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.