Modesty is the Best Policy

You’re never going to believe this. The assistant of some assistant of some clown just sent me an email asking for my aggregated list of past, current and future prospects. Oh, and she needs it ASAP so please email her this afternoon.

Do I: a) send her a virus masked as the spreadsheet of her dreams, b) reply to her email explaining how ridiculous she is and/or c) notify her boss?

I ran this past some peers and before anyone could agree on a solution, the conversation turned to how common this lack of scruples is becoming in the workforce. Needless to say, my list of prospects is my goldmine. It’s taken my whole career to cultivate and I wouldn’t share that with anyone. Not my best friend or my wife or even my mommy. And did I mention this is someone at a competitor’s office?

You might argue that this newbie is just so green she doesn’t even realize how absurd her “request” is, but ignorance aside, her actions nevertheless warrant speculation. Inevitably, we all have to ask for help. When the time comes, there are really only two rules to remember:

1. Mode: Never send a blind email asking for a favor, especially a major one. Pick up the phone and call to explain your predicament. Be considerate of the other person’s time and keep it short, less than two minutes. Indicate that you know the person is busy, so you don’t want to keep them, but here’s what you need and why, and then ask if it would be ok if you email the particulars for review. If you’re really tight on time, mention that, very gently, while on the phone. Keep the email short, bulleted if possible. Never gush.

2. Tone: Never sound harried, anxious, frustrated or otherwise edgy. No matter what. This will not make someone want to help you, quite the opposite. It will make them want to dismiss you as out of control, irresponsible and worst of all, inconsiderate.

Remember: Great networking is rooted in quid pro quo. So when it’s your turn to ask for a favor, pause to think of how you’d want to be asked. Then wait another five minutes and add on an extra helping of style and grace.

pat lempa

Pat Lempa is not a favor fountain, but is available at