There are lots of good reasons for getting in touch with someone you know by reputation, or perhaps from a passing contact on social media or (in pre- and, I hope, post-pandemic days) at a conference or other event. Maybe you want that person to come and speak at your institution. You could be researching elites. You might want to ask for specialist advice. These kinds of reasons are entirely legitimate. However, a good reason alone isn’t enough; you also need to handle the interaction effectively. Here are ten top tips to help you get the best out of your encounter.
- Be aware that the person you are contacting will be very, very busy. They already work more than full time and they get many requests from people like you.
- Do your homework. Do not ask the person a question you could find the answer to by using a search engine or searching the person’s own website or blog. Check out all of the existing resources online, thoroughly, before you make contact.
- Find out how the person prefers to be communicated with, then communicate that way. Some people love email; others hate it. Some like private messages on social media; some don’t. You will have your own preferences but, to get the best out of a busy person, use the method they prefer.
- Keep communication brief. If this is difficult, write the long version for yourself, then cut it down to the bones before sending.
- Don’t expect a speedy reply. If you haven’t heard anything within a week or two, send a short polite enquiry to check they received your initial message. If this is by email, forward the original beneath your new enquiry, to save them hunting.
- Be clear about what you want, and make that clear to the person you are contacting.
- Be clear about what you can offer. For example, if you want to invite someone to speak at your institution, make sure you clarify the terms of the invitation: who they would be speaking to, in what context, whether a fee is available, whether expenses can be paid, and so on.
- Don’t say ‘I see you have written a book on X so I wanted to ask for your help with X’. Read the book first, then get in touch with the author if you have unanswered questions.
- Make sure your request is realistic, which usually means short and one-off. A busy person is not going to provide individual mentoring support, spearhead your social justice campaign, or write your thesis or dissertation for you.
- Understand that busy people have to say ‘no’ much more often than ‘yes’, because there are limits to everyone’s time and energy – and be prepared to accept the answer ‘no’.
This post was inspired by the increasing number of inappropriate and/or badly handled approaches I receive. However, it is not intended to be entirely off-putting. If you have a reasonable request which you can communicate effectively, I would be happy to hear from you.
[This post struck quite the chord and led to some follow-on posts: one on the art of the “cold-call” email from the Thesis Whisperer, one on asking to share from the Research Whisperer, and one on the care in requests from the Wellbeing Whisperer.]
This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me more than one working day per month to post here each week, run the Twitterchat and produce content for YouTube. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $86 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more that $86 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!