When I was a community college student, the president of my school invited me to a talk conducted by former Senate majority leader Bill Frist. The presentation was on the importance of free market reforms to solve the government’s fiscal issues.
We all receive requests of our time. “Donate time to my non profit,” “Speak on my panel,” “Help me with my book,” “Lets grab coffee to talk about my career.”
Most of these requests fail because they are zero-sum requests. What the requestor is actually asking for is the requestee’s valuable time without considering his needs. Being the time I have left with my terminally ill father is precious, every request for my time has to be weighed against that trade off. For others it could be precious time with their kids, time spent on a passion project, or just time to unwind.
Like it or not, we are self-interested creatures, and there’s nothing wrong about that. But if you forget this and act lazy by not doing your homework to determine what the requestee needs, don’t expect anyone to return your calls or emails.
What does the requestee need?
Before I make a request of anyone’s time, I ask myself, “What does the requestee need?” Before the internet (I try to forget those days), one would have to do heavy leg work to determine what people are interested in. Now, with linkedin, facebook, quora, and etc. one can easily determine what makes others tick (assuming you can filter through some of their pretentious corporate bullshit speak (see “innovator,” “doer,” “visionary,” and etc.). And if you don’t bother to research what I need, then I don’t need to bother answering your request.
If I can’t determine what the person needs, the odds of my message not being replied to sky rockets. If by some fluke the person reads my request that’s not tailored to their needs, getting what I want now depends on the person’s goodwill and charity, which is a position of weakness. Until I can crystallize how my request will benefit the person, I won’t make the request.
Here’s a list of possible archetypes that drive our behavior in no particular order:
Egoist: Some people love to have their egos stroked (see the FB attention tools that love uploading shots of themselves doing absolutely nothing besides trying to look handsome or pretty for people to fawn over). If you’re dealing with an egomaniac, appeal to their need to be appreciated by the mob.
Capitalist: Money talks. Furthering the goals of the requestee’s inner capitalist is always a motivating factor.
Networker: Expanding the requestee’s network can increase the influence and power he has, but you must explain why these new connections will benefit him.
Touchy Feely: People need to feel that they belong. Your request can connect the requestee with a group of like-minded people that can further his goals.
Careerist: Climbing the corporate ladder is all that matters for some people and there’s no problem with that. If you’re dealing with a careerist, determine what they need to climb the next rung of the ladder.
Charity/Legacy Builder: People want to be remembered. Every time you hear people say “I want to scale altruism,” “Leave an impact on our community,” they’re indicating leaving legacy. As in the ages of antiquity man cared about glory and conquest to be remembered through the ages, the same can be said with altruism. That’s why most large donors need to have their names plastered all over their new museum or hospital wing.
Information Addict: No matter what field you are in, be it entrepreneurship, clinical research personal development, and etc. you’re always looking for new information to perfect your craft. Figure out which field your requestee is in, find white papers or research in that area, and share it with them.
The list can go on and on. You need to identify which archetype drives the person and work this into your request if you’re going to be successful.
In summary, determine what the requestee needs before making your request or suffer the consequences.
I’ve survived a lot of meetings during my time at corporate America. A majority of these meetings could have been handled via email or instant messaging. Very few actually deserved face time. I hear a lot of people talk about how busy they are with meetings as if it’s something to be proud of. For 90% of us the value we add to our organization happens in between meetings. So it’s imperative for you to get out of as many meetings as possible.
When I was an admin, I saw on a regular basis what my directors were subjected to poor meetings. Some meetings were so bad the directors would walk out of the meetings as if they just finished doing a “nickel” in San Quentin. So after seeing their plight, I conducted my own research to determine what made good meetings.
Break these rules at your own peril.
Meeting rules to live by
Know your goal: Why are you asking people for their valuable time? Would it be possible to accomplish your goal without a meeting?
