Joe Hirsch

Your future self

Your future self is waiting for you. What will it look like?

What if you could fast forward five years from now, ten years from now – and meet your future self?

What would your future self look like? Would it be happy and successful? Thriving at work? Doing well in life?  Or would your future self be discouraged? Disappointed? Missing out on all that life has to offer?

If you met your future self, would you discover that the decisions you’re making right now are creating future obstacles….or opportunities?

Things are the way they are because we allow them to be that way. Nothing is life is destined, predetermined or meant to be. It’s decided. Life is chosen. Paths are taken. We are the product of our priorities. We’re the ones, right now, who get to make the decisions, define the terms, shape the roads that ultimately become our future.

Because the future is happening right now.

We don’t get to choose what the world brings to us. But we always get to choose what we bring to the world.

What you look for is what you see. What you believe is what you become.

When you skid a rock across the water, it creates a ripple. It spreads across the surface well beyond its point of impact.

The decisions we make today ripple across time. They reverberate into tomorrow. They become our future. Because our future starts today.

Today – start changing your view of yourself. Start changing your view of the future.  Others are looking to you. They are looking at you. And so the question you need to ask yourself is this:

When people meet your future self, what do you want them to see?

The Art of Persuasion

Persuasion works best when you help others convince themselves.

Really good salespeople know how to persuade their prospects. But they don’t do it by pushing them harder. Instead, they push away the hard issues — the barriers that keep others from taking action. You don’t need to be manipulative to win people over. All it takes is a better understanding of how people make decisions.

Persuasion is part art, part smarts. Stick with these principles of persuasion, and you’ll end up getting more of what you want by giving others more of what they need.

Highlight the gap.

When people are pushed, they tend to push back. It’s called reactance, and it’s a hardwired human trait. The best way to convince others is to help them convince themselves. Start by highlighting the gap between the present and future — what is and what could be. Describe the benefits of your product or service — not just the features — and guide others to imagine future possibilities that can come from closing that gap.

Surface the costs.

People resist change because they place more value on what they already have, something known as endowment. In reality, the cost of not taking action — in terms of money, time and opportunity — can be much higher. To be more persuasive, you should surface the costs of sticking with the status quo. Help others recognize that they stand to gain much more by acting than not.

Make numbers sound human.

Some people need data to guide their decisions. Data is good, but data stories are even better. Use math to deliver a message. Instead of saying that your product decreases costs by 30%, put the savings in human terms: “Our customers are happier as a result of the savings we deliver.” Numbers count more when they tell a story.


Shorten the distance.

People have a hard time accepting ideas that exist in a faraway future. To be more persuasive, shorten the distance from concept to reality by asking for smaller commitments and creating easier points of entry. These shrinking strategies let others see progress unfold over shorter intervals, boosting their confidence in you and their willingness to stay the course.


The best way to change people’s minds is to open their minds. Highlight the gaps, surface the costs, make your numbers human and shorten the distance to action, and you’ll find that prospects are ready — and willing — to hear what you have to say.

Be a first-class noticer

Don’t overlook the obvious.

Have you ever faced a situation at work and wondered, “How could this have happened?” or “Why didn’t I see that coming?

  • You lose a bid for a project you assumed was a lock.
  • You learn employee engagement scores are much lower than expected.
  • You discover that your top salesperson is leaving for a competitor.

Even the best of us fail to recognize the signs that are hiding in plain sight. It could be the result of willful blindness. Or a lack of self-awareness. But when we aren’t picking up on the clues and cues around us, we get second-class data, make second-class decisions, and end up with second-class outcomes.

The solution? Become a first-class noticer.

First-class noticers do more than just pay attention. They observe and absorb situational and behavioral patterns. The term “noticer” was coined by Noble prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow in his 1997 novella, The Actual. In the story, Bellow’s protagonist, Harry Trellman, catches the eye of a wealthy financier, Sigmund Adletsky, who brings Harry into his inner circle because of his extraordinary “first class noticer” skills.

And for good reason: Noticing can be a competitive advantage. It allows us to spot trends before they emerge and consider the long-term consequences of short-term conditions. First-class noticing helps us become more aware of what others are thinking or feeling without them even saying a word. It spares us from making costly errors and enables us to size up business opportunities and threats. At its core, first-class noticing sharpens our understanding of people and situations and positions us for more informed decision-making.

