I’m an email junkie. I love my email. I love checking my email. I even secretly love flipping through the spam folder to see what promises of hidden viruses and financial windfalls from third world countries await me. I love the knowledge that the only thing standing between me and my dream Dubai vacation is my first-born, my bank information, and those three digits on the back of my credit card. Oh, and if it wouldn’t be too much of a bother, since we are talking millions, could I throw-in a birth certificate and my social security number, too? Why not! Look at all I’m gaining! Out of the billions of people they could have thrown money at, they chose a little ol’ Texas girl. They chose ME!
Those special little email gems are up there with notes from services I subscribe to where they’ve somehow forgotten my name and, using some of the craziest sentence construction I’ve ever seen, ask me to follow a link to straighten out my account information – termination of my account is imminent (or “intimate” or “emandnent” depending on the writer).
But every now and then, I get an email from someone I haven’t heard from in a long while. When I see those long forgotten friends, I stand up and shout “YAY!” and I clap a little on the inside, excited by the prospect of reconnecting with this long-lost friend. The note holds such great promise up until I open it and read the words, “Dear Beth, How are you?” and all sorts of alarms go off in my head. First, no one “dears” me unless they’re one of my elderly relatives or someone who thinks I need 0% interest for a year. Second, that “How are you?” is actually a warning sign that they’re either about to ask for something or they’re going to unload a huge bomb on my head that’s designed to lead me to a bottle of tequila and half a gallon of ice cream. Really, the “how” I’m doing is about as good as the “Dear Beth” – a pleasantry beaten into the author’s head by some well-intentioned parent or Sunday school teacher. Once they’ve dispensed with that tedious obligation of inquiring about me (surely, I’m “fine”, why inquire further?), they’re well down the road to the biggest “rock-my-world” bombshell meant to trouble my sleep for days. With the bombshell dropped, the only obligation left is figuring out a way to close the note that involves either the words “Yours” or “Sincerely” and signing their names.
So, here’s my “Miss Manners” or “Miss Beth” advice for those days you feel like contacting me out of the blue to tell me that you lost your entire family thanks to a freak bungee jump accident (who knew the five of them couldn’t jump at the same time on just the one cord), your hair is gone, your dog walked out and you’re now mixed up with a local Estonian gang who is forcing you to sell plasma – anyone’s. Before you wrap it up with a “and I was wondering if I could get a job reference,” I’m here to tell you I need a little more email foreplay. See, the old standby formula of “salutation, bombshell, closing” doesn’t work for me if your only goal is to both generate sympathy and solicit something.
In fact, you should follow these simple Beth guidelines and I guarantee you’ll get a letter of reference at the end.
Don’t open with “Dear” – “Dear” is code for “I want” in Beth-speak
Feign interest – ask about my husband, my pets, life in the suburbs, my crazy cousins, my crazy friends
Be conversational – we’re just old friends catching-up – I need to believe that your only motivation in contacting me is to reconnect
Apologize for the lack of communication – sell it, I want to feel the “sorry”
Wait to drop the Bombshell – this should appear at least 3-4 LENGTHY paragraphs down the note after you’ve successfully reeled me in – it naturally follows the apology “I’m so sorry we haven’t talked, but I’ve had some of the craziest things occur”
Elicit sympathy, but don’t go overboard – my brain can only take in so much, so if you’ve had tragedy piled upon tragedy, save some for later – in one email I can only handle “I’m sorry I didn’t meet you at the Empire State Building, but I was in the hospital”. Even if your entire family was also taking a group photo on the rim of the Grand Canyon and took “one step back” one too many times, save it for a second email. You see, I’m now feeling guilt over the anger I felt at having to fly to New York to stand on the NOT tallest building in the world while you were apparently decorating the front of a taxi cab. If you mention the Grand Canyon now, I may doubt the full body cast story.
Now get to the point – once I’m on page two of the longest email ever, it’s safe to ask about that letter of reference
Close simply – I don’t want to read “Sincerely” “Your truly” or any statement that includes the words “Regards” – stick with just your name, or if I adore you (and really that’s about three people here), you can try “Love”.
I want you to think of yourself as an email magician performing for me, your audience of one – engage, distract and finish with a bang. Extra points if you can get me to believe that whatever you want me to do is my idea.
In the end, we should both walk away feeling better about the exchange – you get what you want without having to suggest we “do lunch sometime” and I get a warm fuzzy that doesn’t include the need to mock you to my friends. Win-win!