The “Easy Out” Email Technique

Life is a sales call. Every day we're trying to sell something to somebody — from as little as convincing someone to join you for dinner to as big as selling a potential employer on your credentials. That's why it pays to study sales and psychology.

Most sales activity these days happens over email. So it's important to think through how you can craft emails that get the response you're looking for.

My friend David Cohen, executive director of TechStars (apply to Boulder now!), blogged about a good technique to use that he calls "the easy out." If you've been emailing someone who is not responding and you've followed up by phone and still are not getting an answer, try this:

You can send an email that says something like “It’s been some time and after several attempts, I haven’t received a response from you about my proposal. I realize this may not be a fit for you, but I was hoping you could just let me know for sure with a quick reply so that I can cross you off my list.”…

Magically, you’ll find that providing the easy out sometimes triggers action. Psychologically, it feels like a last chance to the recipient. I’ve noticed that the easy out is generally effective at separating the “maybes” into “No” and “I really am interested – I’ve just been busy.” Most people won’t ignore the easy out (if they receive the message), and their reaction can be telling of their true intentions.

I'll be writing about this topic more later in the year. Let me know if there are other situations where you are interested in how to get the attention of a busy person.


  • Imagine if the SAT lasted two days, covered everything you've ever studied, and decided your future. Welcome to China.
  • When things go wrong or when your expectations are not met, the first words out of your mouth should be: "Hmmm. Interesting."
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  • What's the difference between liberals and libertarians? Arnold Kling outlines the key points.
  • Long piece on Dave Eggers. "I need eight hours to get 20 minutes of work done…and seven hours of self-loathing."
6 comments on “The “Easy Out” Email Technique
  • Thanks for the Dave Eggers link, Ben. Here’s another quote from it, especially for you, per your Twitter manifesto and verbal assault on Michael Lewis a week or two ago:

    “At home, where he writes, he no longer has internet access. A four-month stint with wi-fi proved “deadly” for his productivity …. “Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you’re called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can’t ever get back down. I have a great friend who became a Twitterer and he says he hasn’t written anything for a year.”

  • I gave advice along those lines to my roommate just yesterday. She’s trying to get an internship in Beijing, and is frustrated because the person she’s been in touch with won’t get back to her.

    I reminded her that no one cares about her as much as she cares about herself, and that she needs to make getting information out of the recruiter as easy for him as possible. I suggested sending an email asking to schedule a 10-minute phone conversation with him, and suggesting a time that she will call. Now, all he needs to do is say “yes” or “no” to the phone call, and she will have the chance to get all of the information she needs from him at their appointment.

    Hopefully this will do a better job at soliciting a response, since it requires almost no work on his part. He just has to say “yes” and then answer the phone when she calls.

    Realizing that no one cares about me as much as I care about me has helped me a lot over the years.

  • The “hmm…interesting” reminds me of a really neat quotation by Isaac Asimov.

    “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …’ ”

  • Hey Ben,

    Thanks for sharing this information.
    The most common instance where we all seek to get a response from a busy person is while applying for a new job. Most HR professionals do not oblige even after repeated mails and when they do, it is a “fit for all” replies to our customized applications. Can you suggest something regarding this?

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