Some people are natural-born noticers. They can recall the agitated look on a coworker’s face during a meeting. They can discern the non-verbal reactions of a client during a sales pitch. They remember who was taking notes during the all-hands meeting and who was checking social media. And then there’s everybody else, who somehow manage to overlook the obvious.

How can we become first-class noticers? By starting with small acts to build our awareness.

Set aside judgement

Too often, we pay more attention to what we’re looking for rather than what we’re looking at. (The “monkey business” illusion makes that abundantly clear.) These visual blinders keep us from seeing the whole picture, or worse, cause us to distort it entirely. A good rule of thumb: When you size up a situation – how people or places look, sound and feel – be a reporter, not an op-ed writer. Describe what you see, not what you think it means. Without that objectivity, it’s much harder to spot the patterns or connections hiding in plain sight.

Challenge initial assumptions

Sometimes we miss information simply because we don’t want to acknowledge it exists. Psychologists call this “bounded awareness” – the tendency to notice things that fit inside the bounds of our preconceived beliefs. As a countermeasure, it’s vital to challenge our assumptions. Are we seeing the picture clearly? Have we ignored something important?

A good way to stretch the bounds of awareness is to seek alternate perspectives. Ask a colleague or trusted partner to put forth their point of view.  Since different people have different bounds of awareness, getting multiple views can help us see past our blinders.

Build a noticing habit

Noticing is conscious choice. When we pay attention to the way we pay attention, our visual field become sharper and more deliberate. To train myself on becoming a first-class noticer, I designate time each day for “noticing bursts” – short, intentional periods of time when I heighten my visual awareness. At first, this can be very difficult. Given our bias for action, we’re more naturally drawn into a state of doing, not being. My initial “noticing bursts” lasted barely a minute. But with time and practice, I’ve managed to sustain my awareness for longer stretches of time.

We’re living in an age of busyness, distraction and disconnection. But when take time to engage with our surroundings, challenge our beliefs and assumptions, and reflect on what’s right in front of us, we can become first-class noticers. What we see might just surprise us.

Do:

  • Build a habit of being mindful of your surroundings, especially familiar ones.
  • Keep an observation journal detailing irregular occurrences, sounds, and events happening around you. This builds a habit of observing details. You can also do this conscientiously without writing everything down.
  • When talking to others, take into account their body language.

Don’t:

  • Overload yourself with stimuli to the point of distraction.
  • Check email/social media incessantly.
  • Schedule deep focus activities at high-activity moments in your day.

Managing your former coworkers

With clear and consistent leadership, it doesn’t have to be awkward.

So you just got promoted. Congrats! Moving into a leadership role can be an exciting and fulfilling career step. But it can also come with its share of complications. Whether it’s keeping projects on track or people in line, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the demands of a new position, especially if you’re managing your old colleagues.

Awkward!

One of hazards of leadership is neglecting the values and virtues that put you on that path. As you level up and demonstrate your leadership capacity, it’s important to stick to some of the basic people principles that got you here in the first place. Your former coworkers may be watching you closely, but with clear and consistent leadership, you can earn their trust and respect. Here’s how.

Ask for advice – and mean it.

Bringing your team into the decision-making process is smart practice: Not only does it improve the quality of your decisions, but it also motivates others to stand behind those ideas and implement them.

There’s just one caveat: You better mean it.

But when leaders ask for suggestions without really intending to follow through on those ideas, they engage in what psychologists have called “sham participation” – putting out a hollow call for ideas when a plan of action has already been determined.

This kind of deception wastes time and erodes trust. Once your former coworkers realize their opinions never really counted, they’ll quickly lose faith in you as their boss and doubt your motives for even seeking their input in the first place. Instead of winning support, you’ll enjoy up creating disappointment, confusion, and even resentment.  

To show your good intentions, be upfront about the decision-making process. Manage expectations by making sure others understand what needs to be decided, how information will be collected, and who will make the ultimate call. (If that’s you, then be clear about it.) People may not like the decision that’s reached, but they’ll respect the process – and you – for being transparent.

Reach a decision – and keep it.

Once decisions are made, it’s up to you to stand by them even when they’re unpopular. The rollout period can be fraught with grumblings, anxiety, and setbacks, but retreating from a decision not only weakens your plan – it also diminishes your credibility.

This can be especially challenging if you’ve been elevated to leadership from within your own team. People who were once your coworkers just a few days ago may second-guess your decisions, which can lead to self-doubt and insecurity. Even a hint of pushback can tempt some leaders to put projects on hold or cancel them entirely. This is the moment when you need to summon the courage to stand up and not give in.

