Like many entrepreneurs, I am frequently being introduced to people. And I’ve begun to notice how and why people are making these introductions. Conventional wisdom says that introducing two people is always a good thing. Well, conventional wisdom also says that networking is always a good thing—and you know how I feel about that.
Most of us want to be a “connector”; that is, someone who knows good people and brings them together. Certainly, there are many times when that’s a good thing to do, both socially and professionally. However, I’ve also encountered a lot of “party crashers”: those who introduce me to people unexpectedly.
The email typically goes something like this: “Don, I wanted to introduce you to John Doe. He likes business. You like business, too. I thought you guys should drink coffee together. I’ll let you two take it from here.”
Well, this puts me in an awkward position. Right now, I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I know what I need to do, what I need to buy, what services I need to engage and what tasks need to get done internally at Software Advice. But the thing I need more than anything to be successful? Time.
While I know these introductions are well-intended, they’re basically committing me to giving up an hour of my time—which I value very highly—without checking first to see if the meeting would be valuable to me. That time might be better spent with an employee in a new management position who needs my support, or considering which of my employees deserve a raise. My wife likes to bring my kids by for lunch, but I usually have to decline because I’m too busy. So it’s difficult for me to commit an hour to John Doe, especially if what he has to offer isn’t high on my priority list.
I realize this can come off as insensitive, but I don’t mean for it to. Quite the contrary: I’m sensitive myself and wary of offending others, which only compounds the problem. I have trouble saying, “Thanks for the introduction, but I’m too busy.” That doesn’t feel very good for anyone involved, and I don’t like doing it. So instead, I’d like to propose:
The Three Tenets of a Good Introduction
If you’re considering making an introduction, abide by these tenets. They will help you avoid the pitfalls of party crashing and will raise your value as a connector.
- Make sure you truly understand what each person has to offer, and where the shared interests are. Obviously, I’m being extreme by suggesting that someone would introduce me to John Doe simply because we both “like business.” But even if you add that we are both in the software industry or focused on marketing, John and I still might not have a strong connection when you get down to the specifics of our unique careers or businesses. Ask yourself: would these people really have enough to talk about?
- Ask both parties if they’re interested in an introduction before making one. This step is critical. If you think John Doe and I should meet, email me; tell me about him and what he does, and ask if this is an introduction I’d like you to make. I can quickly answer that question—and your value as a connector just rose in my book, because you’ve shown you value my time. And of course, make sure not to get John too excited about the introduction until you’ve heard my answer. Tell him you’re thinking about who would be best to introduce him to while you’re waiting.
- Think about why you’re making this introduction. Is it to benefit the person you’re introducing? To benefit me? To benefit both of us? Or is just because it feels good to be a connector? All of these are fine reasons—but in the case of the latter, you really have to think about whether you’re making an appropriate introduction. Ideally, you’re connecting two people who can truly benefit from meeting each other, which will make you a great connector in their eyes. If it doesn’t, your introductions will carry far less weight than they once did and your value as a connector will erode.
It should be noted that I’m willing to take introductions to people when there’s nothing in it for me. I like to help others—especially when it comes to career advice. I just want the ability to be in control of my own calendar and priorities, and it’s important for me to decide whether or not I can help that person before I’m committed to helping them.
The toughest part is that the people making these introductions also tend to be people I value. In some cases, they are clients; in others, friends; in others yet, they’re people I hope to work with in the future. I want to maintain and extend my relationship with them, and I don’t think they’re aware that they’re putting me in a tough spot. But when they blindside me with an introduction I wasn’t ready for and don’t have time to to take, it puts me in a really awkward position.
So, as you’re out there networking, just be conscious of these dynamics. You want to grow your reputation as a connector—not a party crasher.