08/16/2010 12:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Can You Steal an Introduction?

Dear Liz,

I worked for four years with a woman who has a personal relationship with one of
the most visible business leaders in my city (he owns a bank and has huge real
estate holdings etc). She used to talk about him and how they grew up together
in a rural area near here. I found the gentleman on LinkedIn and sent him an
InMail message saying that I am friends with his friend "Ann" and letting him
know about my new business.

Two days later "Ann" called me up and she was beyond angry with me. She said
that her friend called her to ask about me and she had to tell him that she and
I haven't talked in a year and haven't worked together in two years and she was
embarrassed. She said she felt that I stole an introduction and if I wanted to
meet the man why didn't I ask her to introduce us? I would like your opinion.



Dear Brenda,

That sounds like an unpleasant experience. In general, it is best to err on the
side of caution when approaching people we don't know and using our friends'
names as entry points. The first, unspoken question from the recipient of our
overture is almost certainly going to be "If you and Ann are friends, why didn't
she introduce the two of us herself." Does she know you're using her name in
reaching out to me?"

"Ann and I worked together but haven't spoken in a year" pushes the outer
boundaries of "Ann and I are friends" territory, and if you by chance slipped
over the border into the "Ann suggested I reach out to you" zone then it's easy
to see why she was less than delighted.

Friendships, especially old ones, are precious. Reputations are invaluable. Ann
didn't want her old friend to feel that she'd sicced you on him for business
opportunities. To be safe, it's best to make your own, no-friend-required
outreach to a person you don't know, or else to ask your friend for a true
introduction, rather than using his or her name (Ann's name, in this case) as a
point of entry when in fact Ann may not have been comfortable making the intro,
had she been consulted.



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