This is a guest post contributed by my dear friend and mentor Professor Kristen David Adams, an extraordinary woman, author, and law professor. We have had many occasions to wonder together at good choices and bad choices made by the people with whom we share our connections. I think Kristen says it better than I ever could.
Words From Your Mentor
Good afternoon, Mentee. Earlier today, I made an introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts, at your request. I am not entirely sure that you understood the significance of your having made this request, or of my having granted it. So here are some things I would like you to know.
You Probably Can’t Improve My Relationship . . .
Although I think highly of you, which is why I made this introduction on your behalf, you probably are not in a position to improve this relationship for me. Here’s what I mean: the person to whom I introduced you already thinks highly of me, which is why he or she agreed to talk with/meet with you. My contacts expect that any person to whom I would introduce any of them would, similarly, be impressive.
. . . But You Can Harm It.
Having said this, you are in a position to make me look bad. Very bad, in fact. If you are rude or nonresponsive, you may cause my contact to second-guess my professional judgment in having sent you their way. Thus, you can actually harm my professional reputation as well as your own, by handling the situation badly.
Think About It.
So stop and think about this for a moment, and you will understand what a gift it is that I made a professional introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts. In fact, given that I am putting you in a position in which you could ultimately harm one of my close professional relationships – and there is actually no clear upside for me other than the fact that I care about you –one of the greatest acts of confidence is for a mentor to introduce a mentee to a member of the mentor’s own professional network. Don’t undervalue this gift.
It’s Not About You
To be blunt, I actually don’t care whether you decide you aren’t interested in whatever my contact has to offer, or whether you are terribly busy when he or she contacts you, or even whether you are dealing with a difficult personal circumstance that makes it difficult for you to be responsive. This is a situation in which it is, really truly, not about you. It’s actually about me; specifically, my long-standing business relationship with another person whom I value.
Treat My Contacts Better Than Your Own
To sum up: (1) Introducing you to my own network is probably the greatest gift I can give you, (2) Any rudeness or non-responsiveness on your part has the potential to hurt my professional reputation as well as your own, and (3) There are really no circumstances in which it is acceptable for you to be rude or non-responsive to one of my contacts, whom I have engaged on your behalf. So don’t look to the Golden Rule here; instead, treat my contacts even better than your own.
Note: If you have not asked for help, but it is offered to you, and you don’t know you have the ability or the will to follow through, say so to the offerer. It sounds like this:
“I appreciate your confidence and trust in me, and I know how valuable your offer is. I am not quite ready to accept it, because I don’t know if I can follow through in a timely way. Can I call you or let you know in a few days? I have some other obligations and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I hope you understand. And thank you very much.”
If, however, you have asked for help, support, or a referral, your patron or mentor goes to the front of the line.