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Just Say Something, Please

“I Wish I Could Help, But I don’t Want To.” *

I co-host a podcast called “Getting Unstuck – Educators Leading Change.” Have for almost three years now. As of today, there are well over 50 high-quality podcasts just focused on K-12 teaching, learning, and leading. It’s a crowded space; we’re all vying for the same ears. So getting guests who have something important to add to the discussion around schooling and education is critical. Otherwise, you could be talking into an empty mic.

When we started three years ago, I never considered trying to schedule “high-profile” guests. A “high-profile” guest has achieved a respectable level of public acceptance in their circle, and depending on the guest, that circle can be very large. “Why would they come on our show?” I mused, channeling my deepest inner critic. “We’re new, largely unknown, and have a small audience.”

But over time I wondered, what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll either say, “Yes, I’d be delighted!” or “No, but thanks for thinking of me.”

As a result, we have scheduled some guests that made me, well, giddy with anticipation. Maybe I had fallen in love with their best-selling book, or their widely watched TEDx Talk, or the fact that they started a new type of transformational school. I had to pinch myself when they said “Yes, of course.” Wha? You’re coming on our show???

And we’ve also had our share of high-profiled guests who responded with a polite rejection. “Sorry, I just can’t right now.” And I get that. We have nowhere near the audience of podcasters such as Tim Ferriss, Brene Brown, or Oprah Winfrey.

But, it turned out, “Yes!” or “No…” weren’t the only two possible responses. A third – and much more powerful response – lurked in the shadows.

Crickets.

And boy, does my inner critic love giving me the snarky “Told ya….”

One of the oft mentioned ills of the social media age we find ourselves in is “ghosting” — the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. “Ghosting” assumes a relationship exists. But how do you define an overture to start a  relationship – however informal and brief – that is simply ignored?

It shouldn’t matter, I tell myself. Come on, people are busy, and they probably get hundreds, maybe thousands of requests for their time. Give it a rest.

But it does matter. We’re a society that’s increasingly at odds with itself, so why do we pass up opportunities to be just a little bit kind to one another? Hey, all of these “cricketeers” have publicists, I silently rail. I mean, honestly, how long would it take to type: “Thank you for your wonderful, heartfelt, and genuine invitation, Jeff. Your show sounds amazing, and I’m sure you’re an excellent interviewer, but unfortunately….”?

Even in rejection, I would have been acknowledged to exist.

Having just watched the Eagle’s Reunion concert from Melbourne, AU (filmed in 2005), I have all their songs rolling around in my head, and as I angrily typed that last bit, the lyrics to “Just Too Busy Being Fabulous” come pouring out:

And you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us
I don’t know what you were dreaming of
Somehow you forgot about love
And you were just too busy being fabulous, uh-huh

OK, Mr/Mrs/Ms Fabulous, that’s the last time I read one of your books, or watch another of your TEDx Talks!

And then it dawned on me. I have behaved in much the same way.

As part of the ever-growing coaching and podcast communities of which I’m a member, I routinely receive email or LinkedIn overtures from service providers to help me grow my coaching business to six, nay, seven figures(!) and to increase my podcast audience X fold(!).  Until recently, I would simply have hit “Delete.”

OK, ok, it’s not exactly the same thing. I don’t crop-dust invitations to just anyone associated with education. When I approach a high-profile potential guest, it’s because of something specific they wrote, said or created about education that’s impactful – and not merely because they have “author,” “speaker,” or “educator” in their LinkedIn headline.

But’s it’s kind of the same thing in how I tended to respond in the past.

Crickets.

So, I’ve started to write a short note in response — at least to some of them. If I get their pitch 20 seconds after accepting their invitation to connect, I still hit “Delete.” But if they mention that they listened to a specific podcast episode, or read through the client recommendations on my LinkedIn site, ok, I’ll read their pitch. That’s always a learning experience. But up to this point, I still respond with “Thanks for your inquiry, (name). Your service sounds interesting, but I’m in pretty good shape with __________ right now.”

Is that disingenuous?  Or is it just being kind? After all, (name) exists, and he or she is just trying to make a living.

And who wants to give someone a “Heartache Tonight”?
__________

*Phoebe  from “Friends,” Season 1, Episode 1

Jeff Ikler
Jeff Iklerhttps://www.queticocoaching.com/
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Ooh, what a good one! As the 2000s R&B superstar Usher has said: every story has three sides. I’m glad to take a walk down each side with you, Jeff: from the victim mindset (you could at least give me the decency of your time) to the more empowered / self-aware mindset (oops, I’ve done this too) to a simple curiosity of why it’s happened or what you can do to improve a simple communication or request.

    I think at the end of the day, we can simply try our best and trust that the other person is trying their best, too. Their best may be just trying to get through the day or they’re feeling swamped by their inbox or disillusioned by all the bots crawling around the Internet… you’re doing your best by having thoughtful outreach, and (to me at least), that’s what really counts as a brand, a personality, a podcaster, a writer, and a person. Perhaps each one may not result in a reply, but those that do will see your thoughtfulness, your good intent, your sharp brain, and your wonderful heart.

    (And though I do love the Eagles, another good song is Kimbra’s “Good Intent” or “Warrior”, my personal favorites for writing cold outreach.)

