Once you’ve started to build up a respectable network in the working world, you’ll certainly find yourself with opportunities to connect the people you know. Maybe a friend of yours is looking to hire a marketing manager, and you know a great candidate, or maybe one of your new connections is interested in meeting one of your mentors or advisors.
This is great. It’s an opportunity to help out the people you know, strengthen your relationships with them, and also stay on their radar in a positive way. But there’s an art to making connections among your network—and truth is, it’s not always that easy to navigate when one of your connections is eager to meet another.
Next time someone asks you for an intro, here’s your primer on handling it with grace.
Don’t Make Cold Intros
Rule number one: Don’t make an introduction to someone without asking her first. “Cold” intros are the virtual equivalent of planning a one-on-one catch-up with someone, and showing up with another friend—they’re off-putting, and they can leave the recipient feeling off-balance, annoyed, and unsure of what to do next.
There’s an easy way around this. Before making an intro, give the people involved a heads up. If a friend of mine wants to meet an editorial contact I have, for example, I’ll send that contact a note first, to the effect of “Hey, I wanted to introduce you to my friend Julia. She’s [insert 1-2 sentences on her background]. I’ll send an email intro shortly!” This way, the recipient of the intro has some context and knows to expect the email from you.
Now, depending on your relationship, there may also be times when it’s more appropriate to ask permission than to send an FYI. “My friend Julia [insert background] would love to meet you—is it OK with you if I make the introduction?” is entirely appropriate.
Present an Angle
When you’re introducing people, presumably it’s because you think there’s a reason they should meet. Sometimes this reason is one-sided, for example, if someone in your circle has asked you to connect her with someone at her dream company. Other times, it’s mutually beneficial—two people have expressed interest in meeting each other, or you see synergies between the companies they’re working for and think they’d get along.
Regardless, you have a reason for making the introduction. So, when you go to actually make that intro, you’ll do both people a huge favor by stating what that reason is.
This is helpful even if both people know why you’re making the intro, because it gives them something to go off of when they respond to one another. On the other hand, I’ve found that when I receive an email that says, “Meet my friend—she’s awesome, you two should talk,” it’s hard to formulate a non-awkward response to the person I’m supposed to meet. (“Hey, nice to meet you—I hear you’re awesome!” just doesn’t cut it.)
Be Aware of Power Dynamics
All relationships are not created equal. And as you expand your circle beyond your immediate peers, you have to be aware of the dynamics amongst the people you know and the people you’re connecting. Asking a senior marketing exec to sit down with the somewhat-aimless-but-nice woman you just met at a conference is—well, not cool.
Of course, there are a lot of grey areas in relationships, but the bottom line is to be aware of what you’re asking of people and make sure it’s appropriate. More importantly, if you know you’re asking a big favor of someone, acknowledge it: “Would you do me a favor and talk with my colleague Mark about moving into the business development world?” Other times, you can be more subtle—but use phrases like “I would appreciate it if… ” or “It would be so helpful if… ” that clue the recipient in to the fact that you know you’re asking something of her.
Remember it’s OK to Say No
Finally, if someone asks you to make an intro you aren’t comfortable with, give yourself permission to say no. You don’t have to do every favor that’s asked of you. If a junior peer comes asking you to intro her to every senior exec you know—be polite, but don’t feel bad turning her down.
At the end of the day, your network is your network because you’ve built those relationships. You want to maintain them and show respect for the people you know and their time. Connecting people is a great way to further your network and relationships, but if you think that making an intro is wasting one person or the other’s time, or get the sense that one party wouldn’t be so receptive to it—sometimes the appropriate thing to do is to pass.