I once worked with a leader who faced an early challenge from members of his team. They didn’t like his decision to move forward with a new feedback platform that required more frequent check-ins and documentation. But when this leader calmly listened to his team, addressed their concerns, and ultimately held is ground, he managed to keep the project moving forward without leaving others feeling left behind.

When promises are made and kept, leaders show their team they can be trusted to follow through. If new information emerges later, decisions can always be revisited – but now, it will come from a position of certitude, not weakness.

Pledge action – and do it.

The old adage of “say what you mean, and mean what you say” couldn’t be more true, especially for leaders managing former colleagues. It’s one thing to make a decision. It’s another to put that decision into action. The sooner ideas are executed, the better.

Once you’ve set a course in motion, it’s time to see it through. Project delays and bottlenecks create an opening for people to wonder and worry. Why are we holding off? Where did those resources end up going? And your former colleagues may start whispering, “See, I told you so!” To avoid second-guessing and uncertainty, get ready to launch as soon as possible.

Along the way, be sure to keep briefing your team to maintain clear lines of communication: Highlight upcoming deadlines and mile markers for projects. Give routine status updates. Create visibility by showing real-time results from the field. These are small gestures, but they’re great ways to make people feel informed and empowered.

To lead is to serve. Making the right investments as you begin your leadership role can make a world of difference to your team, especially if you have a long-standing relationship with them, When you serve others with clear messaging, consistent decision-making and candid communication, you’ll get better results for them — and yourself.

Tame Your To-Do List

We can do more by getting more out of our lists. Here’s how.

Ever get to the end of your day and realize that your to-do list is barely done?

I’ve definitely had my share of days when I feel super busy but strangely unproductive. And when I look at that list and see all the things that aren’t crossed off, I get a sinking feeling of frustration and guilt.

But instead of beating ourselves up for not paring our list down, there are steps we can take to make sure that we’re planning and prioritizing with just a bit more clarity, consciousness and self-compassion.

Completing vs. contributing

The first thing to remember is that there’s a big difference between “undone” and “unfulfilled.” t’s quite possible that the reason you didn’t get to something on your list is because you were attending to someone else’s need: An unexpected ask for help from a coworker. An unplanned client request. A sudden family emergency. We can’t control unforeseen circumstances, so we shouldn’t feel badly when they creep into our calendar and eat away at the clock.

Instead of feeling exasperated at the end of the day by what’s left undone, ask yourself a different question: Not “what did I accomplish?” but “how did I contribute?” We can still make a dent in people’s lives even if we don’t make a dent in our list. By that measure, we may be more productive than we think.

That’s a good head space to create for ourselves when things go off script. But there are also proactive steps we can take to tame our lists so that we can actually feel more energized and accomplished at the end of each day. Here are three.

Check your expectations

Some lists are doomed from the start. They’re an unwieldly mix of the complex and aspirational. So start by right-sizing your list so that it only features a few tasks that can be reasonably completed in the time allotted. Try optimizing your list with a simple inventory: Review the types of activities you’re committing to and which ones never seem to be crossed off. If the same task is routinely left incomplete, you might be better off time-blocking for that particular activity or bunching your commitments differently.

You can also pare down your list by coming up with a “to-don’t” list — the time-sucking, energy-draining activities that keep kicking around for no good reason. Cross them off and never look back. Choose your commitments carefully, and you’re more likely to deliver.

Pay attention to your intentions

If you notice certain items tend to linger on your list, it could be a sign that you’re not approaching your work in an optimal way. Start by paying attention to your intentions to determine if the reason you’re not getting something done is by design.

Do you know where to start? Is the task too difficult? Would you be better off breaking big tasks into smaller chunks? Is there a better time in the day to do them? Once you know which things are getting it the way, you’ll be in a better position to get things done.

Enlist support from others

Despite our best efforts, there’s still a limit to how much we can do on our own. Try identifying which items might be better off on a “to do together” list. Find partners to help you mark the job done. This doesn’t mean asking others to do the job for you — you definitely don’t want to add to someone else’s list! It simply means identifying support partners who may have a particular skill or experience that can help you work through that task more strategically and quickly. They may have some insight, tip or resource that can save you time and energy, so tap into them for help.

There are other benefits of broadening your support. From these small interactions, you may end up brokering unexpected and impactful collaborations down the road. Or you may find yourself in a position to reciprocate in the future by offering your own expertise or resources, building goodwill and capital that may come in handy later.

