Do Your Emails Pass the 5-Sentence Test?

PulitElephantInTheRoomzer Prize winning humorist Gene Weingarten said, “Let’s address the elephant in the room.

‘YO Elephant!’”

Do you know what the elephant in the room in every business interaction is?
People wondering, “How long will this take?”

Anxiety is defined as “not knowing.”

If people don’t know how long we want their attention, they don’t pay attention.
They’re in a state of anxiety (perhaps even resentment) thinking, “Don’t you realize I’m busy? Don’t you understand you’re keeping me from working on other priorities? Hurry it up. I’ve got things to do.”

It’s like the famous New Yorker cartoon from Bob Mankoff. An executive is on the phone saying, “How about Tuesday. No? How about never? Is never good for you?”

From now on, if you want people to give you their precious attention, ask for a specific amount of their time, and pleasantly surprise them by asking for less time than expected.

I show how to do this in Chapter 10 of my new book, Got Your Attention? The chapter is titled, “Keep it Brief or They’ll Give You Grief.”

Here’s just one tip. Do you know about 5 Sentence Email?

Check them out at

They have a cut-and-paste statement you can include in your signature line to explain your policy of sending short emails, and its advantages for all parties involved.

Think about how much time this could save you and the people who receive your emails.

The average business worker sends 43 emails a day and receives 130, so keeping your emails to 5 sentences can cut down the amount of time you spend on them, and can make a huge difference in whether recipients choose to read them.

Worried you won’t be able to say everything you need to say in 5 sentences?

Guy Kawasaki, a big proponent of short emails, says “Proper email is a balance of politeness and succinctness.”

If you would like to combine courtesy and efficiency, he suggests you provide just enough information to answer these five questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want?
  • Why are you asking me?
  • Why should I do with what you’re asking me?
  • What is the next step?

You’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law? “A task expands to the time allowed for it?”

Horn’s Law is, ‘Communications expand to the time and space allowed for them.”

From now on, give yourself a time and space deadline for your emails, and let people know up front you’re going to keep it short.

You’ll find they’re much more likely to give you their valuable time, mind and dime.

  • Want to Share Your Story/Suggestion With Sam Horn?

    Do you have a real-life example you'd like to share of how you deal with difficult people - without becoming one yourself? A story of how you've learned to think on your feet and handle challenging situations in the moment? I'd love to hear it, along with any other sensitive, stressful situations you suggest I include in my work on Talking on Eggshells? With your permission, we may share it with readers and audiences so they can benefit from your insights and lessons-learned.
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