    • Megan —
      Many thanks for the read and your thoughtful comments. I want to believe this: “Their best may be just trying to get through the day or they’re feeling swamped by their inbox,” but at the same time, how long would it take to give a short reply? Maybe, maybe if they receive hundreds of requests, but if they’re that famous, they probably have staff. I should have written about the opposite approach we occasionally get when someone wants to appear on our show, and they let it be know that they’ve listened to “this” episode and “that” episode – and make specific references to content! – and feel they would have a lot to contribute in a future episode. Now that’s impressive.

  2. Not easily admitted Jeff, your article makes me want to go stand with my face in the corner for a bit. It’s part of the human tragedy, that we most times- well at least speaking for myself- have had to learn life’s lessons the hard way. I could give you a thousand excuses why I’ve done some of the things you speak of, but I won’t go there today, or tomorrow. Mainly I would say for many, this hurts. It hurts me to admit, that I have used the excuse of being too busy to respond with simple, common human decency at times. Or have been too quick to judge a person’s intentions and walked away. So thank you for this stinging reminder that after all, we are humans, trying to do the best we can. And really, what we need from others is just a mere acknowledgement, even a tiny one, that we matter in the sea of all creation. Thank you for the kind reminder, I appreciate you.

    • Char — Thank you for your read and thoughtful reply. You can come out of the corner now. There are some folks I will never respond to because they’re just trying to sell, and not build any level of relationship. Some, though, appear to be well intended, and those are the ones with whom I need to exercise more patience and thought. I sent a very brief – but kind – “No thank you” note earlier in the week, and I think the person was surprised, as I got a “Thank you SO MUCH for even responding.” Most of us “are just humans trying to do the best we can.” Thanks again.

  3. Jeff, I agree with you that anyone who’s invited for an interview on any form of media should reply, one way or the other. This is especially important, as you note, to course correct all the reprehensible online coarsening of public discourse that was the norm of the tyrannical Trump administration. People deserve to be respected and treated with kindness whether online of offline, especially when you’re reaching out to them with an invitation. Good points!

  4. This is such a rich article, Jeff. I had goosebumps.

    The thoughts it brought up for me related to what you describe is exactly the way most job applications are treated: Nothing.

    While I totally understand how screening and systems and automated application and all that work, why can’t a system that supposedly is intelligent enough to replace people doing the screening also figure out how to send a timely rejection/can we keep for later/let’s talk email? Because nobody thought of it as a priority. And that speaks volumes about how highly the workforce is regarded.

    Fortunately for you, arranging talks is still mainly person to person interactions; although it seems that some have an impersonal or certainly inhuman process messing with their brand.

    • Thank you, Charlotte for your read and spot-on comment re job applications. What does “crickets” say about the hiring manager or company? Many of my clients complain that they receive no follow-up explanation as to why they didn’t make it to the next round. Grrrr….

  5. I love your heart-centered thinking, Jeff. It’s part of what makes you such a great coach and friend.

    I see a huge difference between the sales messages you describe and the thoughtful email you send to people you’d like to interview. I delete every single sales message like that. They absolutely get crickets from me. Not because I’m too busy or too important, but because they didn’t take a moment to consider the person they were sending the message to. I feel like it’s a matter of respecting a person’s time, more than anything. If they cannot be bothered to learn a few small details about me and my work in order to send a personal message, I don’t feel compelled to respond.

    Every message I receive that has a specific mention of my work, a comment or post they saw on one of the platforms I’m active on, or gives a clue that the person has done 2 minutes of homework on me gets a return message. And yes, most of them are no thank yous, and once in a while may even be a maybe, or a suggestion for the next person they contact.

    About the crickets you receive following a thoughtful request for an interview, I’d remind you that it’s not about you at all. Maybe your message went to the junk folder, or got buried as a result of an influx of messages following a big event or viral article recently posted. Follow up a few weeks later with an “I know an email can get missed or buried, I’d like to confirm that you received my request.” You just never know the why, but I guarantee, because I know you and your style, that if you’re ghosted it’s because they don’t know you or the fabulous opportunity they’re missing by not responding, even with a “no thank you.”

    • Thank you, Sarah, for your read and very thoughtful reply.

      Thankfully, I’m actually not taking things that personally. My inner critic may raise its voice, but after 70 years, I’m pretty good about sending it to the corner. I know it’s not me personally.
      <<>>
      “Honey, here’s a request from that pestering podcaster, Jeff Ikler.”

      “Oh, @#$%, just hit ‘Delete,’ will you darling? He’s a dialoguing disaster.”
      <<>>
      What irks me is that I’m doing exactly what you’re suggesting in your third para (“Every message I receive…) I’m taking my time to write a thoughtful invite that (1) shows I know their work and (2) relates their work to our work in education.

      There was one in particular that really smarted. I’d actually met the prospective guest 20+ years ago when I asked her to sign copies of her new book for some of our best customers. She agreed(!), and I spent a delightful two hours with her as she penned personal notes. Definitely one of life’s “pinch me” moments. I related that experience in my invite. Crickets.

      Do I know that any of these “cricket” responses were actually received? I know in a couple of cases that they were. I got an initial response that they were going to pass my query to (fill in the blank) for consideration. Others? Maybe not, to your point about my request maybe getting lost in an influx of messages. Sometimes I sent a follow-up message, sometimes I didn’t.

      What is it that Pooh or Christopher Robin used to say? “Oh, bother.”

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