How to get priceless input from busy expert/mentor
You know that feeling when you’re facing a really tough work problem, and you wish someone with more experience and specialized knowledge could tell you what to do? But there’s no one like that you can ask?
You might be wrong about that.
Last week I found myself abruptly stopping my carefully planned workday to respond to an urgent email from someone I had no professional or even social responsibility to reply to. After the fact, I realized that her approach in asking was so smart and professional that it’s worth sharing with you.
First, a little context about my situation so hopefully I don’t sound like a total jerk. The reality is, I send this newsletter to 10K+ people every week. So that’s a lot of people who have my email address and might consider me a good resource to bounce ideas off of. So I’m forced to be disciplined and prioritize responding to paying clients and my own team.
So how did this emailer earn a response? Here’s the pattern she followed that you can use to connect with hard-to-reach mentors or experts, concluding with a surprise tip.
- Offer value – with no strings – before you need help. She’s great at pitching and had previously shared with me some of her winning pitches so that I could learn from them and even use them as good examples in my training. Therefore, when I saw her name next to “TIME SENSITIVE” in the subject line, I stopped what I was doing and opened the email. Although I admit that I was thinking, “Oh shoot, I don’t have time for this right now . . .”
- Carefully work through your problem before reaching out. In her new email, she concisely demonstrated that she had explored the issue from multiple angles already. The opposite of asking, “Can we hop on a call so I can pick your brain?”
- Most important: Propose a solution for the expert to validate or contradict. She then stated the direction she was planning to take, and asked “Do you agree with that assessment or do you think I should [take the alternate course]?” When I got to this question I realized that I could reply quickly and still provide value – she didn’t expect me to write out a tutorial.
- Use clear but non-entitled language. “Time-sensitive” sounds less demanding than “urgent.” She began with “Are you available today (by email) to give me feedback on [topic]? If so . . .” And ended with, “Feel free to send me a voice memo if that’s easier, and if you don’t have time to think about this, that’s totally fine and I completely understand!”
- Counterintuitive tip. After you’ve done all of the above, “send your email” first to ChatGPT! (Or your chatbot of choice). See if “talking it through” with a bot doesn’t help reveal blindspots or alternate solutions. I bet it will. Not because the bot knows more than you, but because it can ask questions or provide tips that help you see the problem from different perspectives. If you find you still need the mentor’s opinion, update your email and press send.
This article was originally published on January 18, 2024