If you’re feeling like your to-do list is never done, then start checking your expectations, paying attention to your intentions and seeking support. By managing our priorities and practices differently, we can do more and feel better at the end of each day.

Dealing with Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is inevitable, but how we deal with it is up to us.

Getting negative feedback, especially from those we respect and trust, can quickly become an emotional train wreck that leaves us feeling hurt, helpless, and even a little bit hopeless. And when critical feedback is repeated over time, researchers have found that it can diminish our productivity, motivation and even our prospects for employment.

The good news? We can flip the script on negative feedback by changing the story.

While we can’t control what happens to us, we can certainly change what happens next. Whether negative feedback causes us to become depleted or determined may have to do with something psychologists call “explanatory style” — the way we explain the things that happen to us. It’s essentially the story that we tell ourselves after hearing it from others.

Explanatory style takes two forms: optimistic and pessimistic. Pessimists blame failure on themselves and attribute success to external causes. Optimists do the opposite: They attribute failure to circumstances beyond their control and success to their own efforts. 

People with a pessimistic explanatory style receive negative feedback and believe that their shortcomings are simply part of who they are, while individuals with an optimistic explanatory style think about criticism in terms of growth and opportunity. 

Your style is your story

For example, after receiving negative feedback about a sales presentation, the pessimist takes a defeatist attitude (“I’m terrible at explaining things and this won’t change”), while the optimist adopts a developmental approach (“Here’s what I will work on next time to get better results”).

How can we develop an a more optimistic outlook on negative feedback? By determining whether the negative feedback is personal, pervasive and permanent:

Is it personal?

Key question: Do we bear responsibility for what’s happening? (Me vs. them)

Pessimists treat failure as stable. They assume it’s a function of their own limitations and expect it to happen again. They regard negative feedback as a natural consequence of their character. Optimists think of failure as fluid — it’s more likely the result of external conditions, not internal characteristics. For them, getting negative feedback may say more about a set of circumstances than personal traits.

Is it pervasive?

Key question: Is this affecting other aspects of our lives? (Local vs. global)

Pessimists tend to believe that negative events are cumulative and spill into other aspects of their lives. They’re more likely to think of negative feedback as a feature, not a bug. Optimists believe that failures are isolated, not inevitable. They’re more likely to see negative feedback as a bump, not a bridge.

Is it permanent?

Key question: Will this continue to happen? (Always vs. sometimes)

Pessimists tend to adopt a fixed, permanent view and believe that bad outcomes will endure indefinitely. With negative feedback, they assume there’s no end in sight. Optimists take a more fluid, temporary view of setbacks and believe they can be resolved with the right actions. Negative feedback is a catalyst, not a crucible.

A more positive path

In a perfect world, we’d always choose the more optimistic explanatory style and think of tough feedback as something that’s only temporary, limited in its scope and within our ability to change. Then again, critical feedback has a way of throwing us into doom and despair. What can we do to change the narrative?

(1) Impose a “cool down” period: Let negative feedback sit for a day or so before responding. When the initial sting of criticism wears off, we’re in much better position to evaluate the message with greater calm and clarity.

(2) Widen the feedback loop: Ask a trusted colleague, family member or friend to help interpret the feedback. Getting an outsider’s perspective can provide much-needed distance and detail, helping us separate facts from feelings and find the signal in the noise.

(3) Revisit the issue with the giver: While we’d like nothing more than to bury bad news in the past, it’s more constructive to engage in future dialogue with the person who gave it. Let him or her know you’ve thought about the feedback and want to craft a plan of improvement. If you disagree with premise of the feedback, ask for an opportunity to present your side of the story.

We don’t choose the feedback we get, but we always get to choose where it goes. By understanding how the mind processes feedback and then consciously shifting our view, we can turn negative feedback into positive results that lead to real and lasting improvement.

Make innovation a discipline

Innovation is about small shifts, not huge transformations.

There are lots of reasons why companies find it so hard to stay ahead of the innovation curve: Legacy thinking, insufficient allocation of time and resources, siloed cultures. But the biggest barrier to innovation is the belief that it somehow can only be practiced by a select few (the in-house “geniuses” and “visionaries”) under specific conditions (formal, scheduled brainstorms) and must produce sweeping, sensational change (“big bangs”). This belief not only reinforces unhelpful assumptions about where big ideas come from, but strips organizations of their innovative edge.

