This is a continuation of the “How to Network With Busy People” series. The first post in the series can be found here.
Continuing on with our tips…
Forgive the blow-off.
Busy people are constantly being approached by those who are coming from a place of neediness. This is why busy people often seem a bit aloof when you first talk to them. Their shields are up.
I admit that when I enter new social situations with people who may know me, but I don’t know much about them, I tend to have my shields up. I get approached so often by people who want to vamp something from me that I’ve become pretty resistant to people who approach me on the basis of neediness.
I’ve also gotten pretty good at detecting Trojan horse approaches, where the person acts like they’re offering genuine friendship, but their voice tone and body language betray their underlying intentions. The hand is offered as a ploy to get something. I can often feel an energetic pull coming from such people, subtly tugging at me. Most of the time I’m not even consciously aware of it – it just triggers an intuitive hit that something feels off, and my shields automatically go up. Non-needy people give off a very different vibe.
It can take time to build trust with a busy person who is accustomed to getting “hit on” in some fashion nearly every day. Most likely you’ll be blown off because their shields are up, and they have a habit of unconsciously deflecting advances as a matter of routine. If they didn’t do this, they’d quickly be overwhelmed. In my experience most busy people tend to be aloof and non-committal when first meeting people they don’t know.
Busy people usually prefer not to reject anyone outright because it too often gets misconstrued as rudeness. They don’t want to deal with someone bad-mouthing them to others. Busy people really don’t want to be rude, but sometimes they get overwhelmed, and if you’re the fifth person to approach them about the same thing in a single day, you may get a more forceful rejection than you feel you deserve.
I’ve tried a number of different approaches for saying no to people who want something from me that I’m not willing to give, so that I let the other person down easy, don’t leave them hanging, don’t invite them to argue about it, and don’t create bad blood between us. I usually say something like, “I appreciate the offer, but my intuition says no on this, so I’ll have to pass. I hope you understand.” That has worked well for me. It’s an honest and empathetic answer. When my gut feeling says no, I simply want to bow out gracefully and not put the other person into “overcome objections” mode. So far no one has attempted to convince me why my intuition is wrong.
However, you will probably find that most busy people don’t use an approach like mine. My response might seem very simple on the surface, but it seriously took me years of trial and error to come up with it. Other approaches I tried either seemed too harsh and would too often be misinterpreted as coldness or rudeness on my part, or they’d be too wishy-washy, leaving the door open for endless follow-up attempts.
I would say that the most common strategy busy people use to deflect unwanted advances is aloofness. Their words may indicate mild interest, but they aren’t being sincere. In practice this does tend to work pretty well, at least from the perspective of the busy person. I dislike this method, however, because it can leave the other person hanging, making them feel they’re being strung along. I always hated it when people did this to me.
Much of the time, when you request something from a busy person, you won’t get a straightforward no because they find that too confrontational. Busy people learn from experience that it’s a bad idea to simply say no. When they say no, it makes people try to convince them, and that becomes annoying very quickly when it happens over and over. This happened to me a lot when I first started blogging. People would ask me for things I wasn’t willing to give them, so I’d simply say no, sometimes with a reason, sometimes without. Unfortunately many people are conditioned to treat a no as a potential yes, and they go into persuasive mode and try to identify and overcome objections. This is really, really annoying when it happens repeatedly – a huge waste of time.
You could try being really forceful when you say no, but that creates some backlash. It comes across as being too harsh, and people start badmouthing you for behaving like that. This is one reason you’ll hear stories about certain executives being hard-nosed a-holes or “dragon ladies.” In reality they’re simply trying to be efficient.
To avoid being so confrontational, many busy people will employ a simple blow-off technique. They may say something like, “Sounds interesting. Why don’t you call my publicist and give her the details, and we’ll see if we can work something out?” If you’re an astute observer, you’ll notice that their voice tone and body language are incongruent with their words. The truth is that they have no intention of following up with you. If you do contact the publicist, you’ll simply get stonewalled. This way the busy person preserves their reputation – you might assume the publicist was the one who messed up your chances.
