This weeks Idea: Sick of getting no reply to your emails?

with Neil Godin 

One of my favorite clients. On the phone. Frustrated. Confused. Resentful. Why?

“It’s maddening,” he said. “A prospective customer called me…told me he wants to get to work with me right away. He’s out of town. I told him I have other work to do in his area, and would get back to him within days, as soon as the schedule was firmed up. Then I emailed him to get his work scheduled, and he hasn’t returned my emails. I could scream!”

The Scream, an 1893 painting by Edvard Munch. Ever feel this way?

The Scream, an 1893 painting by Edvard Munch. Ever feel this way?

“Yes,” my client continued, “I call for a “read” receipt, but I haven’t received one…which means he hasn’t even bothered to open my email. Why wouldn’t he open my email? Why would he call me if he doesn’t want to go ahead!?”

It’s time for empathy: “The greatest skill on earth.” 

I call empathy the greatest skill on earth, because it takes everything we’ve got in our emotional and intellectual tool kit to put empathy to work. Empathy means trying to imagine the situation from the other person’s point of view. It means refusing to assume anything negative about the other person’s intentions or behavior when something like this happens. Instead we force ourselves to over-ride our initial negative reaction – so we can think the situation through – holding the other person blameless, while we work at solving the actual problem.  We can only do this if we suspend judgment, and avoid those feelings of frustration, confusion and resentment.  Now we can attack “the problem,” not “the person.”

Instead of assuming they are rude, or playing games (or whatever), we make a positive assumption.  For example, we assume that their attention is totally diverted to some challenge they’re dealing with.  In this case, we assume that they’ve seen our email, but have simply chosen to open it “later,” after their special challenge is behind them. Ah, but you’re right. In my client’s case, he can’t afford to wait until “later.” He needs to get through to this prospect, and get this work scheduled, “now.” Okay. Because we’re calm and cool (no screaming here), we can pretty easily think up ways to get through to this prospect without waiting for his challenge to be resolved.

For example, I suggested that he email the prospect again, this time putting the whole story right in the subject line. Like this:

“Hi Bill. In your area wk of Oct 12. Mon or Fri avail. Your choice pls? Thx Neil.” 

(Isn’t it amazing how much content you can get into a subject line?) Now Bill knows explicitly why he needs to open the email now, and respond, if he wants his work done on this trip. And. The likelihood of a reply is very strong.  However. As I counseled my client, if he still doesn’t get a response, it is still counter-productive to make any negative assumption. Because he has offered Bill either Monday or Friday of the week in question, whether Bill’s company is in or out doesn’t affect his other work. Nothing gained. Nothing lost. Now it’s time for another decision: Do we pursue Bill further – perhaps by calling the company’s reception and asking if he is actually away from work for some reason? (Hey, he could be in hospital.) Or do we just move on?

If he simply moved on, and no other work came in for that open Monday or open Friday, then Bill could still call and ask if he could be scheduled at the last moment. If that doesn’t happen, I suggested, no need to worry. He may get a call from Bill months, or even a year later, apologizing for his non-communication; explaining, and asking to move ahead. Because my client never made a negative assumption, he’d be open to all possibilities.

Your call to action! 

If this sounds a bit blue sky, well, it is. We’ve been (unintentionally) programmed, conditioned, trained – since birth – to make negative assumptions when things go wrong. The empathy approach is a complete reversal – and it may seem either unreasonable (“Hey, the guy’s a genuine jerk”), or impossible – but if you want to save sales (like this) that would otherwise be lost, empathy may be just the way to do it. As you go through your day, watch for a situation that would normally trigger you to feel irritated, frustrated, disappointed, confused and resentful, and try the empathy approach.  (The alternative is a real scream).

See you next week!


Ps – If you’re in or anywhere near Vancouver on Tuesday, October 22, plan to catch my presentation to the Vancouver Business Network. My topic:  “3 Ways to Double Your Sales – Without Selling!” If you need sales, but hate making sales calls, this 60-minute program is for you. Led by co-organizers Roger Killen and Iman Aghay, VBN is now the largest business networking group in the Pacific Northwest, with 3592 members and counting. The group is free to join at  and their weekly presentations, including mine, are just Five Bucks. This is the deal of a lifetime. Sign up now and perhaps I’ll see you on the 22nd!

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