Assumed Intimacy

We are in the influence-peddling business. God knows, with the limited authority granted HR/staffing, influencing is usually our only hope of affecting and impacting events and outcomes. Just because you consider yourself a full-time HR professional, you are still an influence peddler. Hopefully you use your influence to ensure that your hiring managers, clients, and candidates are making the best possible decisions based on their real needs and the best possible outcome for them. It is a difficult and tricky world in which we work and our best and most vital tool in the influence peddling game is our ability to communicate. Communicating is a skill that not only supports you in your day-by-day function, it is also the key to your career and its successful development. The contacts you make, how you are perceived by others, and the effectiveness of your networking efforts are the sum total of your ability to communicate effectively ó your ability to write and speak with the intent of influencing and without alienating. I have written in the past that effective communication, not unlike radio, requires someone to speak (the transmitter) and a listener (the receiver). The transmitter may be all “warmed up” and broadcasting like an FM station, but if the receiver is not listening or is operating on a different frequency, then it is just a lot of sound waves moving through the air on their voyage to the outer reaches of the universe. (I wonder what Martians think of Madonna?) In the “old days” most influence-peddling communicating was face-to-face. The best sales representatives were those who were not only able to speak effectively and with the unfailing ability to influence an outcome, but people who also knew how to “read the room.” So it goes for effective staffing professionals. Use whatever title you prefer, but never forget you are a salesperson. “Reading the room” is the ability to determine your audience’s preferred communicating style. It involves mimicking that style, or at the very least meshing with it so as to be taken seriously and to not offend. Many years ago I had a sales route on the Boston waterfront. Half the buildings were remodeled high-rent locations with prestigious (translation: stuffy) businesses, and the other half were still old warehouses with the more traditional “cigar chomping” clients, who had fewer aesthetic needs. I would call on one set of clients with my suit coat on, shirt collar buttoned, and tie pulled up tight. I would put on my best Harvard accent ó a challenge considering I never went to Harvard ó and speak in hushed tones. Five minutes later I would have my suit coat over my shoulder, collar unbuttoned, tie pulled down and be yelling across a noisy warehouse, “Hey Lou! How the hell are you?” To confuse the two communicating styles would have been either a “faux pas” or “dumb,” depending on who the receiver was. But this level of communicating was based on the level of intimacy that I had achieved over time building a relationship with my leads, prospects, and clients. I kept or developed the business based on my assessment of exactly what level of intimacy I had achieved. Of course, reading the room is easy when you are actually in the room with your intended “receiver.” Although we still have written and verbal communications, a new form of communicating has arisen over the last decade, email. It has the properties of the written word, but the ease and less formal feel of verbal communications. In essence, it is the third form of communication, “write-speak.” With the proliferation of email we have entered a new age of communicating. Often it is used to replace or supplement “face to face” communications free from the more formal rules of written communication. The Internet and email have given us the ability to reach a vast audience faster, with more detail than ever before in the history of influence peddling. With that power has also come the ability to alienate more leads, prospects and clients than ever before. Like a power saw, it has the power to make cutting wood faster and more dangerous. There is nothing more dangerous for an influence peddler than to “over step” their bounds. To assume the ability to communicate also assures desire on the part of the “receiver” to be communicated with, at, or to. If you want to build a business base combining the ease and speed of the Internet and email, here are a few simple guidelines to remember:

  • You are not alone. You are not the only person sending a plethora of emails introducing yourself and your services. Yours is not the only “helpful website” out there for people to visit. Consider the person and the volume they are dealing with when you plan your online strategy.
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  • Do you know what the “receiver” wants or needs to hear? For a client to take you seriously, internal or external, they must see you as a resource and a tool to help resolve their goals, not yours. Find out what they want or need first.
  • Avoid “data dumping” on a first contact. The ability to send a lot of data does not guarantee that the “receivers” want to read it for you, especially if your first contact consists of, “Here is the stuff I need you to do for me…”
  • Are you communicating with “Theodore Smythe-Fitzsimmons III” or with “Lou”? Prepare your email and Internet messages based on knowledge you have developed through networking, research, or previous contacts to ensure you are “write-speaking” correctly based on the intended audience.
  • Is the use of email and the Internet appropriate every time? Not everyone has embraced the new age. There are still people in business who feel relationships are best developed face to face or through more formal and traditional written business communications. Not everyone is “beaming” his or her contact information PDA-to-PDA. Some folks still prefer business cards and brochures. Some hiring managers still want the information “presented,” not “sent.”
  • “Assumed intimacy” is a common cause for failed relationship development. All too often we assume that whatever we feel like communicating in email will be received with an open mind and a willingness to consider. But does the “receiver” feel that you are a person to be advising, correcting, or soliciting them? Does your email to a new contact create a “who do they think they are” reaction? My goddaughter is the joy of my life, but I don’t take stock tips from her; she is 16. But she does have the right to ask me for money. (After all, the primary role of godfathers is to spoil their goddaughters.)

The Internet and email are powerful tools and useful in developing and expanding a relationship. But it is a very tricky tool to use in establishing a new business relationship. The phone, personal meetings, and written correspondence are still invaluable tools is discovering exactly “who” you are talking to and their preferred communication style. Nobody likes to be talked to; we all prefer to talk with people. Exchange information. Learn about capability and shared value propositions. Build a relationship based on steps, and intimacy based on the length, depth, and success of the business relationship, which itself should be based on a planned and intelligently leveraged communication plan. Next time you get an unwanted or inappropriate communication from a person who “assumed too much,” note your reaction. Are you creating the same reaction in your work? Reading the room is a critical skill for influence peddlers. Knowing someone’s email address does not mean you know the person. As the old saying goes, you have only one chance to make a good first impression. The Internet and email have given us the ability to make more first good or bad impressions than ever before. The trick is not to confuse hitting the “Enter” key with communicating. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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