Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Nina Cvijovic
When I got my first task to write a few cold emails and send them to people I had never met before, I felt paralyzed. It seemed to me like some kind of alien relationship that I had to build using one simple email. And by the way, I’m not at all timid in the ‘real world’. I love meeting new people and starting conversations.
But cold emails, well, they scared me. So I did what I always do when I have venture into the unknown: I started researching the topic and tried to put the “rules” into practice. Unfortunately, I was like a three-year old trying to understand how to socialize with elders by following guidance from his parents. It didn’t feel natural at all.
For me, following the rules blindly took me nowhere. I sent out generic copy-paste messages and hoped for the best.
After I while, I figured out that there was a very easy solution to this email puzzle: You need to understand other people.
You might find this too obvious. But I’m not talking about understanding people by following the logic of rules. I’m talking about understanding yourself in the first place.
We, humans, are all the same. Let’s take that as a starting point.
We are driven by the same emotions and we respond to them in a similar manner.
And I emphasize the word emotions because it’s our main character for the story.
As Dr. Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner for economic psychology, pointed throughout his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” there are two systems of thinking: System 1 and System 2 (or Bob and Joe, as he nicknamed them to identify their characters).
Anyway, Bob is emotional, instinctive and fast. And our boy Joe is logical, calculative and slow. What’s important to know is that Bob is more powerful than Joe when it comes to making decisions.
“The intuitive System 1 is more influential than your experience tells you, and it is the secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make.” – Daniel Kahneman
Sometimes you need a little help from psychology to be able to understand what lies beneath the choices you make. You don’t have to stay theoretical about it. Try to practice introspection in your everyday life.
Prior to writing an email we have a goal we want to achieve. It might be our personal vision, our company’s vision we share, or a task we were given. Whatever it is we have to honestly believe in it and see what good we can make doing it – or like I read in a lot of blog posts: “How can we help someone” or “Provide value”.
And helping someone doesn’t mean carrying a bag of groceries for an old grandma because society tells you to, but because you feel it is the right thing to do.
Just a little disclaimer before I start. I’m naming the 5 steps that work best for me and follow the rules of my heart. There are many more. The best way to find them and understand them is to try to figure out what moves you when you receive an email.
1. Hi reader, may I call you Jane?
Email personalization became one of the first steps in “How to write an email” articles. Of course, personalization doesn’t stop there and you should go beyond the ‘recipient’s name’ personalization, but try not to forget to use it.
A study about self-awareness has shown that there is unique brain activation that happens when people hear their own name.
And sometimes you don’t need science to tell you this. Just remember how you felt when you just met someone and after a few moments he or she approached you again and said “Hey, Jane”. Or if your college professor shakes your hand and says: “Hi, Jane, how are you”.
If you can’t find your recipient’s name (which is very unlikely) you can add something additional to ‘Hi there’.
This is what Ann Handley did on the email I received when I subscribed to her blog. It’s not a cold email but it will serve as a great example:
(Note to self: start collecting email first names…)”
Be yourself when you solve these problems. What I would do is:
(It feels rude not knowing your name. Hi, I’m Nina, what’s your name?)
Mentioning someone’s name suggests they are important to you and it can imply that the message is directly sent to them. Think about it as a rule in general that doesn’t only apply to the rule of using first name but applies to your entire message. That is why generic emails where you include someone’s name won’t make a big difference
2. We have something in common
Do opposites attract? I’m not so sure about that. If you ask me I’m mostly attracted by similarity and something I would call a complementary trait.
Psychologist Jerry M. Burger and his colleagues discovered in their research that incidental similarities change the way we act and talk to strangers. People who shared something in common, such as the same name or birthday, were more willing to agree on a request – as if they were dealing with friends.
Following someone you want on social media before sending them an email is usually a good idea. You will find out more about the person and see if there is something you have in common. But don’t stand there in the corner with your back against the wall, step up and engage. Then they will know that you also care about the same things.
It will be much easier to write an email later and mention these similarities in a natural way.
3. A very merry unbirthday to you!
To me? Yes, to you!
Give and don’t expect anything in return. Sounds hard? One mistake a lot of people make is that they force others to return the favor instantly and that’s the point where they get a straight ‘no’. Because the feeling that you were being used leads nowhere nice.
In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Cialdini mentions that people will more likely say ‘yes’ if you have given them something that can help them out.
If you give and not ask for anything in return, you will see that people naturally come back to you wanting to help you.
Find out what you can offer. Maybe that’s something that will light up a new perspective of thinking to that person or add value to his project.
For this step, the most important thing is that your intentions are good and that you truly want to help, as I mentioned at the beginning.
4. If you go there you’ll get lost
Do you remember the circular messages that people used to send as SMS, later emails and now you can see them on Youtube comments or some viral Facebook posts?
They have two possible endings and the first one goes something like this:
“This is an ancient prophecy old as the earth is old. It says you have to share it with 5 of your friends or you will live the rest of your life miserably.”
The second one is more pleasant:
“This is an ancient prophecy old as the earth is old. It says you have to share it with 5 of your friends to live your life in happiness and joy.”
You may wonder what the point is here.
When I was younger, the first message always scared me and I was tempted to send it. The second one didn’t trigger much; I knew it was just a one of those messages and I never thought about passing it on to someone.
Now I understand that that happened because we as humans tend to care more about losing what we have over gaining what we don’t have, as Kahneman and Tversky proved in their Prospect Theory.
Even when the offer is equal, like in the case with an old prophecy, we are more likely to go with the first one because it points out that we will lose the solid life we already have.
The way you choose to use this one in your email is based on the way you formulate sentences.
Transform this one:
If you do X you’ll get Y.
Into this one:
If you don’t do X you’ll miss out on Y. And why would you want to let that happen to you?
Honestly, I like to use this one with a touch of humor and I think it’s a great thing to put things into perspective if you are offering something that is so good that the other party would be silly not to take advantage of it.
5. Spread the positivity
What others think of us, well in society, really plays a big role. And we naturally want to be perceived in a good light in all fields of our life.
I’m talking about positive labels. If you google it, most of the things that pop up are related to parenting and can be very much applied to you. So here is one quote from A Fine Parent:
“The labels we choose, either consciously or by default, can make a huge impact on how we parent and how our kids perceive themselves.”
This isn’t just true for kids, it also reflects how adults perceive themselves: We tend to live by the expectations of others have of us.
If people express admiration for your cooking, the next time you invite them for dinner, you will do your best not to change their opinion.
You can use these positive labels in email as well. Naming actions positively can bring out the best in people. So don’t be afraid to compliment someone, but only if you mean it.
Here are a few examples:
“You are amazing! This was the best collaboration I had so far.”
“It’s been a pleasure working with you. Thank you.”
“I admire the way you make decisions.”
“You are my most valuable source of information.”
“Your articles always help me a lot.”
If you want to delve further into the subject of psychology, influence and negotiation, these are my three favorite books:
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
And if you want to make an experiment and stay practical, the only exercise you need to do is to stop for a moment and think about what you liked in an email you received and more importantly – why you liked it. What caused you to think about it and say ‘yes’.
If you have any other examples you discovered I would love to hear them and get to know your perspective.
P.S.S. One big wave for my brain-friend Bob of whom I thought a lot.
About Author: Nina Cvijovic
Nina is a researcher and writer at Etools – a toolkit that lets you find the exact contact details of any business. She is interested in visual art, literature and writing. She believes that the goal of marketing should never be selling, but rather sharing, helping and uniting. The best marketing always starts with honesty and storytelling. You can follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.