This happened to Erin several years ago when she was running VegFamily.com, her online vegan family magazine. We were attending an outdoor vegan festival in L.A. called World Fest. Several vegetarian and vegan celebrities were there to show their support or to speak at the festival, including Woody Harrelson and Ed Begley, Jr. We talked to Ed briefly, and I took a photo of him with Erin. He was very friendly.
During one of the presentations while we were sitting in a shady spot on the grass, I pointed out to Erin that she was sitting right behind Alicia Silverstone. That didn’t surprise us because we knew that Alicia was a vegan. I told Erin to go say hi, and she introduced herself and chatted with Alicia for a few minutes. I could tell, however, that Alicia was doing the aloof thing. She agreed to do an interview for VegFamily and gave Erin the info to follow up with her publicist. But I could see that Alicia’s body language was incongruent with her words. I wasn’t 100% certain, but I felt that most likely Erin would be stonewalled when she tried to follow up with the publicist. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The interview with Alicia never took place.
Ed Begley, Jr., however, did do an interview with Erin, which can still be found online at VegFamily, along with the picture I took of Erin and him. Incidentally, Erin has short hair in that photo, a look I really loved, but she thought it made her look too boyish, so she grew her hair long again.
Now I’m not sharing this to bash Alicia and praise Ed – not at all. I’m simply pointing out that different celebrities have different ways of handling attention from people they don’t already know. Although Ed did follow through on the interview, if you actually go read it, you can see that he didn’t put much effort into it – and it shows. IMO it was one of the worst interviews VegFamily ever posted, which is a shame because Erin was excited about helping to promote Ed’s environmental agenda. We were impressed that he biked to World Fest on a very hot day in the San Fernando Valley.
When this played out as it did, I saw it as a sign of great disrespect. Erin’s online magazine had a decent and loyal following, and it was a valued publication in its field. Consequently, my opinion of Alicia and Ed dropped significantly. However, looking back with the perspective of greater experience, I now see their actions in a new light. I still don’t like how either of them handled Erin’s request, but I can understand why they did what they did, and I can’t hold it against them. Their solutions may have been imperfect, but I can empathize with what they must have had to deal with.
If you interact with a busy person and get a response that seems disrespectful or unfair, try not to take it personally. Do your best to forgive any perceived transgressions. It’s very unlikely that the busy person is deliberately trying to be rude or uncaring. Their reality is that they must deal with an untenable volume of approaches. They’re human beings, and their methods of processing such requests are going to be imperfect.
If I gave you the impression that I have a perfect processing method myself, that would be untrue. I’m fairly content given the circumstances, but my solutions are far from perfect. Misunderstandings still arise. For example, people who’ve never met me and who’ve never had so much as a single conversation with me will sometimes write scathing blog posts about me, assuming they must be able to discern my true nature from a single article of mine they didn’t like. Then people email me to ask about the stuff those bloggers post about me that isn’t even true. That’s just part of the reality I have to deal with. How am I supposed to deal with that? What can I do but forgive it and let it go?
Another thing that happens is that people take out Google Adwords ads using my name, crafting ads that falsely imply that I endorse their products. I don’t know them, and I’ve never even looked at their products. This is mild compared to what some people have to deal with. One author/speaker I know has to deal with dishonest marketers taking out Google image ads with his photos on them, advertising stuff in his name and image that he has no affiliation with. Then when customers get ripped off by this scheme, they post nasty rants about him online because they assume he was the one responsible for ripping them off. But in reality he’s a generous, kind-hearted guy who just happens to be a celebrity, and he worked very hard to get there. Is it fair that he should have to deal with this sort of thing?
I think communication in general would improve dramatically if we could all learn to practice more empathy. Do the best you can to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. If you want to network successfully with busy people, it’s important to empathize with them and communicate from a place of understanding. That is perhaps the central theme of this series.
To be continued…