Are there people in your life who make you dread to check your email?
Spam advertising? You can handle that. Phishing scams? Not a problem! Even bad news from a client isn’t too hard to deal with. What brings a chill to your heart? The well-meaning, but ultimately irritating friend or family member who passes along every joke, cute picture of a kitten, urban legend, political screed, etc, etc, etc that crosses their computer screen. How do you deal with that?
I have no idea.
What we can talk about is the behaviors we should adopt so messages we send are met with smiles of anticipation, not moans of agony. After all, forwarding an article of interest can be a powerful tactic for strengthening your relationships. We just have to follow some simple guidelines to keep the focus on building that relationship.
Rule #1: Send to one person. The goal is to connect with the recipient — to tell them that you were thinking specifically about them. Being one of a group of thousands does not make the recipient feel special.
Rule #2: Include a personal note. Tell them why you thought they would be interested. If you don’t, they very well might not read it. After all, why should they care enough to spend their precious time on an article that might not have anything to do with them if you didn’t care enough to tell them why they should?
Rule #3: Make sure it is useful. This is just my opinion, but, while I do enjoy a good joke now and again, I have more use for information that contributes to my success. If all I see from you are jokes and cute, fuzzy animals, I might not take you so seriously either.
Rule #4: Know your audience. Before you fire off that politically or religiously oriented manifesto, stop for a moment and ask yourself if the person to whom you are sending it would realy appreciate it. Are they of the same beliefs as you? Do they at least enjoy a “lively debate” now and again? If not, you are throwing barriers between the two of you and your relationship with them will suffer.
Rule #5: Verify the accuracy. I’m going to delve into this in more depth, but the short form is this: Before you pass along any piece of information that espouses a particular course of action, you have a moral obligation to make sure it’s true. If you don’t, someone (like me) will tell you that you’ve made a mistake. In fact, if you’re lucky, they’ll be nice about it and only tell you and not everyone else to whom you might have sent it (in case you forgot Rule #1).
Really, if I were to order these Rules of Forwarding by importance, #5 would be first. In my book, bad information is worse than no information at all. If you forward along an inaccurate story, you end up with a series of possible outcomes, none of them good:
- They don’t believe you. This means that you’ve damaged your reputation with them. They take information from you with a skeptical eye.
- They believe you at first, but then discover you are wrong. At best you can hope they kindly correct you in private rather than embarrass you in public.
- They believe you and pass it along to others. You’ve just helped them damage their own reputation. They’ll love you for that.
- They believe you and change their life to act on that information. This is probably the most dangerous one. This can result in a waste of their precious time and resources at best and could result in true tragedy at its worst. Imagine all the negative consequences of hurtful gossip and you’ll get the drift.
So, how can you verify the accuracy of the story? Here are some steps to go through.
- Engage your critical thinking. Common sense is a good thing. As they say, if the story seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it promises free money, the attention of the opposite gender, or to grow thick, luxurious hair, it probably isn’t true. Be especially careful if it is a topic of debate, such as the actions of a particular political figure or group. If you don’t agree with it, you should probably verify the story. If you do agree with it, you should probably verify the story twice.
- Look up the topic on a fact-checking website. This is really, really easy to do. Just pick out some key words and enter them in the search field on snopes.com, FactCheck.org, truthorfiction.com, Politifact.com, or a host of other sites. A good fact-checking site will not only have done the research (sometimes back to the original sources), but will also cite the sources by which they came to their conclusions.
- Make sure you are on an actual fact-checking website. Just because it’s on the Web, doesn’t make it true. I know, shocking, right? If the site purports to tell you the “real truth”, makes comments about the “media elite”, has “right”, “left”, “liberal”, “conservative”, “democratic”, “republican”, or any other word that might connote taking a side on issues of importance in the name of their site, it’s probably not safe to count on.
- Verify with more than one source. Check the story on multiple sites. If you have a good fact-check site, then it should provide citations for the original sources. Wherever possible, check out those original sources. The creators of these sites tend to do a pretty good job, but they would be the first to admit that they aren’t perfect. You need to decide for yourself if the fact-checkers made a correct interpretation. After all, it’s your reputation you’re putting on the line.
I know this sounds like a lot of work. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t take that much. I mean, if you are forwarding an article about tax preparation or health practices, probably verifying that the author actually has some basis for his expertise is sufficient.
What this all comes down to is this: You want the people in your network to view you as an expert and a resource for useful information. They should see your efforts as contributing to their success. Focused, personal, accurate information is the path you must walk in order to achieve that goal.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by dancing puppies or the latest conspiracy theory from FreedomFightersForTheRealTruth.com.
Greg Peters, president and founder of The Reluctant Networker, LLC, is a business networking specialist. He has worked with businesses and associations, entrepreneurs and job-seekers to create a world of better connections and greater opportunity. Find out more at www.TheReluctantNetworker.com or email@example.com.
© Copyright 2013, The Reluctant Networker, LLC
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