Have an Agenda: Most people’s agendas are vague. For example: “To discuss PRD” or “Sync on X.” If you want to to make your meeting effective list out clear agenda items. This allows both parties to understand what the reason is for the meeting, prepare for the meeting so they aren’t caught off guard, and allows them to possibly answer your questions before the meeting so you can cancel it.
Discuss latency caused by frequent API calls (5 minutes)
Determine how much time we should spend refactoring legacy code (8 minutes)
Determine a plan to improve your cat’s job performance (4 minutes)
Time Limits: Each agenda item should have a time limit. “We’ll Jordan I don’t know how long XYZ will take, so I won’t include a time limit.” If you ask any product manager worth his salt, he will tell you all product launch schedules are an educated guesses because you can’t predict the unknown, but without a schedule, he won’t have a deadline to spur progress. Put an estimate in there so you can at least time bound the discussion so you can prevent Parkinson’s law from eating your time and you can force a decision.
Most meetings shouldn’t take 30 minutes: Just because google calendar defaults to 30-minute meetings it doesn’t mean your meeting should take 30 minutes. There’s such a thing as a 10-minute meeting, crazy huh? If you created an agenda with a time estimate, add up the times and schedule the meeting for that duration. If you’re paranoid about going over, schedule an additional 5 minutes
Trim your attendee list: Before inviting anyone, make sure each attendee is vital to the topic at hand. If they are nice to have people, mark them as optional or share post meeting notes with them.
Write a post-meeting 30-second summary: After the meeting is over, write down all of the critical pieces of information you gleaned from the meeting. This will make sure you don’t forget anything and you can share these notes to make sure people follow through on the tasks created from the meeting.
Follow these rules, and your meetings will be much more effective.
By botching enough introductions I’ve discovered the three reasons why most of them fail.
The three factors:
- You forgot to seek opt-in from both parties.
- You fail to consider the workload of both parties.
- You haven’t explained why the introduction will benefit both parties.
A better way to make an introduction
My introductions are successful when I provide each party with an opportunity to opt-in. While you might think there’s value to the introduction, you don’t know if that feeling is mutual. The person receiving the introduction is usually too busy for another meeting or has no interest in meeting a new person.
If you proceed without an opt-in, it’s now on that person to either waste their time with the meeting or deal with an awkward position of having to decline the invitation. Resulting in your colleague losing respect for you.
Also, you don’t know if both parties will see the value in the introduction. If it’s a zero sum game, the connection won’t last past the first meeting. One party will feel drained and taken advantage of which hurts both people and your network. A proper introduction respects both parties and explains how this intro will benefit them.
The introduction process
If you think Steve could benefit from an introduction to Mark. You should first ask if Steve will be interested in meeting Mark. If Steve agrees, great. If not, cancel the introduction.
It’s up to you if you want to disclose who Mark is. I usually don’t because if Mark doesn’t want to meet with Steve, I want to protect Mark’s reputation. I’ll usually refer to Mark as a person who has relevant experience in a domain that could help Steve.
Now you can reach out to Mark via email or Linkedin.
Feel free to copy this template:
I hope all is well.
My colleague Steve (Steve’s name should be hyperlinked to his LinkedIn profile) works for (Organization). He is currently trying to (Insert here what he’s trying to do).
It would be great if you two could connect because (Insert here why Mark will benefit from this introduction).
If you have the bandwidth for a quick call or in person meeting with Steve, please let me know. If you’re too busy, I completely understand. I haven’t told Steve about this introduction so don’t feel pressured to accept.
If Mark accepts, use the following template in your email to Mark and Steve.
I hope all is well.
I would like to introduce you to Steve.
Being you both have interest in (insert topic here). I know you both could benefit from knowing each other.
Steve: I’ll leave it up to you to schedule the call/meeting with Mark (Mark’s name should be hyperlinked to his LinkedIn profile).
After that let Mark and Steve set up the call or meeting.
By using this process you will protect the time of those in your network and increase the odds of a successful intro.
Let me know if you use a similar process or if you have any other tips or tricks for introductions.