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How to decline requests for professional help

professional meet up for a coffee

One answer: be empathetic.

It’s a privilege to have someone reach out to you in a professional capacity for advice, guidance or to share ideas. It shows that you’ve proven you’re an expert in something. They think they can learn something from you. Enjoy the feeling. Let it get to your head if you want but don’t let it end there.

LinkedIn message

No need to treat people like they’re a bother. In the photo above, my friend reached out to someone twice and that was the person’s response. A few weeks after the first message. If you’ve seen the message and know you’re going to have the decline to meet up, for example, don’t wait two weeks to send your reply. It’s unfair and unnecessary.

He wasn’t about to ask for a mentor as such. It was more of an idea sharing session that he wanted. That response would have been fine if it, say, went on to offer the name of someone else who might have been able to help my friend or asked him to write to her again in X number of months when she may be less busy. My friend made it clear exactly what he wanted to discuss with her but in a case where you’re unsure what someone wants to professionally meet up for, don’t be afraid to ask them to explain or specify. Let them know that should you manage to meet or mentor them, it will help you prepare useful answers for their questions. You can then use their reply to decide whether you want to accept their invitation.

One thing you mustn’t do in these circumstances is to say an outright no and leave someone with nothing but a shutdown. For a lot of people, it takes courage to reach out like this. At the very least, close off the message with some encouraging words and no, “all the best with your entrepreneurial activities” is not good enough.

Oh, and if it’s someone of the opposite sex reaching out to you on a site like LinkedIn as it was in this case, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the message is anything but professional. There are people who use LinkedIn as a dating site but I’m sure the majority of people are there to make career connections.

While this person owes my friend nothing, I still find it very disappointing. What do you think?