Building functional relationships with professionals / people online can be more complex as compared to maintaining offline relationships. Of course, if you are good at it – good at maintaining online relationships – it is easier to maintain an online relationship as compared to an offline one.

It is definitely easier saying “no” to someone in an e-mail. We are generally very polite when we meet someone face-to-face and although we might not see a fit with the particular person or their business, we usually end up saying, “Ok, lets see how this goes. Maybe something will work out in the future”. Sometimes, we even end up saying things like “I’ll get back to you on this – I have something in mind” and then we never get back.

As a rule, we should not promise or even indicate something that might never happen. Not only does it lower our credibility in the eyes of others, it also leaves you with a feeling of guilt. We should quite simple say “No, I don’t believe I see a fit.” Which does not mean that there is no possibility of collaboration. Eventually, one never knows what works out from which direction. A lot of people on my network, who initially were nice enough to clear the air and said that they couldn’t see a collaboration because of the distance, have forwarded other people’s requests to me and have even (of course after some months) gotten back and mentioned that they would like to experiment.

Again it boils down to communication. When drafting a request to connect, be first clear in your head why you would like to connect to the particular person and why would you want to be on their network. Once that is done, write the same to them in your request! It’s simple! For example, if I see someone on my network – who is two or three degrees away and our networks have only one common connection and they too have a large network, I will realize that it would be beneficial for both of us to share our networks. Not only will a whole new section of people be visible to me, which will allow me to increase my visibility to people who might need design services, it will also do the same for the person I am connecting with. So I simply explain my thoughts to the person in my request to connect and the probability of refusal would not be more than 5% (if you sent out a 100 clear and honest requests to connect, only 5 would probably be refused). The reason I write confidently about this is because I have done it.

One of the reasons why this approach works is because it takes the help of two age-old persuasion techniques – it’s simple to understand and it’s true! Nothing works better than clear and honest communication!

Never fob when you write to potential contacts. Although it might sound inexplicable, it is easy to make out when a person has written a genuine request and when someone’s just trying to gain a network without actually building their credibility and when someone’s not serious about the whole process. (It’s called “thin-slicing” according to the latest book by Malcolm GladwellBlink.) I cannot remember the countless times that I have received requests to forward and connect from people who do not even take time to punctuate their text. They misspell names and just give one line of text as explanation to connect. It’s appalling. Sometimes, the punctuation can be forgiven and forgotten, but how can anyone misspell the name of the person they want to establish contact with! And that too in their first e-mail – which they will be sending through a chain of other professionals on the network. It completely ruins the person’s credibility.

Do a good search, find people who you would potentially like to connect with – catch your thoughts as to why you think they’d be good to have on the network – write the same down in your request and write a well punctuated, clear and concise request. There is no reason why someone will say “no” to a well-worded, well-thought of and honest request to connect. The only reason someone might refuse the contact is because they might be wary of connecting with someone they have never heard of earlier. That too can be overcome to a large extent – next post for that!