Why You Should Reply to (Almost) Every Message You Get

It's the simplest way to create long-term value.

Welcome to One Thing Better. Each week, the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine (that's me) shares one way to be more successful and satisfied — and build a career or company you love.

Today’s one thing: Responding when you can.

That one thing, better: Making responsiveness a priority.

How responsive are you — to friends, colleagues, and even strangers?

Now, be honest: Have you ever really thought about that?

You should.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because of Artie Sandstone, a talented pop artist and entrepreneur, who recently emailed me about responsiveness. It’s more important than people realize.

He wrote:

“I find responsiveness to be one of the qualities I value most in people, and some of the best leaders and people I know are responsive. On the flip side, so many people I love and respect seem to place responsiveness on a lower level of importance. Why? It requires little talent and adds so much value.”

I agree. Responsiveness might be the easiest, simplest thing you can do to make people happy, show them respect, and create new opportunities. It’s why I reply to almost everyone who emails or DMs me. (More on that later.) But I understand that responsiveness is also hard and time-consuming — so to do it right, we need a good strategy and mission.

Today, I’ll offer answers — about what people get wrong about responsiveness, why it’s so important, and how you can improve.

And we’ll start with two — two! — stories about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who showed me that nobody is too big to be responsive.

How The Rock learned to respond.

A few years ago, I interviewed Dwayne Johnson and his business partner Dany Garcia for an Entrepreneur magazine profile. We were talking about the growing pains of their careers, and they told me this story.

Dwayne and Dany were out to dinner one night in 1998, and some fans spotted him and came over. "Excuse me," they said nervously, "but can we have your autograph?"

Johnson wasn't in the mood. "Sure," he said, but coldly and annoyed. The fans apologized. Dwayne signed something and they hurried off.

Then Dwayne and Dany realized the horror of that moment. "I had an opportunity to make that person feel so good,” he told me, “and instead they walked away apologetic and feeling awful, when the reality is, I'm a lucky son of a bitch that somebody would care enough to come up and ask for my autograph."

Johnson and Garcia are analytical people, so they imagined the moment from those fans’ point of view. They imagined seeing Dwayne across the restaurant, talking about whether to come over, worrying about intruding, finally working up the courage... and then being disappointed.

That’s when they realized: “We have the opportunity to make people feel good,” Johnson said. “And that's a powerful thing to have.”

Here are my two favorite words that Dwayne used:

1. “Lucky” — Yes, it can be exhausting when people want things, but he is lucky to be someone that people want things from.

2. “Opportunity” — Because every interaction is an opportunity to create an outcome.

Now, flash forward many years…

How the Rock responds now.

Dwayne has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business, and I experienced it during our interview. A few years later, I wrote a book — and I included a single paragraph about Dwayne and Dany, and a lesson I’d learned from them. I mailed them copies, never expecting to hear back.

Then one day, I woke up and checked Instagram. And OMG — I had a voice memo from The Rock.

“Yo Jason, it’s DJ here,” he began. (Fun fact: Socially, he goes by DJ.) “Number one, I hope you’re doing great...”

Then he went on. He was kind. Thoughtful. Complimentary. He thanked me for the book. It made my day — hell, it still makes me feel great!

Imagine it. He is in demand from everyone. He did not need to do this. But he still made time to be generous and kind.

Because he is lucky. And he saw an opportunity to make someone feel good.

Now, why wouldn’t you do this?

The case against responsiveness

We can all agree: Responsiveness is good. So are non-responsive people jerks?

It’s not that simple. I think one of three things is happening:

1. Organizational breakdown. Everyone has their own system for staying on top of things — and as we get busier, those systems strain. Then we must then make a choice: Do we stick with a system that limits us, or do we build a new one?

Mark Cuban is a good example: He famously publicizes his email address and replies to many people. (I emailed him once. Heard back within an hour!) He says he gets 750 to 1,000 pitches from founders daily. How does he manage it? With a system: He uses Gmail filters and delegates follow-ups.