Let’s set the record straight:

  • Innovation is a discipline, not a talent
  • Innovation can be practiced by anyone, not just a few
  • Innovation is driven by choice, not chance

Simply put, the flow of innovation looks more like a slow drip than a sudden burst. We’re much more likely to make smaller, simpler discoveries that lay the groundwork for big ideas than we are to uncover sudden, seismic breakthroughs that smash the status quo. As Scott Anthony, senior partner at Innosight told me on a recent episode of I Wish They Knew, innovation is a systematic, sustainable process that makes an impact — informing the way we think about it, plan for it, and foster it within our organizations.

Here are three ways to think small so you can go big:

Identify a specific behavior

We can’t navigate towards something new unless we know what it is. Start by identifying the behavioral target you want to achieve — let’s say it’s how your team or organization approaches its work. What are the most important traits that underscore that outlook? Agile. Customer-obsessed. Data-driven. Learning-oriented. From there, deconstruct the specific behaviors and beliefs that give the concept shape. For an organization that wants to develop a stronger orientation for learning, this might be framed as: “We fail fast, we fail forward, and we learn even faster.” Those are trackable behaviors that provide the guard rails for innovation.

Clear away barriers

Once a target is confirmed, clear away any barriers that may disrupt the process of innovation. For an organization trying to innovate around a high learning orientation, this means confronting important but difficult questions such as:

  • Do people feel like they can be candid with one another?
  • Do ideas get silenced by those with more seniority or status?
  • When ideas conflict, how are they resolved?
  • Do people have sufficient time and resources to start investing their creative energies?

Unless we proactively eliminate the barriers to innovation, we’re probably going to remain stuck in the status quo. 

Set conditions for commitment

The last step is to establish conditions that lead to meaningful adoption. At Innosight, Scott Anthony and his colleagues nurture innovation with a process they call BEANs, which stands for behavioral enabler, artifact, and nudge. To set the innovation process in motion, start with a behavioral enabler that address both the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain through a combination of direct and indirect prompts. These are usually tools or processes that make it easier for people to do something different.

From there, introduce an artifact, things people can see and touch. These artifacts support and showcase the desired behavior — anything from a digital collection of ideas to a physical display of prototypes. And finally, apply nudges to promote change through indirect suggestion and reinforcement. By keeping ideas top-of-mind and retaining focus through consistent reminders, innovation has a knock-on effect: The more you see it, the more you become it.

This is how innovation grows: Set a target. Identify the behaviors. Eliminate the barriers. Plant that BEAN, with the right mix of enablers and nudges, and you’ll find that innovation can begin to flourish. We’re all designed to be creative, to imagine and wonder. Small-scale innovation can unleash large-scale shifts in the way we think about and execute big ideas. With that kind of discipline, your next big breakthrough might just be ready to emerge.

How to “AIM” for better goals

black and white dartboard

Setting goals is good. Supporting and delivering on them is better. Here’s how.

The only thing more cliché than setting New Year’s resolutions? Breaking them.

According to a recent study, less than 20% of us actually manage to follow through. More than one-third of our resolutions are abandoned by February. And after falling off the wagon a few times, we tend to further weaken our willpower with self-limiting thoughts. It’s no wonder why so many people have decided to quit making resolutions altogether and set goals instead.

But even then, we need to choose the right goals — and develop a strong plan for achieving them.

Whether you’re preparing to execute a new strategy, track new performance targets, or cut down on the hours you spend binge-watching, the best goals pull us closer to our ultimate hopes and energize us to do what’s necessary to get there. Too often, our goals miss the mark.

How can we set better goals? By making sure that we “AIM” in the right direction and keep these three principles in mind.

Ambitious and attainable

Setting safe goals may feel good – they allow us us to rack up quick wins – but they rarely produce the kind of growth that comes from sustained periods of “push.” By establishing ambitious goals, we give ourselves permission to think more boldly and reach for a reality we might have otherwise missed.

But even stretch goals should take into account our circumstances and abilities. There’s a fine line between ambitious and audacious. (Climbing Everest might not be the smartest goal for someone suffering from back spasms.) By choosing an appropriate goal and making room for just-in-time adjustments, we can push ourselves up to the edge, not over the cliff.

