This Is One Of The Rudest Email Habits. Are You Guilty Of It?

Don't make this common mistake when reaching out to people over email. Here's how to do it right.
Learning how to connect two people over email is a social skill everyone needs to learn.
Tatiana Lavrova via Getty Images
Learning how to connect two people over email is a social skill everyone needs to learn.

To get ahead in your career, you need a strong network. And part of that means learning how to email people for their time and connections. One of the simple yet critical requests you’ll encounter in your life is being asked to introduce someone else over email, or needing an introduction yourself.

Introducing two people over email is a social and professional skill everyone needs to learn, but so many of us get it wrong. It takes emotional intelligence and delicate phrasing to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get the outcome they want. If you do not want to confuse and irritate your connections, you need to be thoughtful about how you broker an introduction between two people over email ― and how you reply.

We asked email and etiquette experts exactly where we go wrong and tips for how to be as courteous and as clear as possible in these requests. Here’s their advice:

The rudest thing you can do? Assume everyone is OK with being contacted for help.

If you are the connection “broker” who is writing the email, you are the one who needs to be mindful of everyone’s time and capacity.

“The first thing is, you have to ask yourself, ‘Who wants what from whom?’” said William Schwalbe, co-author of “Send: Why People Email So Badly And How To Do It Better.”

If you know both people equally well, and this is a casual request to make new friends or a professional connection, you don’t have to be as formal, because the stakes are lower.

“Delighted to make this introduction, I thought you would enjoy getting to know each other. I’ll leave it to the two of you to take it from here” is how Schwalbe said you can phrase these requests.

But often an introduction email is about asking one party to do something on behalf of another. If the email is to help someone else’s career with an informational interview, for example, you need to confirm if the person who will be fulfilling this request is OK with being contacted for help.

“The biggest mistake I see when making an email introduction is not getting the consent of the person being introduced and giving them an opportunity to decline,” said Pattie Ehsaei, a senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions lending at a major bank who also runs the TikTok account Duchess of Decorum, where she teaches workplace etiquette.

“Ask both parties in a private email if they welcome an introduction to the other party, and if both consent, then and only then do you proceed with the introduction,” Ehsaei suggested.

People are busy or unavailable for many reasons you may not know. In this preliminary email, you should explain the favour and give the person who is going to be asked to do something in return an easy way to decline.

“The last sentence should be ‘I totally understand if you can’t do it at this time,’ or, ‘I’ll take no reply as indication that this isn’t a good time for the introduction,’ ‘‘I’ll assume that you can’t unless I hear otherwise,’” Schwalbe said.

No one likes being surprised with a task they did not agree to do. In this way, you preserve your relationship with your connection by letting them know that their time is important to you.

And it can be polite to ask upfront about their preferred method of communication ― especially if this person’s contact information is usually private. You can end this email with a line like: “P.S. If you are willing to talk to them, do you prefer your home email, your work, email, or a text?” Schwalbe suggested.

In the actual email, don’t be vague. Explain who everyone is and outline the next steps.

Even if you explained the request in a previous email or text, you should still summarise who everyone is in your official email to the two people being connected.

“Don’t presume that the person you asked is going to remember, even if only a couple of days have gone by,” Schwalbe said.

Here is a basic fictional template of how this could go:

Subject line: Mark <> Julia

Hey Mark and Julia,

As I mentioned earlier, I’m delighted to make this introduction. Mark is a recent college grad who is hoping to learn more about breaking into marine biology research. He’s a sharp writer who just did an internship at X. Julia is my dear friend who is a leader in X. I will let Mark take it from here to set up a time to chat.

A good broker makes it easy for everyone to understand what the next steps are.

To avoid being included in reply-all emails, Schwalbe said you should make it clear that you want to be dropped from the email thread. Schwalbe said you can phrase this request as “You can drop me from correspondence going forward, but I look forward to hearing how it all goes.”

If you’re the person seeking the introduction, don’t dilly-dally on a reply.

If you ask your connection with help brokering an introduction, you need to follow through on your request right away. It shows your enthusiasm, interest and that you don’t take this opportunity for granted, Schwalbe said.

In our fictional example, this reply could look like:

Hey Julia,

I would love to talk to you about how to get into marine biology research. I really admire your career and would be happy to learn more about your journey over coffee or a phone call. That said, I completely understand if time doesn’t allow for this kind of conversation. If you are available, please let me know what times would be best in your schedule.

Schwalbe said as the person requesting help, it is courteous to give the person helping you an additional opportunity to decline if they are busy.

If the request is job-related, you could include a sentence like: “I would love to send you my resume, if you’d be willing to receive a copy,” Schwalbe said. Don’t send attachments or PDFs of your portfolio until you hear back because it can come off as presumptuous in a first email, Schwalbe said.

If you don’t hear back, do not immediately follow up. Wait two weeks before bumping the email thread again and circling back with your connection broker after another two weeks of silence, as a general rule, Schwalbe said. This way, you give people enough time to respond if they are on vacation or busy.

It’s polite to keep your broker posted, regardless of the outcome. “If something comes of it, the asker really should loop back,” Schwalbe said. “If somebody wants me to speak to somebody, and I speak to them, and I never hear back, it is slightly irritating.”

And even if you hear radio silence from your email recipient, you should tell your connector that you’re still thankful for the time they took to help you. You can say something like, “As it happened I didn’t hear back but I know how busy they are, and wanted you to know that even though nothing came of it, I really appreciate your desire to help me,” Schwalbe said.

When you’re seeking help, be sensitive to how often you ask your broker for help. Unless they have given you permission to see their contact list as yours, “I think of it as kind of one-and-done,” Schwalbe said. In other words, you cannot ask your connector for help with an introduction and ask for their help again with a different contact two weeks later.

Recognise that not everything needs to be an email.

Emails are great for coordinating schedules and making introductions, but they are ultimately words in an inbox. Showing sincere appreciation for someone’s help means going one step further.

“An email thank-you, no matter how extravagantly phrased, is still just an email,” Schwalbe said.

Schwalbe gave the example of someone’s connection being the reason you land a job. Whether you are the asker, helper or broker, if somebody “really helps out somebody else in the chain, it’s really nice to send a handwritten note, flowers, chocolate,” he said.

That’s why, in Schwalbe’s view, the biggest mistake we make with these kinds of emails is not understanding the value of someone giving you their undivided time and attention. “It is a big favour to ask someone to take the time, and it’s a favour a lot of people are genuinely delighted to do, but it’s still a big favour,” Schwalbe said.