Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Okay to Ignore People

My phone doesn't ring as much as it used to. Fifteen years ago, it seemed, my phone rang all the time. Sometimes it was a member of my association looking for help, sometimes it was an unsolicited salesperson, and sometimes it was someone looking for a piece of information that only me or my association could provide.

And, as someone interested in maintaining a professional reputation, I tried to respond to as many of these calls as I could. The members, of course, would get my immediate and prompt attention. The unsolicited salespeople would be politely asked to stop calling if I wasn't in the market or otherwise interested in their services. And I would do whatever I could, within the policies and procedures of my association, to help the people looking for information.

Today, as I said, my phone doesn't ring as much as it used to. The phone is not as popular as it used to be, and I'm in a different position. It's probably harder for outsiders to get my number and get to me. But the calls that do get through still fall into the same three categories.

And today, the only people who get my attention are the members. Both the unsolicited salespeople and the strangers looking for information are ignored.

And that's okay.

Frankly, it took me some time to come to that conclusion. The first to get the cold shoulder were the unsolicited salespeople, and I actually felt guilty about that for a few years. They've got a tough job after all -- calling strangers on the telephone and asking them to buy something they probably don't want. But they created so many interruptions for me -- needless interruptions -- that I eventually found peace with the decision to ignore them.

And shortly thereafter, I realized that the strangers seeking information were creating exactly the same kind of interruptions for me.

Hi, you don't know me, but I'm doing a study on the industry your association represents, and I was wondering if I could get a few minutes of your time?

Hello, I work for a venture capital firm and we're thinking about buying one of the companies in your industry, and I need whatever information you have on the size of product market this company plays in.

Good afternoon, I'm an engineer and I've invented a new product that's going to revolutionize the industry your association represents, and I want you to put me in touch with the companies most likely to license this technology.

One day, after getting one of these calls, I had a kind of epiphany. Nine times out of ten, the kind of information I was being asked to provide was tightly connected to the value proposition that we had created for our members, and for which they paid substantial amounts of money in the form of membership dues. In other words, I worked for a trade association, not a public help line. The information I had access to was not only valuable, it belonged to my members, not any stranger who had found our phone number on our website.

So I started ignoring the people making these calls as well. And, unlike the case of the unsolicited salespeople, I didn't feel guilty at all.

Inspired by this.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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