2. Prioritizing big things. I get it: Small tasks can distract from big tasks. And big tasks bring big value. You can’t drop the big stuff.

But don’t forget: Small tasks (like replying to people) can add up to big value too.

People talk! Reputations are built! I’ve been hired for speaking gigs because I replied to inquiries faster. People tell me they’ve followed my work for years (and bought my stuff!) because I once replied to them. “This prompt attention to people in a personal way, really stands you apart from others in the field,” one just wrote me. (Thank you!)

3. They think it takes too much time.

“I just don’t have the bandwidth,” people say. 

I get that. Like I said above, I reply to almost everyone. So here are my caveats: Keeping up with everything can stress me out, so sometimes I take a break. I also don’t reply to most promotional messages (like from publicists or salespeople), because there are too many of them, and they’re purely transactional. I’m optimizing for longer-term value.

This is not about absolutes. Instead, it’s about creating a stronger habit and ethos of responsiveness. And it’s within your reach, because here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned...

It’s much easier than you think.

When I became editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, my inbox exploded with requests. I felt a weight of obligation. But over time, I realized something: People don’t expect me — or you, or anyone — to give them everything they want. They just really appreciate being heard.

Simply replying “Thank you” can make someone’s day. When I say no to someone’s request, they say they’re grateful to hear back. And if you want to wow someone, just set aside a moment for extra thoughtfulness. I mean, The Rock sent me a 51-second voice memo and I was overjoyed. I’ll love that guy forever. All it took him was 51 seconds.

This goes beyond email or strangers. It’s about friends. Colleagues. Networks. I once texted a question to a professional acquaintance, who replied with a 15-minute voice memo and an offer to fly to New York for a meeting. Now we’re building things together. Responsiveness.

When I was dating, I replied quickly to text messages — because why make someone wait? One girlfriend told me she really appreciated that, because it showed I cared and shortcut her anxiety. Now we’re married. Responsiveness.

I’m not saying you must be 100% perfect. I’m not. But I am saying: More than anything else, people want to feel heard. When you give them that, you convert strangers into fans, and friends into partners.

Just respond.

That’s how to do one thing better.

Bonus thing better!

The Formula for Winning Customers:

We had an awesome session last week with the One Thing Better community. Consumer psychology expert Richelle Devoe helped us break down how to understand and appeal to customers, clients, or anyone we’re serving.

Here’s one of her slides — it was my major takeaway from the day:

That’s a three-part formula: What makes your customer look for a solution? What specific solution do they want, in their words? And what’s the benefit they’ll get from having it? (In this slide, Richelle is using an example from a former client.) The better you can articulate this formula, Richelle says, the better you can build exactly the right product and marketing for them.

I’ve thought a lot about this for what I’m building, which is why I still book 1:1 calls with every new community member. I’ll do it until it becomes unsustainable, which tbh is almost right now… but I love the calls! You just cannot understand people if you’re not talking directly to them.

Here’s my first attempt at Richelle’s formula. I think I’m appealing to people who would say this: “When I’m going through a transition at work, I want a group of peers who understand where I’m coming from, along with guidance to help me get to that next step, so that I can do the work that makes me happiest.”

Does that resonate with you? If so… here’s what’s happening in February:

  • Private group on LinkedIn! Members tell me they’re eager to connect with and learn from each other, and many already are. Now we’ll have a place to do it — launching very soon.

  • Two calls! Both calls in January were well-attended, so I’ll keep doing that — with a mix of tactical workshops and opportunities to connect.

P.S. Miss last week’s newsletter? It was my two-part formula to create great content — which also helps you land more sales and build better relationships. Read!

P.P.S. I have a new travel show! I’m roaming the country with Entrepreneur, learning from the best local businesses. We’ve made three episodes so far, and hopefully much more to come. Watch episode 1!

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