite. He leads workshops for businesses and governments about effective writing in the workplace.

Do you ever find that your co-workers or customers take a long time to respond to your e-mails? In some cases, do they fail to respond altogether?

To elicit faster responses, use an empathetic approach by putting yourself in the shoes of your recipient. When you are drafting an e-mail, ask yourself, “What would it be like to receive this same request?”

This process begins by acknowledging that your recipients are equally as busy as you. They are juggling dozens of other e-mails, along with their actual work and personal commitments. Their demanding schedules leave only a few minutes to answer your messages. Therefore, consider whether you are writing your e-mails in a way that allows readers to rapidly formulate a response.

Here’s an example. In November, I led a workshop about effective writing for the sales department of an insurance company. Afterward, a participant named Bruce offered to connect me with the head of another department, Nancy, and he asked me to remind him the next week.

Knowing Bruce would be busy, I carefully drafted an e-mail that he could forward to the department head without having to add any original information. I made it clear that he had seen me speak, I explained how my training could boost his company’s profitability and I expressed interest in working with the other department. By not relying on Bruce to mention these points, I maximized the chances he would introduce me to Nancy, given his limited free time.

Of course, he was welcome to add his own thoughts, but my message enabled him to simply write:

Hi Nancy,

I thought of your department during a recent training session. Please see the note from Ryan, below.

- Bruce

Here’s another example. Imagine someone e-mails you with an idea and asks whether you wish to discuss it. The vagueness of that request makes it a headache for you to respond. The sender has left you wondering how this conversation will take place (by telephone, on video or in person), when it will be and how long it will last. It also feels as if you are responsible for sending a calendar invitation.

A better request would be if the sender wrote: “I am wondering if you are available for a 30-minute phone call to discuss this on January 25 or 30. Upon learning of your availability, I would be glad to send you a calendar invitation.”

As you can see, the sender has offered to do most of the heavy lifting, which allows the recipient to respond in seconds.

According to Steven Pinker, a Canadian psychology professor at Harvard, writing your e-mails in this fashion is not intuitive. Empathy is unnatural, he says. Because we view the world from our own perspective, it is hard to adopt the perspective of someone else.

In the first example above, I may have thought that Bruce enjoyed my workshop so much that he would find the time to describe it in detail to his colleague. But this mindset fails to consider Bruce’s competing priorities, such as his urgent deadlines. In the second example, it may have been obvious to the writer that a 30-minute phone call was being requested – to the point that he never realized his reader was contemplating an in-person conversation.

A third example comes from Prof. Pinker. Even at Harvard, “30 students send me attachments named ‘psychassignment.doc,’” he said. (Imagine being Prof. Pinker and downloading these files from your inbox!)

Jason Feifer, the editor of Entrepreneur magazine, echoed Prof. Pinker’s anecdote. He wrote that he once received a calendar invitation titled, “Call with Jason Feifer.” I suppose it was clear to the sender ...

A final example is when you need to write a long e-mail. Sometimes, including a lot of information is unavoidable, but there are effective ways to structure your message. You should begin with a summary of your main point and include the details underneath or in an attachment. Also, use clear headings so that different readers can bypass the sections that are irrelevant to them.

If possible, try to provide a deadline. You could, for example, explain to your clients that if they respond within 48 hours, you will be able to guarantee certain pricing or availability. This time sensitivity ratchets up the urgency of your e-mail, ensuring it won’t fall down your recipients’ to-do list.

Developing empathy takes practice. The next time you are sending an e-mail, envision the specific actions that are required to formulate a response.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.