Intrinsic and interactive

Part of the reason goals fall short is because they aren’t intrinsically motivating. When tasks hold personal significance to us, they generate stronger and longer lasting commitment than goals that carry only surface appeal. Practically, this could be as simple as knowing why we’re doing something. Case in point: When a group of university fundraisers met the recipients of scholarship funds, they became more personally connected to their work and generated nearly four times more pledges than another group that simply made solicitations.   

 Sharing our goals with the right people can also bring us closer to achieving them. Having that interaction not only increases accountability, but the shared pursuit of a goal can lead to heightened socialization and connection with others – promoting a host of physical and emotional health benefits as well.  

Measurable and managed

How we frame the goal matters, too. Broadly defined goals are harder to keep, but clearly- worded goals are more attainable. Rather than setting a goal of “I’d like to start running,” it’s better to sharpen the target (“I’d like to run a 5k in 30 minutes by June”) and then identify the micro-goals that shorten the distance between setting and doing (run 15 minutes a day three times a week, map the route ahead of time, buy a good pair of running shoes).

With specifics, less is more. A meta-analysis of 83 interventions in various organizations – from manufacturing plants to hospitals and even the U.S. Air Force – found that setting only a handful of objectives, assigning simple metrics to each goal, and providing regular feedback moved the performance needle dramatically. When goals are simply stated, we can spend less time thinking about them and more time actually delivering on them.

When we AIM for the right goals and support those goals with the right people and practices, there’s no limit to what we can achieve!

How Cold Email Can Produce Hot Leads

Getting what you want from cold email means giving others what they need.

The thought of having to write cold emails can put a freeze on just about anyone’s aspirations. But if you’re trying to pitch a new product, generate leads for your business or get noticed by a potential client, cold emailing can be a low-entry approach to opening doors. And while there are apps that streamline the process, cold emailing is more about form than finesse — and developing good form can be the difference between opportunity and rejection.

The good news is that you can turn cold emails into hot leads by sticking to four simple rules.

I’ve used these four techniques to land a a TEDx talk, appear on popular podcasts, generate paid speaking opportunities, get influencers to write endorsements for my book and play a series of downs for my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. (OK, that last one isn’t true. But I’m still trying.)

Before you send another cold email that goes nowhere, take time to reconsider your approach and whether it incorporates a sensible and strategic approach.

Rule No. 1: Go In Hot

Make no mistake: To succeed at cold emailing, you must go in hot, not cold. Before making any attempt at outreach, your email needs to reflect the following: 

Research: Before you attempt contact, do your homework. Why is the prospective client or opportunity on the other end a good fit? Why is it worthy of your outreach? If the connection is weak, so are your chances for success. 

Relevance: Even if you can identify an end target, you still need to define why you are the one who can hit their mark. What about your background, expertise and experience makes you a compelling choice for this client or opportunity? 

Relatability: In a crowded field, you have to stand out. But that doesn’t necessarily mean being different than your competition. Identifying unusual points of connection can be just as compelling.  To land a keynote for a global financial services company, I let the event planner know we attended the same small college. It worked. 

Rule No. 2: Make It About Them

Anyone who receives a cold email immediately wants to know: Why me? It’s critical that you address that question explicitly before you make an ask. What about this person or opportunity has drawn your interest in the first place? Make that clear from the very start, or you’ll be quickly dismissed. It’s also a good idea to be succinct. Don’t repel your recipient with long-winded emails. Say it short and simple.  

Rule No. 3: Make It Easy To Say Yes

Sometimes, we become our biggest competition. If you want to create opportunities with cold email, you need to make it easy for the recipient to say “yes.” To stay out of your own way, be sure your email:

Makes a specific request:  Is it clear what you’re looking for the other person to do next? Did you state that message up front, or is it buried in the body of your message?

Defines a time horizon: Did you give the recipient a clear sense of when and how your request can be fulfilled? Remember, you’re hitting above your weight class and the people you’re reaching out to are busy and inclined to say no. Your job is to convert their hesitation to support by making the ask as defined as possible. Specify the dates, times, and duration for your request and be certain that it can be fulfilled under those conditions.

Demonstrates empathy and good taste: As a useful exercise, trade places with the recipient and ask yourself: “If I were the one getting this email, what would it take to keep my interest?” You wouldn’t appreciate aggressive language or urgent deadlines, would you? Neither do they. 

