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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Get Out of an Email Introduction You Don't Want to Respond To

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One of my biggest pet peeves in all of the imaginable universe is when people fail to do a double opt-in introduction email.

What is a double opt-in intro? The short summary is when Person A asks you to introduce him to Person B, you check with Person B before making the intro. Checking first is an act of respect. It is your way of saying to your contacts, I value you enough not to just give away your time, contact information, and hard-earned wisdom to anyone who asks.

Unfortunately for all our inboxes, there are still too many people out there who fail to use this strategy, and in doing so, make our lives even busier. Now, don’t get me wrong, I accept plenty of double opt-in intros and am happy to take calls to help friends of friends and entrepreneurs on a weekly basis. People helped me in The Muse’s early days (and still do!), and I believe in doing the same for others. But many requests are also asking for advice that I’m not the best person to give or arrive at a time when my own team needs me urgently or when I would be trading much-needed sleep to respond to.

With that said, there are also times when introductions are mutually beneficial. But trust me—even then, you should ask first. For example, I’m often connected unexpectedly to potential candidates who want to know more about an open position. Had the introducer asked first, I would’ve given him or her the email of the hiring manager, who is much better suited to answer specific questions about the role and an even more beneficial connection to the candidate.

But, from personal experience—and that of many other entrepreneurs and managers I’ve spoken with—the mutually beneficial intro is not the norm. Most unsolicited introductions are subtle or not-so-subtle asks for a favor. Such as:

Can you pass on someone’s resume to a contact? Can you leverage relationships you took years to build for someone you don’t know well enough to vouch for? Can you spend hours reading my friend’s screenplay or manuscript? Can you share the tricks of your trade in exchange for a $3 cup of coffee when your hourly consulting rate for sharing expertise is most definitely above $3 per hour?

When this happens, you’re faced with a pretty annoying choice. Either you agree to what is asked of you (a call, a coffee, or a meeting) and are now giving time from your busy schedule to a stranger. Or you have to be the bad guy who says no to this (presumably) perfectly nice person.

To combat this dilemma, I’ve discovered a third strategy: Make Person A do the turning down for you. Yup, that’s right. Saying no is uncomfortable, and just because he or she passed the buck on to you doesn’t mean you can’t nicely hand it right on back. The two most important things are to make sure you say that you wish he or she had checked first and to put the bad news delivery back on him or her.

So, next time you get an unsolicited introduction that you can’t accept, send one of these two templates back to the person who sent you the email (and only that person).

If You’re Not the Right Person to Answer the Question

Dear [name of the person who didn’t ask for permission],

Thanks for thinking of me; I’m flattered that you thought I could be of assistance. This actually isn’t one of my areas of expertise. Although I do have some experience in [another topic that isn’t going to answer his or her friend’s question], I don’t know anything about [what the friend wants]. I wish you’d checked with me before making the intro as I would have been able to save you the time.

Can you let [person he or she pawned off on you] know? Thanks so much!

If You’re Too Busy

Dear [name of the person who didn’t ask for permission],

Thanks for thinking of me, I’m always happy to help when I can. Unfortunately, this is an incredibly busy period at work for me, and I’m not able to connect with [his or her friend’s name] right now. I wish you’d checked with me before making the intro, as I would have told you that that timing might be better in [X weeks/months/the future].

Can you let [person he or she pawned off on you] know? Thanks so much!

By transferring the “no” back to the intro offender, you force him or her to admit that he or she made a mistake and didn’t check if an introduction was appropriate. It’s a humbling position to be in and will make him or her think twice about intro-ing without asking in the future. Hopefully not just to you, but to others as well.