I tend to think of myself as a rationale person, who at least usually tries to always do the right thing when it comes to serving as a bridge for others to connect. Now, the right thing might not always be on someone else's ideal timeline, but if there's an introduction I can make, a match I can broker or a relationship I can encourage to progress to the next level, I'm always game to do it -- provided I respect both parties involved and all that the person is looking for is a quick call or email. Now, this is not remarkable behavior -- at least I don't believe it to be. Connecting people, companies and ideas is something that benefits us all, whether we're students looking for our first break in the professional world and have the right credentials to offer or whether we're a company looking for a particular type of niche expertise or solution. But not all people see things this way. In fact, some people want to profit from their network on an amateur basis instead of using it to help others and build their own cachet in the process.
Just the other day, I encountered this type of behavior in two different circumstances (which unfortunately might be a reflection of how desperate some people are these days). In the first case, a colleague of mine was trying to make a connection in an industry that he was not overly familiar with. And based on a suggestion from one of his former co-workers, he reached out to a contact who could supposedly help. But when he took the step to call and meet with the potential "connector" in question, the person tried to sell herself and her services to make the introduction, even though the particular reason for her to connect my colleague to her network would have helped all parties involved, building the connector's cachet in the process. When my colleague suggested that was not something we would consider, she even offered to put her "connector" fees at risk based on a successful outcome from the introduction.
What hogwash, I responded, before my colleague came back to her (I actually used a five letter term to describe this person I had never met). I explained myself by saying that if this woman -- who was currently looking for a gig herself -- needed cash to make a connection that would have benefited a former colleague of hers but failed to see it this way, that this was clearly a person we want nothing to do with. In fact, I told my colleague, given the importance of getting the right connection into the organization we wanted to reach out to, her reaction made me circumspect as to whether or not I would even want an "un-compensated" introduction from her in the first place. We had one chance to get the right person to talk to us -- and to be favorably inclined to do so -- and if this was the way this person was behaving toward us now, I had no doubt in my mind she might have behaved in a similar way in the past, alienating herself from those around her (which perhaps explained why she was currently unemployed or underemployed).
You can pretty much guess what happened next based on how I felt. We walked from our discussions with her and went another route, hopefully one that will ultimately prove far more successful based on the karma of all those involved. At this point, however, she tried to backtrack and workout any type of intermediary role just to maintain the relationship with us (two people she clearly saw as valuable in her network), but we knew the only right thing to do was to say sayonara. Which we did. I only wish this had been the end of this meme, however.
But only a few hours later, I learned of an interesting circumstance that presented itself to a friend who runs a consultancy. The person in question was looking for a particular skill-set to bring into a near-term engagement. And to do so, he had reached out to some alumni from a larger consultancy (a Big 5 firm) he had worked at previously. One person, a former colleague and, at one point in time, a friend, responded that he was not appropriate for the role, but that he'd be happy to send an email introduction to someone else he worked with. But with one catch -- he would only make the intro if the connection resulted in a $3,500 "success fee" if the person ended up working with said consultant in question.
Now, perhaps when you reach out to a headhunter, you'd most certainly expect such a response. But to a former colleague and friend? Come on now. It turns out that the person ended up sticking his foot in his mouth because when my contact politely declined, he mentioned that he had already reached out to his friend -- who was looking for work -- and had mentioned he might be getting a call or email. In reply to my friend's negative response to his self-enriching gesture, the connector, in this case, tried to further justify his behavior by saying in an email, and I quote, "such behavior is perfectly normal in our business". Is it? Not in my world of former colleagues. Nor with my friend's it turns out either -- who blacklisted the person in question from his Rolodex and has already shared his behavior with others in the business.
In both cases, the people I knew on the receiving side of these "paid introductory propositions" were way too polite. If someone asked me directly to pay for a connection, I'd not-so-politely respond with "I'm not going to pay for your &$*&ing contacts". Which I did on one occasion a couple of years back when I was just getting Spend Matters off the ground, blacklisting a person I thought was a friend and ally. You might ask the reason for my extreme response to this, not to mention the length of this rant. It's simple -- as one who probably makes at least 15-20 introductions per week, I personally find this type of behavior abhorrent -- flying in the face of everything I believe about what makes good connections and relationships. But perhaps there's a silver lining in it. And that's by showing their true colors by engaging in such practices, it's easy to figure out those in your network with whom you should not be wasting your time. Given that we all have limited time in the day and a constantly growing set of connections, this type of behavior provides a perfect excuse to prune the rolodex of those who aren't going anywhere in life. Or at least not a life we want to be a part of.