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July 29, 2009

Nobody Likes to be Taken by Surprise! How to Respectfully Make Relationships With Seeming Competitors.

It is important for entrepreneurs to continually conduct research and established businesses (often in the same or similar industries) are a treasure trove of useful information and data. However, we unfortunately find that these potentially useful relationships and conversations are often fraught with awkwardness and even deception and frequently result in burned bridges and bruised egos. Aren't these competitors? Why would they talk to me? Why should I talk to them?

Some professionals we know would never dream of engaging with another person in their industry by asking them for information or sharing ideas. And that is fine - everyone has to do what makes them feel comfortable. But we think that there can be a lot to gain from these relationships and would encourage you to reconsider writing them off.

So, how do you establish these relationships or connections comfortably and respectfully?
Good Question - here's what we recommend you can do:

Be Totally Transparent - nobody likes to feel like they’ve been lied to, taken by surprise, or taken advantage of. If you would like information, ask for it and be honest about your goals, plans, and intentions. The clearer you are, the easier it will be for them to determine what they are willing to share.

Understand and Acknowledge Their Hesitation - the person you are asking for information has worked hard to get where they are and may not have made public their own future plans. They may be fearful of giving away some of their secret sauce or of being accused of stealing some of your ideas. Perhaps, unbeknownst to you they are already planning something similar to what you share with them. It can put them in a awkward position to co-mingle nascent ideas with a colleague or potential competitor. Just acknowledging their potential discomfort will help put them at ease, make you seem more trustworthy, and give them a way to comfortable to say no if they want to. Remember, as long as you have been respectful in your request you won’t burn any bridges even if they say no.

Make It Easy For Them to Share - Sometimes people say no just because they are pressed for time or are concerned they may reveal too much when put on the spot. If you sense that is the case, offer to email your questions so they can decide when and how much info they want to share.

Ask For Another Source - If they are unavailable or unwilling to talk, ask if they have a suggestion of a colleague that may be more forthcoming.

When the tables are turned:

There is a lot of business to go around and being honest often provides the opportunity to develop a partnership or acquire information. There is a lot to be gained by collegial conversations and from having your ear to the ground. Determine how much info you are willing to share and under what parameters and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to withhold information and to indicate that you have limits.

Our advice is what goes around, comes around. These potentially awkward and threatening conversations can be respectfully handled and managed with comfortable boundaries. There will certainly be a time when you need info too!

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