Wednesday 1 February 2023
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Connect with Care: Referral Blunders and Yellow Flags to Avoid

Patti DeNucci is a regular contributor to intrepidNOW, writing about people who want to live, work, and connect at a higher level.

Patti DeNucci, intrepidNOWIf you want to be successful in sales or running your own business, you know that referrals, connections, and introductions are the best ways to make that happen. No one enjoys a long day of making cold calls, hearing lots of “no thank you’s” or hearing only crickets. I personally hate it. It is a soul-sucking experience.

Likewise, spending time at networking events gathering the nerve to introduce yourself or shaking hands and making small talk with complete strangers gets old after awhile, too. Been there? Me too. It can be exhausting to build a network or prospect list from scratch. Referrals are definitely the way to go. But how do you go about getting them?

One of the key philosophies I teach is that in order to attract good referrals, connections and introductions, you also need to be willing to give them.

Ah, but there’s the rub. How do you make sure the ones you share are as good as the ones you want to attract? It takes savvy, skill and practice. I’m here to shorten the learning curve for you via a favorite excerpt from my award-winning book The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals & Results in Business here.

Not sure if it’s worth a read? Consider this: my publishing strategist / writing coach told me it was one of her favorite segments.

Grab a cup of coffee and your reading glasses. Here goes:

There are many situations that, by their very nature, are the breeding ground for impulsive, poor quality or other potentially negative referrals and connections. Watch for these Yellow Flag Referrals – both giving them and being the recipient (or victim) of them.

The Hit and Run Introduction

Ever receive an email from a colleague that gives you the name and contact information of someone they think you should know and vice versa – and that’s it? No further explanation, as if you’re supposed to guess what they were thinking?

“Dear Sally, I ran into my colleague John Adams the other day and realized you two really need to know each other. I’ve copied John here. Hoping you two can set up a time to meet. Enjoy! Sincerely, Steve.”

Likely there is a good reason why your colleague had the urge to connect you, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why?

The Happy Hour Referral

You met a new contact over cocktails and really hit it off. You have instantly become best business buddies and are ready to refer each other for all kinds of business situations. You’ve bonded.

Okay, so the fact that there was alcohol involved might be your first clue that, as in dating, there is a chance your judgment has been impaired. It might behoove you to find out if you still feel the same giddy enthusiasm about this person when morning comes and you are completely sober.

So rather than making a spontaneous and possibly unfortunate referral that might forever tarnish your otherwise spotless reputation, go forward cautiously over coffee or lunch. Get to know each other further. Ask around. Check references. Google them. Let the relationship develop before you refer them to anyone (or accept their referrals).

It just makes sense, don’t you think?

The Sympathy Referral

You have a friend, acquaintance, or colleague who has fallen on hard times – divorce, bankruptcy, illness, layoff, financial woes, etc. It’s a good and compassionate thing to offer support and advice when someone is hurting or in need. But don’t pawn them off on others simply because they are having difficulties.

Needing is not the same as deserving.

If you would not feel confident referring them under the best of circumstances, the only way you should do so now is with an honest disclaimer about their true abilities (or lack thereof) or at least a sincere and true statement of how little you actually know about them or the quality of their work.

Some people actually rise to the occasion when they are facing adversity; others bring a whirlwind of drama and disaster with them wherever they go.

The Impulsive Referral

You blurt out the first name or idea that comes to mind when someone tells you what they are seeking. The only way this one works is if you are: a) quick, but seasoned in the business of making referrals and picky as all get-out, b) a walking database of all the best people and resources in town, and c) have an almost freakish and psychic knack for successful connecting. Still, it pays to ask for more details on what your friend or colleague needs before giving them any specific recommendations.

The Quid Pro Quo Referral

This one seems to be emblazoned into the psyche of the business world. And not following it almost seems counterintuitive, if not shocking and a reason to be tarred and feathered publicly. As you might guess, the common belief is that if I refer business to you, you should automatically and without hesitation refer business back to me.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve received some lovely referrals from some people to whom I will be forever grateful, but honestly there is probably little if any chance I could in good faith reciprocate because, frankly, they just are not that good at what they do. Generosity and gonzo networking skills are not necessarily signs of competence and professionalism.

