Be an Effective Gatekeeper (or, How to Keep Out the Riff-Raff)
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
People often ask me to introduce them to others who are well connected or well respected in their fields. Strategically, when it makes sense, I’m all for putting them in touch with whomever I think can help their cause, personally or professionally. And yet, while I love making meaningful connections for people, I am extremely thoughtful about protecting colleagues’ and friends’ time or best interests — I don’t want to damage our relationship by pulling a fast one on you.
So the question becomes — to introduce, or not introduce? If both parties stand to benefit, it’s a no-brainer. If only one party stands to benefit, that decision takes more care: is the request reasonable? Is it a good use of time even for the person not receiving the benefit? Is it worth risking your political capital to ask the favor? — these are the questions to ask.
If you do go forward with the introduction, you need to draft a thoughtfully crafted message acknowledging the one-way benefit. In return, be sure to offer much thanks and gratitude (perhaps a future favor) in advance for the help or advice solicited.
No matter the situation, when you do make an introduction via email on behalf of someone else, here are three baseline rules to follow:
- Be clear and upfront about your motive: State immediately why you are making the introduction. Will the connection help you or the other person or both? Who is the “receiver” of value here and why? Do you think both parties will like each other, want to work together, or are interested in a similar cause that will benefit by virtue of the two of them connecting? Don’t be cagey or vague and don’t make it seem like there’s a two-way benefit if it’s really only one-directional. Being transparent about the motive and benefit will go along way to getting people to take your introductions seriously and to return the favor when they find or meet someone synergistic to you.
- Don’t copy all parties unless you are 100% sure the recipient will be open to the introduction. If you have any uncertainty whatsoever regarding the recipient being “open” to the introduction, don’t copy the third party. Send the email with your motive and then include the other person’s contact information so the recipient can follow up directly if he chooses to do so. Then forward your original message to the person requesting the introduction so that they know the wheels are in motion and promise to keep them posted as soon as you hear back (or ask to be notified if they hear first).
- Give the recipient an “out.” I always give people an option to opt out of whatever favor I request, no questions asked. It is the generous and polite thing to do. It lets someone off the hook before they even feel like they’re on the hook. It also may (in a reverse psychology sort of way) make them more inclined to go forward with the favor or introduction simply because they don’t feel forced to do so.
Here is some example language of what the email introduction might look like:
Hello, and I hope you’re doing well. I wanted to reach out to introduce you to Robyn, a former colleague of mine. Robyn is designing a product for high-net-worth individuals that may be of interest to you and your clients. She is hoping to speak with some people in the industry with knowledge of that client base and I thought you could be helpful (motive).
If you are interested and/or able, I think you two would have a great conversation and I imagine you’d have an interesting perspective on the most useful and compelling forms this product might take. Robyn’s bio can be found here and her contact details are below.
If you don’t have the time or inclination I completely understand and I will politely decline for you; I have not copied her on this email for that very reason. (opt out).
I will look forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks in advance for your consideration.