A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
It just happened again. A well-intentioned colleague introduced me to a stranger via email, without first confirming with me that the intro was welcomed. Such "blind"matchmaking is more often than not a waste of everyone’s time: the person making the introduction, the person being introduced and me.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite my occasional ranting, (see The Worst Networking Call Ever), I like people and I enjoy making new connections.
When I am not complaining, I strive to be a mensch and I pride myself in helping as many people as my time and talents allow. As such, it is especially frustrating when I have to spend my limited time apologizing to a stranger as to why I am unable to offer them meaningful assistance after they were introduced to me without my consent.
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The Art Of The Email Matchmaking
Even the aggressive romantic Matchmaker from the musical Fiddler On The Roof knows that she should only expend energy to bring people together who have a proclivity to want to be together. The best way to assess whether a potential match is in the making is to first assess the talents, desires and interests of both parties, before initiating an introduction.
The following six tactics will help ensure that your future matchmaking efforts will be welcomed and productive for all parties involved.
Get Green Light – When someone asks me to make an introduction on their behalf, I always tell them that I will first check with the other party, to “ensure that the timing works on their end.”
Don't Commit – I give the person accepting an introduction tremendous flexibility regarding post-intro actions. For instance, when making an intro, I usually include something such as, “I know your schedule is challenging, but I am hopeful you can connect via email or a quick phone call.”
I never suggest that the parties get together in person, as this involves a significant time commitment for all concerned. Although it may be a bit more frustrating for the person seeking assistance, communicating via email, Skype or a phone call is far more efficient than "grabbing a quick cup of coffee."
Proper Context – If the context of the intro is the least bit unclear, I ask the person requesting the introduction to write a paragraph or two that I can forward to the target contact. In this way, the person seeking an intro can speak in their own “voice,” which reduces the risk that I will inadvertently dilute or misstate their message.
The Ask – Nebulous requests to, “pick someone’s brain,” are seldom welcomed by busy professionals. When requesting an introduction, be specific and articulate a clear call-to-action. If you are seeking an answer to a specific question, make that clear when asking for an intro.
Screen First – If you believe that an introduction has a low likelihood of netting either party a substantive gain, dissuade the person requesting the introduction. Not only will this approach save everyone time, it will allow you to reserve your social capital to facilitate more impactful introductions.
Imminently Reachable – One way I increase the friction of a marginal introduction is to suggest that the person requesting the introduction contact the intended party via a social media channel. I take this approach when I suspect the person asking for the introduction is not capable / willing to make good use of it.
Random, gratuitous introductions, albeit well intentioned, are counterproductive and benefit no one. Initiating a blind intro is a rookie move. It demonstrates that the would-be matchmaker is naive and does not sufficiently respect the time budget of the people they are introducing.
Ideally, you will abide by all of the steps outlined herein to ensure that your email introductions are effective and meaningful. However, if all you do is obtain approval before playing the role of corporate matchmaker, your impact as a startup mensch will grow exponentially.
Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never tweet you a blind intro or tell you about that killer burrito I just ate.