Strategies and Principles for Writing Letters to Influence People

Over the years, I’ve written a lot of letters to people and organizations. I’ve decided to gather some of what I’ve learned in a set of strategies and principles for myself, which you might also find useful. This post is based on content originally posted on my wiki (Letters evolve).

Quoting and Referencing Contacts

Do not use names of other contacts in letters – instead, refer to other contacts by title and organization and offer to provide further details on request.

Ask for Something

Each letter should ask for something specific from the recipient, and should explain clearly why that is an appropriate request to make of the recipient.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of the Phone (and of your commitment)

In general, plan to follow-up each letter with a phone call. A letter by itself is easy to ignore. This is true both of the recipient and of the sender: If you send a letter with no specific intention of following up by phone, it is easy for that letter to be written from a place of little importance in your heart and brain, and also easy for you to waste the valuable momentum that may be gained from a thoughtful follow-up to a letter to a person who is significant to your goals. In the follow-up, ask about the specific request that you made in the letter.

Be a “Letter Poet”

A letter should include an idea or a few sentences that are particularly inspirational and memorable. If you don’t have this, re-work the letter until you do.

Be Positive. Really. Always.

Do not point to past failures or summarize your internal criticisms of the people you are trying to influence. Instead, use the letter as a way to form a coherent and positive building block toward your goals – one which has the potential to become part of the recipient’s own internal thought process about the situation or issues.

The Meandering Letter

Don’t be afraid to send your letter to not-quite-the-right-recipient. A letter which meanders a bit before reaching its final destination is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Got some tips of your own? Share them in the comments…