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The Art of the Follow Up

Build productive relationships without having PEST stamped on your forehead

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by Kara Baskin

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Following up is a key part of networking. But it’s a delicate art: You don’t want to seem pushy, desperate or rude. Sandra Yancey, founder and CEO of eWomenNetwork, Inc., the fastest-growing membership-based professional women’s networking organization in North America, reveals how to “check in” with grace.

How can someone follow up without being pushy or feeling vulnerable?

There’s a difference between being pushy and being assertive. Pushy is when you’re pushing your agenda. Assertive is when you’re working with someone else’s agenda and seeking to serve. It’s the difference between being self-focused and other-focused. The key to following up is underscoring that you can help alleviate a pain point for someone else. There’s nothing wrong with following up when you say, “I can help you,” instead of saying, “Help me.” 

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What’s the proper way to follow up if a meeting didn’t go well—say, you think you made a bad first impression and want to correct it?

First, take the time to reflect. Instead of quickly trying to fix things, figure out what went wrong. Then be direct. Ask: “How did I miscommunicate? What could I have done differently?” Take ownership, instead of looking like you’re trying to get another chance.

Let's say you attended a one-time-only networking event. How can you keep in touch with your contacts without coming off as a pest?

It all comes back to the quality of your initial conversation, so make sure it’s productive. Keep it other-focused: “Tell me about you and your work.” Ask targeted questions: “What’s your marketing approach? How do you reach new customers? Do you have specific initiatives?” If you ask juicy questions, there are all different kinds of ways to follow up. Go home and look up an article that speaks to their interests. Recommend a book based on your conversation. And one tip: People are overwhelmed by email. It sounds old-fashioned, but send a letter. 

Any other easy ways to stay in touch over the long haul?

I send out what I call TOYs—a text message that says “toy,” short for “thinking of you.” There are also great apps that let you call someone, bypass the conversation, and go right to voicemail. 

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How can you fit in time for networking if you're swamped with family life and work?

I don’t know a single human being who won’t tell you that their plate is full. If it’s important, people find the time. Make it a priority and eliminate distractions. It’s easy to get distracted by the “busy-ness” of business and trying to be all things to all people. Delegate other responsibilities. Personally following up is a critical component of work. 

Let’s say you’re in a mentorship position and are asked to help someone you don’t really like or believe in. What's a polite way to handle it, if they follow up with you?

There is a graceful way to disengage. If someone asks you about an opportunity or a connection, recommend resources, books, or places to get information about the field or job without offering to make an introduction. Offer to loop back with them if you think of other resources, and wish them good luck. 

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How do you cope if you suspect someone is sabotaging your efforts to get ahead within your organization or industry—a backstabbing colleague or a previous boss who doesn’t have your best interest at heart?

There’s nothing better than face-to-face communication. Don’t make it about you when you ask to connect, though. Don’t accuse. Simply say, “Hi, I’m noticing that I’m feeling uncomfortable about some things I’ve heard. I’m perplexed, and I want to have a direct conversation because I don’t want to believe everything I hear.” Ninety-five percent of the time, this squashes it, Yancey says. 

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