Why You Won’t Make the Networking Call, and What to Do About It

“He knows I’m just calling because I want him to send me business,” he said in explanation for why he hadn’t made the call to set up the lunch.

“He knows what I’m up to,” and I just can’t do it.

I listened to the words, but I could hear the fear. I’m listening to a smart guy and an excellent trial lawyer who rationalizes his behavior behind many wonderful words. For a moment, I almost found myself lulled into believing him.

The Effects of Fear

I meet so many lawyers with so many perfect rationalizations for not making calls to have coffee or lunch with potential referral sources. It’s the oldest, most effective, most reliable, and most acceptable form of marketing, but they explain why it’s not for them. They make their case like Clarence Darrow.

For me, there’s an odd feeling of cognitive dissonance when I watch a big, smart, well-dressed, articulate guy who’s afraid to make a call. It’s weird to watch. It’s just a phone. It’s just a call. It’s just some lawyer on the other end of the line.

But that’s how powerful the fear of rejection can be. It can reduce the big and powerful to rationalizing, word-spewing, timid little guys who seem on the verge of tearing up.

I get fear. I understand it. I suppose it’s the most powerful force we experience. In the competition between love and fear, I wonder which wins. I’d be willing to put a bet on fear.

Personally, I’m afraid of alligators. That particular fear doesn’t affect my life much, but I find myself moving cautiously when I’m on the South Carolina coast. Fear changes our behavior.

This big, powerful guy can’t pick up the phone. He’s afraid the guy on the other end will say no. He’s afraid he’ll feel embarrassed, humiliated, and rejected. He’s unable to dial the number. The alligators aren’t costing me money. His fear of making the call is costing him quite a bit.

How to Conquer Your Fear

The exercise that seems to help is turning the fear upside down and inside out. It helps to look at the call from the other end. Let’s spend a minute being in the shoes of the person on the other end of the phone.

He’s a successful estate planning attorney. He represents reasonably affluent clients and sees a significant number of people each month. He’s involved in several local organizations and serves on the board of a big charity. He’d be a great referral source for your family law practice.

He’s 50 years old, and he’s busy. He spends his days meeting with clients, reviewing documents, interacting with associates and paralegals, and running around town.

Of course, he also eats. He does it three times a day, regardless of whether he’s busy. He’s not big on skipping meals. He has the belly to prove it.

Interestingly, this guy is lonesome. He spends time with people all day long, but few of them are his friends. They’re just people he works with and people he represents. He doesn’t spend much time connecting. He has friends, but not enough of them. He’s pretty typical in that regard.

He gets a call from someone like you. He hears you tell him you’d like to take him to lunch, that you’d like to hear more about how he built his practice, and that you’d like to explore ways you might work together. He hears you explain who you are, what you do, and how you’ve always heard great things about him but have never had the chance to get to know him.

He says he’d be happy to have lunch. Even if he’s hesitant, it’s hard to say no. He agrees to meet you in two weeks.

Time passes, and it’s lunch day. You greet one another at the door and sit. You ask him questions; you’re truly interested. You’ve done your research. You know some things about him, and you’re curious to hear how he pulled off some of what he has accomplished. He’s an interesting guy.

The next thing you know, an hour has passed, and he’s still talking. He’s telling you about his daughter and how she’s in law school and how he hopes she’ll come work with him when she’s ready. You notice the moisture in his eyes when he tells you about his wife’s battle with cancer.

At some point, you realize you’ve taken up 90 minutes of his day asking him questions and listening to his answers. He tells you it’s fine as you head together for the door.

He gets home that night and tells his wife about his day. He mentions this great guy he met for lunch. He’s looking forward to doing it again sometime soon.

That guy isn’t going to say no when you call. He’s not going to reject you. In fact, he’s waiting for your call. He’s ready for someone to listen to his stories. He’s ready for someone to be interested in him and what he’s achieved. He’s ready for a new friend.

Weigh the Fear Against the Possible Outcomes

I don’t need to worry about alligators, and you don’t need to worry about rejection. We both know the truth. In the quiet moments, we can see the fear. When we stop talking, when we stop explaining why we’re doing (or not doing) what we’re doing, we know the truth about ourselves. We know we’re being controlled by the fear, and we know it’s holding us back.

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The guy on the other end of the line isn’t going to say no. In fact, the guy on the other end of the line is waiting for you to call. He’s ready for a new friend. He’s ready to send you his referrals.

I understand that you don’t see it that way. I understand that you don’t believe me. I understand that you have a dozen reasons why calling him for lunch is a bad idea.

I also understand that alligators attack people in South Carolina.

We can’t let the fear control our behavior—not when there’s this much at stake.

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