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Networkers, Take Initiative!

The other day a friend emailed me to complain about a stranger who had asked her for a networking meeting. He wanted her advice on his job search.

The reason she complained is that she had suggested that they meet for coffee at a Seattle coffee shop with a very distinctive name, let's say Cubano Coffee. He wrote back saying, "Great! Where is Cubana Cafe?"

Knowing that I write about business communication, both good and bad, my friend shared his message with me. She saw it as an example of not taking initiative and poor attention to detail, since he spelled the name of the coffee shop incorrectly, even though he could have just copied and pasted it. If the man wanted her advice and was asking her to meet with him, couldn't he take the initiative to open his browser and learn where Cubano Coffee is? (I made up the name to disguise the situation, so please don't search for it.)

You might wonder why my friend did not tell the man the location initially. She didn't tell him because she would have had to do the work of finding and copying the address, and she thought he could easily find it. But she ended up having to provide the information anyway.

A week passed, and it was the day before my friend was to meet with the man. On that day, he emailed her again, writing, "I wanted to confirm our meeting tomorrow. Where shall I meet you?" Breathing deeply and keeping her frustration in check, she replied and informed him–again–of where they were meeting.

Networkers, take initiative! If you are asking someone to meet with you to receive advice, information, or support, make an extra effort to impress him or her with your competence and energy.

Before meeting with the man, my friend had already determined that he did not take initiative and did not manage information well. That first impression no doubt colored their meeting. I would guess that my friend did not share her best contacts with the individual because he had not presented himself well.

What is your view of this situation? Did my friend expect too much? Or did the man misunderstand that networking requires energy and resourcefulness? I would like to learn your view.

Syntax Training



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

23 comments on “Networkers, Take Initiative!”

  • Initially, I probably would have replied to the man’s question with a general location. Something along the lines of “it’s near such-and-such” or if it’s in a certain neighborhood, like Belltown, I’d share that. That at least gives him a confirmation when he looks up the location.

    However, after that point, I admit I would be frustrated with his lack of attention to detail. It definitely was not a good first impression.

  • He was a stranger who sought her out and asked for a meeting because he wanted advice from her? He definitely should have made an effort to make a good impression.

    In your friend’s shoes, I probably would have canceled the meeting – and I would have told him exactly why. It would probably be more helpful for him in his job search to be told what he is doing wrong and how he can make a more favorable impression on people than it would be for him to receive a few contacts that he will no doubt leave with an equally poor impression.

    If he was truly a stranger asking for a favor, your friend owed him nothing, and I wouldn’t have wasted my time if I were her.

  • She was certainly entitled to cancel the meeting. His behavior showed a total disregard for good manners as well as poor business practice.

    Once, years ago, I had a similar situation when a job seeker contacted me through a referral. I was quite busy at the time, but said I would come in early one morning to meet with him. I was at my desk at the appointed hour when he called to say that he was in the lobby and would be up in a little while. He had to make some phone calls first. You can imagine my mood when he arrived.

  • Thank you for your comments, Tomasz, Cathy, Jennifer, Stephanie, and Jeannette. I appreciate hearing from you!

    I checked my friend’s message to me to confirm whether the man was a complete stranger. She wrote, “I know him vaguely, and a mutual friend referred him to me.” I guess I should revise the story above to say that he was almost a stranger.

    Jeannette, thanks for sharing your example. In the incident you described, the person seems worse–rude rather than clueless.

    Stephanie, I love your suggestion: “In your friend’s shoes, I probably would have canceled the meeting – and I would have told him exactly why.” I think many of us would like to do that, but it’s difficult, even given the potential value of the feedback.

    I haven’t spoken to my friend since she met the man. I will let you know whether he showed up in the right place!


  • I would imagine that this guy is no older than 35 and is a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Entitlement Club. It is a very large organization, and the members know far more about pop culture trivia than they do about being a grown-up. Their window to the world is TMZ, and it doesn’t bode well for the nation.

