How to Send Someone an Email When It’s Too Long

You have long wanted to answer someone. In fact, the time has expired for a response, so let it go. And go. After all, it’s been so long that you assume you’ll never be able to contact this person again — until you need something.

As executive trainer Rebecca Zucker wrote in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, networking is usually portrayed as being in a room full of people wearing name tags, but for the most part they keep in touch. Unfortunately, people are slipping away. Someone we got along with at school may one day end up in your job and you will truly regret breaking up with that relationship. When you realize that you really need to contact you, Zucker has some great email tips for getting there.

Blame them (in your mind)

The first step is to overcome the embarrassment of breaking contact. This is what has kept you from writing to them for (potentially) years. To overcome the blockage, Zucker encourages everyone to remember that the person you are emailing to hasn’t contacted you either. You just need something earlier. Maybe they’ll be really happy to hear from you! In the worst case scenario, they are unlikely to respond with recriminations and anger. Imagine a positive outcome by reminding yourself to forget about tango together.

Admit it was a long time ago

Trying to act like time has not passed will not do you any good. You both know it was a long time ago, so mention it. Zucker says he encourages clients to talk about it in the subject line. She offers a few phrases that seem a bit trivial to me, but seem to work:

If the context of your relationship was less formal, say, with a fellow student in college or graduate school, you can show some humor and say something like “Blast from the past” in the subject line. If your relationship was more formal, such as with a former boss or client, you can say something like “Reconnect” in the subject line. In my own experience of sending these types of email and the experience of my clients, when the person receiving the email recognizes the name, the response rate from one of these subject lines is over 90%.

It’s also good to mention this in the body of the email, perhaps in the context of updating information about what you’ve been up to. This is also the information they will need if you are discussing something work-related.

Watch your tone

If you are finally going to send someone a message many years later, this is probably very important. It is also likely that whatever your request is, it does not seem unreasonable that this person will do it, otherwise you would not have asked. Try not to sound desperate or demanding. Confidence in the validity of your request and some uncertainty in their desire to do so is the right tone. Zucker suggests offering them a way out if you’ve grossly overestimated the connection:

You might say something like, “I’m sure you are very busy, so if this is not the right time for you (or if you don’t feel like you know the person well enough to introduce him), I completely understand. “

And that gives them a great excuse not to talk to you for another ten years.

Give something in return

The first thing you should give is your gratitude, regardless of whether they can help you. Say thanks no matter what, but also offer them a mutual opportunity. It might be a general favor that might be called out on a particular day, or you might actually delve into what they’ve been doing. Perhaps you have something that they need.

Stay in touch!

You have broken the barrier. You never know when you might need someone in your work or everyday life. Keeping in touch with a casual email or business lunch can open doors. Don’t let them rust.


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