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Are You Offensive When You Network?

Are You Offensive When You Network?

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Are you offensive when you network? I got a very interesting e-mail this week from a colleague I had never met before. He subscribes to my e-mail list, so he gets my weekly content, but we have never actually connected in-person or online. That means his initial e-mail to me was our first one-on-one networking opportunity – and it also formed my first impression of him.

Related: 5 Networking Mistakes And How To Easily Avoid Them

This was the opening of the message:

Dear J.T.,

As a career coach, I enjoy all your e-mails and online seminars. But as a college and high school English teacher, I really MUST object to you (and other people who think bigger words must sound more erudite) making a short verb longer…

The e-mail went on for two more paragraphs citing specific uses of grammar that upset him in a recent article he had received. Are you starting to see where I am going with this?

I Am Open To Feedback, Just Get To Know Me First!

This reader made the classic mistake of thinking because he subscribes to my content, we have a relationship that would make me immediately open to his extensive, passionate criticism. I understand many folks who read content from someone on a regular basis start to feel as if they know the author personally. I also realize he paid a compliment first.

Yet, everyone knows compliments are negated when they are followed up by a big old, “BUT.” Now, I love it when people whom I respect and trust provide me with valuable feedback. In fact, that’s where the problem lies in this situation…

Earn My Trust And Respect First, Criticize Second

When it comes to making a first impression, there are rarely second chances. So, we all need to consider what we want that person to “feel” about us initially. Do we want them to have a good feeling or bad feeling?

More importantly, which one would lay the foundation for building the trust and respect needed to create a strong networking partnership?

I’m sorry folks, but I don’t know many people who get a warm fuzzy feeling when they get heavily criticized by someone the first time they meet. In my experience, you must acquire trust and respect through positive interaction first, then you earn the right to criticize.

And If You Must Criticize… Ask, Don’t Tell!

As a career coach, I find if I want to have a delicate dialog with a client that involves criticizing them, I start by asking a lot of questions. The questions are designed to help me understand where they are coming from and why they do the things they do.

In short, I’m assessing their knowledge and decision making process.

This works well because often, before I have to criticize, we are able to have a meaningful conversation around the benefits of trying something different without me having to directly criticize them. In the case of the career coach above, I would have appreciated his perspective more if he had first inquired as to why I chose to write in a style that sometimes ignores traditional grammar rules. He would have learned I focus on content and delivery, which means, there are times when I choose to ignore grammar rules for effect.

Maybe then we could have had an interesting e-mail dialog about the pros and cons of adhering to the grammar rules he swears by. He would have earned my respect and trust instead of coming across as arrogant and inconsiderate.

Ironically, Seasoned Professionals Are Often The Worst At This

Folks, the next time you are dying to send a, “Here’s what’s wrong with what you do,” e-mail, please consider the above. You could be burning a valuable bridge. It’s a small professional world out there, and we are just six degrees of separation away from one another (just ask LinkedIn). Better to craft a strategy that earns you the right to criticize. You’ll be glad you did.

I actually work on this with many folks on this. I find that, in particular, seasoned professionals tend to feel they have earned the right to criticize and forget to filter their networking. They end up creating a negative personal brand that hurts their career. Especially, if they are between jobs and been looking for work for a while.

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J.T. O'Donnell Job Search & Career Expert. Syndicated Speaker & Author. Wife. Mother. CEO of Work It Daily. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.