Throughout my life, connections with strangers have consistently shaped what was about to come. Originally social acquaintances, later friends and recently business partners and investors.
Connecting to strangers via the internet is great. It transcends inherent network limitations. It creates a much needed sense of serendipity. It allows for business, cultural and intellectual leaps. And on a practical note, in an era of increasing automation, connecting directly, human to human can be very rewarding.
That said, most people don’t do it. It is not the norm and initially feels uncomfortable. So much so, that everyone spends hours thinking what to write, how to avoid coming across as invasive, persistent, misunderstood. There is also good reason behind that. We are not used to receiving highly relevant and/or rewarding communication from strangers. More often than not we have annoying, spammy, automated campaigns top of mind when we think of messages from strangers. And somewhere between the inherent anxiety (“what will they think?!”) and needing to get a message across, the “Send” button gets eventually pressed.
When you want something, thinking how to frame your message is inevitable. And given that on the other side there’s stranger and you have no in, it’s even harder.
So, how do you go about reaching out to the world without spending an hour at at a time pondering on the perceived nuances of each word and ruminating on all possible responses?
To that, here are some points that I found useful:
- Most of the time, the world does not care.
This is important to remember. There’s a high likelihood that a cold message won’t get a response (the first, second, third time..). This happens less so because of the contents of the message and more due to people being busy. As a stranger, you’re another message in one’s inbox. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just a fact. And so because people don’t care, they also forget quickly. So, feel free to say what you want, most of the time there’s no downside.
- Write like you’re addressing a friendly acquaintance (you don’t know well).
This has been the most efficient framework for me. I have this ‘friend’ I always think about when I get stuck. To be precise I have met her about of 4-5 times in my life. She’s a friendly acquaintance. Someone I enjoy speaking to, can express my opinion, would happily spend time with should the occasion arise, but also one whose call I find rather unlikely to receive. In other words, a person that I’d feel comfortable when writing to but in the same time I don’t know very well. That’s how I aim to write every message. If I get stuck, I substitute the recipient with her in mind. Helps me be friendly, positive and above all, genuine. As a result, no energy is spent pondering on future, hypothetical outcomes. It’s her! She’s great. And I like her.
- Be genuine with the rest of your actions.
By the way, this helps me follow up without guilt. Would I not follow up with my friend? A positive mindset and friendly attitude means that people around you might be so too. But even if that’s not the case your attitude ensures you won’t get defensive. Would you get defensive with a friend? (Hopefully) No.
Finally, even if you don’t get a response, keep on engaging. Someone has been politely emailing me for a long time. I kept failing to respond until recently they posted something on LinkedIn that I found interesting. By now, I feel as if I know them and as we are connected on LinkedIn I commented. Guess who’s top of mind next time I think about the type of service he’s offering. Counterintuitive perhaps. But it’s also true. The more we see of someone, the more familiar they become to us. Call it personal brand awareness.
The gist is this: Connecting to strangers is beautiful, powerful and might even change your life. Sometimes random connections turn to meaningful relationships. And being genuine, friendly and direct makes it all that easier. No reason to be cold to a (future) friend.