Rule No. 4: Show Gratitude

The first three rules can help you warm up to a cold connection. But even if you successfully win them over, you should already be thinking about ways to nurture that relationship for future opportunities. And there’s no better way to do that than with a genuine expression of gratitude

If something good comes from your original request, let the recipient know. I still drop a note of appreciation every few months to the real estate executive who gave me my first paid speaking gig. It’s an opportunity for me to thank him for taking a chance on me and to let him know the good that continues to come from it. People will be more inclined to help you if they sense that their contribution made a difference — not just in your life, but in the lives of others, too. 

When you take a sensible and strategic approach to cold emailing, you just might discover that opportunity knocks. If you give others what they need, you can usually get what you want. And when seeking opportunity, always remember: Expect nothing, appreciate everything. 

How To Show Appreciation To Your Remote Team

Offer personalized thanks, work flexibility and career-advancing support.

While good leaders routinely look for ways to show appreciation to their employees, current conditions have made it harder – and perhaps even more important – to recognize the contributions of others. A prolonged work-from-home order or staggered return to the office means less visibility for some workers who may already fear they’re being overlooked. For others, receiving positive feedback or other forms of validation can provide a momentary and much-needed boost at a time when job-related stress and uncertainty remain high.  

A little appreciation goes a long way. Research shows that the simple act of expressing gratitude can positively impact our mood and outlook. In one study, participants who spent ten weeks writing just a few sentences about things they were grateful for experienced greater optimism about their lives. Not only that, they also engaged in healthier behaviors, like exercising more regularly and getting more sleep.

Expressing gratitude can also boost productivity. Researchers at the Wharton School found that a group of university fundraisers who received hearty thanks from the school’s director of annual giving made 50 percent more fundraising calls than a second group that went unrecognized.

Here are some low-cost, high-return ways to make your appreciation known, even from a distance:

Make it specific and sincere.   

Gratitude doesn’t require a grand gesture. By conveying your appreciation with specific, personalized expressions of thanks, you’ll show others their contributions haven’t gone unnoticed. An unexpected phone call, handwritten note or inexpensive gift can surprise and delight team members — and restore the human connection that’s often missing when people are working apart.  

To help a major healthcare services provider increase engagement with their remote teams, I suggested that leaders participate in a two-week gratitude challenge. They spent a few moments each morning listing the contributions of their direct and second-level reports, with the goal of recounting how they impacted the organization in ways large and small. Next, leaders expressed their thanks in short video messages that were sent directly to the recipients.

One SVP thanked his assistant for helping him organize quarterly performance snapshots. A sales director acknowledged the efforts of two members of her team who worked over the weekend to polish a marketing campaign before launch. The videos were an immediate hit and eventually led to other recognition rituals, including weekly appreciation features at staff meetings (“Thank You Thursdays”) and a Slack channel for sharing kudos with team members.   

Give employees flexibility in how they work.

Sometimes the best way to show people they’re valued is to give them more time to themselves. An analysis of work-related communications exchanged by more than 3 million people in 16 global cities found that the average workday increased by 8.2 percent, equal to nearly 50 minutes, during the pandemic’s early weeks. By giving employees well-placed periods of relief, leaders can prevent burnout and allow them to prioritize their week.

The gift of flexibility doesn’t require a total overhaul of how work gets done. A major hospital system has rolled out “Focused Wednesday Afternoons” for its 22,000 employees, hoping to provide a midweek break from pinging devices and communication channels. Other companies are experimenting with “quiet days,” where phone and Zoom meetings and calls are strongly discouraged. 

Look after employees’ growth and wellbeing. 

The pandemic-led downturn will prevent most companies from giving bonuses or pay raises in the near future. But that shouldn’t preclude other intangible benefits, like opportunities for career development and professional growth. As a year-end gift, ask team members to draw up a wish list for learning: online courses, digital or print subscriptions to business magazines, all-access passes to virtual summits — anything that provides opportunities for continuous growth.

Leaders can also reward employees by looking after their emotional and physical wellbeing. One of my clients, a software development company, gave employees an unscheduled mental health day to catch up on projects or simply catch their breath. Another client in financial services has decided to cover the cost of telehealth resources like at-home workout subscriptions and ergonomics support.

By acknowledging the life-size juggling acts facing your employees, you’ll score points for showing appreciation while also giving them greater control over their time and health — a huge investment in their quality of life. 

Although the nature of work continues to change, the need for meaningful, personalized gratitude remains constant. We’re all working harder and longer, and receiving recognition for that effort is both gratifying and restorative. Take time to provide thoughtful acts of appreciation, and you’ll gain the trust and admiration of your employees, no matter where they are.