  • I’m really glad to have read this. Sometimes I feel like I place a high expectation on people and need to ‘dumb down’ myself to get the desired result. But in reality I would have done the same thing as your friend did. Based on the responses before me it’s good to see I’m not expecting too much afterall.

  • He was asking your friend for a favor and she was graciously extending herself. The least he could do was read with care.
    It’s like he was just using her as a resource — I mean he didn’t even have the courtesy to put the location in his calendar. He wasn’t showing appreciation for what she was doing — to me, it sounds like he lacks polish and operates at a semi-juvenile level.
    I probably wouldn’t cancel the meeting, but I wouldn’t want to refer him to my best contacts either.

  • Hi, Tony, Bianca, and Holly-Marie. Thanks for weighing in on this question. So far, no one has come to the man’s defense.

    Tony, I don’t want to imagine a lot of people like this one walking around, thinking they are entitled. I am certain that many if not most networkers strive to make a positive impression and a contribution of their own. Let’s hope so!


  • Hi, George. I like your idea of printing a map. That’s a very helpful way of anticipating and meeting your readers’ needs.

    As for the “delegator,” I am sorry to say that I cringed when I read that comment. He may indeed be delegating, but at what cost? Everyone who read about him thinks he’s a time-wasting jerk. Real delegation does not lead people to feel that way about the delegator, does it?

    Although the man got what he wanted (my friend to do the work for him), I am certain he did not get her best leads or suggestions, so he lost out in the end.

    Thanks for your boldness and creativity!


  • You are talking about the name of the coffee shop spelled incorrectly. What about when somebody spells your name incorrectly! It’s so…. I don’t know how to explain my feelings. My name is in my email and in my signature too. Still people don’t pay any attention. It’s so sad. But maybe it’s another topic.

  • If I were the man, i would checked the location of the place of appointment, then i will write down the address in the email to confirm with the person i am going to meet. The reasons for doing so, first of all is to show my sincerity that i make the effort and i am able to find the place by its name, secondly to double check with the person to make sure it’s the correct one or there is no another bar called the same name…

    This did happen to me when i was going to have the interview. It is only one of the details that we need to pay attention to, absolutely. And honestly your friend is very kind. If i was her, i wouldn’t go and meet him after the second/third time he asked me about the address.

  • Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for sharing the story with us, I read through all the comments .

    I will like to share my problem with the panel, and perhaps get some pointers.

    I am battling to write a professional business emails.
    My grammar is so pathetic!! if i could say so.

    I read a lot books and my english speaking is fluent.

    It came to a point were i been told by my seniors, that this matter will prevent me from getting a promotion at work.

    Please help.

  • Hello, Lucas. I recommend that you or your company hire a coach to work with you on your writing. Your comment includes errors in punctuation, spelling, capitalization, grammar, and spacing. I do not think a class would be effective unless your instructor would be willing to help you by correcting your errors and explaining them.

    I will start with one rule you should always follow: Always capitalize the pronoun “I.” In written English, not capitalizing that pronoun is a very basic error.

    Be sure you use a grammar and spelling checker on everything you write. Even with online comments, you can check them by copying them into other programs before posting them.

    Good luck!


  • I know these posts are several months old, but I did want to make one more comment on the man’s lack of commitment to the meeting HE requested.

    I recently moved to an area where I am unfamiliar with everything. And because it is semi-rural, most of its inhabitants are natives of the area. So when they give directions, it usually starts with “Do you know where the old such and such building was?”

    No. No I do not. I am very clear with people that I have lived here a matter of months and that, while I am learning my way around, I don’t have any historical knowledge of the area.

    Perhaps if this man had said “I’m new in the area, do you mind giving me directions?” or “I’m so sorry, I lost the address you sent. Please tell me the name of our meeting place again” your friend would have been happy to help.

  • Hello, SS. Yes, the situation you describe is different from the situation my friend encountered. Rural areas are very different from Seattle and other big cities, where the location of any business is spelled out on the Internet.

    Thanks for your good point.


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