If you don’t feel comfortable sending referrals back to someone, you might consider rewarding them in another way. A nice gift card. Some free advice. Flowers. A one-way trip to an exotic locale. Surely you can come up with creative – and safe – ways to return the favor and express genuine gratitude.

The Proximity Referral

Do not refer (or expect referrals from) someone merely because they live or work near you or go the same meetings, social events, church, tennis club, yoga class, dog park, or [you fill in the blank]. These are great places to make new contacts and find new resources, but use the same filters here you would use anywhere else.

The Brother-in-Law Referral

Likewise, do not refer (or expect referrals from) someone merely because they are in some way related to you, either by blood or by law. In fact, be doubly cautious here. Remember, if it goes badly, he will still be your brother-in-law, perhaps forever.

The Hobbyist-Dabbler Referral

Yes, I confess I am handy with the electric clippers when it comes to giving my son the basic #3 buzz cut he once loved. I’ve even given him a snappy Mohawk for that championship soccer match. But I would never in a million years expect you to recommend me to someone who needs a good hair stylist. Likewise, just because someone knows a little bit about [fill in the blank], has taken a class or workshop, or does a certain activity in their spare time, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are an expert worthy of a professional referral.

The Informational Interview Referral

I’m not a fan of the informational interview (a.k.a. a meeting in which one person is basically asking for free information or advice from another more experienced, successful, or connected person). The only way I see it as a win-win is if both parties are completely agreeable to taking the time to do them and follow mutually agreeable guidelines. Also, the interviewer (the underling asking the questions) should take the time to know his or her purpose for the meeting, prepare good questions, be efficient in asking them, be űber respectful of the interviewee’s time, and be willing to return the favor several times over. They can at least pick up the tab if they are meeting at a restaurant (preferably a nice one) over lunch. So do your colleagues a favor and be sure to ask them how they feel about informational interviews before you ever recommend them to participate in one.

The Brain-Picking Referral

Like the referral above, unless you are sure the recipient of this referral is totally okay with offering free advice or meeting over coffee for some Q & A, don’t send them along. If you are often the target of relentless brain-picking match-ups, you may want to come up with some Rules of Engagement or policies that the brain-picker must follow. I have developed several such policies and they are posted clearly on my bulletin board by my desk as notes-to-self to avoid (or at least manage) these time-wasters graciously and efficiently.

The What-the-Heck Referral

This is connecting that has gone terribly awry. Basically, it’s the referral or request that you did not ask for and cannot make any sense of whatsoever. The spam that lands in your inbox because someone gave out or acquired your email address or randomly passed along your business card. The phone call or introduction that puts you on the spot and makes you uncomfortable. The person who asks for a meeting or your business; solicits a recommendation or endorsement on LinkedIn or Facebook; wants your random vote for some sort of “[fill in the blank] of the Year” Award; or sends you a demo tape, manuscript, portfolio, life story, or an audacious request for a favor – and you’ve never met them before in your entire life. The kind of referral that makes you want to say, “What the …?” Hence the name.

The False Endorsement Referral

This one really fries me. This is when you generously pass along some information to someone about a job or an opportunity and the person inaccurately exaggerates their relationship with you or tells others that you “recommended them.” I mean, honestly. Have they no shame? The proper way to do this is to say “I received this information from …” This implies generosity, not familiarity or endorsement.

The Hot Potato Referral

This is the referral that lands in your lap, along with clear signs that it has already been passed along repeatedly – and rather decisively. Quite possibly for good reason. If ever there was a clear signal that this might be a Client from Hell, this is it. Maybe not. But be cautious nonetheless. And on another note, please don’t pass a Hot Potato Referral along to anyone you care about, respect or need in your world. They will not appreciate being put on the spot or being sucked into the hellish vortex of Hot Potato-ness. At all.

[This segment of The Intentional Networker republished with permission from Rosewall Press.]

If you liked this excerpt, you’ll love the book!
The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals & Results in Business


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Patti DeNucci

Patti DeNucci is a consultant, author and speaker and Chief Connector at DeNucci & Co. LLC. She loves working with motivated people who want to learn how to Live, Work & Connect at a Higher LevelTM and is author of the award-winning book The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals & Results in Business. Patti is working on her second book about Conversation and Connection.