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Statement Guru | Statement Guru for Personal Statement/Admissions Essay Tutoring for College, University, Grad School Admissions How to Use People (and Have Them Still Like You) - Statement Guru

16 Apr How to Use People (and Have Them Still Like You)

how to use people


I don’t know about you, but I hate it when someone contacts me, and it goes like this…

“Hey Nived, how are you? How’s the business going? How’s the writing going?”

I tell them.

“Great. Listen, I wanted to ask you for a favor…”


That person didn’t care about my business or my writing at all! They were using me. For argument’s sake, say they wanted me to give them feedback on a cover letter. That’s it. That’s all they want from me. They would dispense with the small talk if they could, but they can’t.

… Or can they? Hmmm…

“Hey Nived, I need feedback on my cover letter, can you help me? By the way, I have no intention of paying you.”

No, no, they can’t. While I appreciate their directness—and the fact that they didn’t ask how I was when that wasn’t their reason for getting touch—I can’t help but still feel repelled. And not inclined to help them.

So let’s switch roles from askee to asker to try to figure out the best approach in which to try to <ahem> use people.

You’ll be encouraged to know that we live in a Golden Age for this type of calculating behavior.

For example, I’m a sucker for 5-star Yelp reviews. Dangle that carrot in front of me, and you could probably convince me to ghostwrite your autobiography pro bono.

If you leave near the askee, offer to buy them coffee or dinner as part of the ask.

If they have a website or product, bring up an idea or opinion that came to mind that could help/flatter them in some way. It shows you spent time and mental energy on them.

Or think outside the box. Maybe you could donate $20 to the charity of their choice to butter them up. Then, if they don’t help you, they’re also not helping orphans/homeless people/the whales/inner-city kids/the environment.

Imagine an email like this:

“Hey Nived, it’s been a while, hope you’re doing great. Listen, I could use an expert opinion on this cover letter I’ve been struggling with, and you’re the first person I thought of. Do you think I could send it over? I’d be happy to write you a nice blurb or glowing Yelp review for your trouble.  Thanks, <Name>”

Is it perfect? No. But the scenario is inherently imperfect. Given that, it’s pretty good. Especially the “glowing Yelp review” part. That’s music to Nived’s ears.

Recently, I was in a situation where I was asking for something on behalf of someone else. So, no Yelp, no coffee, no charity. Just words.

Here’s the background —

I was working with a new client who was applying to a specific type of program. And this type of program I admittedly don’t have much direct experience with.

I remembered there was someone I knew—but hadn’t spoken to in years—who was in just that program. She’d be the perfect resource for this client. Me? I’m just the essay guy.

But how to Facebook message this person—and have them still like me?

This is what I came up with:

“Hi <her name>! Remember me? I thought of you because I have a client who is <pursuing the same career path as you> and is going through the <preliminary stages of that>. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind answering a couple questions she might have via email about the process. If you’re too busy, I totally understand. Let me know, hope <your career path is> going well!”

Let’s examine what’s going on here in fun excruciating detail.

Hi <her name>!

Good to use the first name. Familiarity is good. Exclamation mark usage here is a bit context-sensitive. Since this is a Facebook message, after all, formality is pretty much out the window.

Remember me? 

Of course she remembers me. She’s not an Alzheimer’s patient. It’s a self-deprecating little joke. But it’s a joke she’s in on. We’ve done away with insincere “How are things going?”-type questions and replaced them with subtle rapport building. Also, notice how I said “we’ve” at the beginning of this sentence. That was subtle rapport building, too.

I thought of you…

What a thoughtful guy I am! Male, female, young, old, doesn’t matter, people like to be thought of—in non-creepy ways, that is. The song “Always on my Mind” has been recorded over 300 different types by a multitude of artists, including Elvis, the Pet Shop Boys and Alvin & the Chipmunks. And it’s not even that good of a song. Just goes to show you, people (and the Chipettes), like to be thought of.

– My client is going through the preliminary stages…

I was tempted to say “I know someone who” or “a friend of mine,” but I decided to be real. Good or bad choice? Who knows, but I can for sure say the “preliminary stages” part is effective either way. First, it’s an ego boost, as she chose such an awesome career that the youth of America is lining up to get in on it. Second, a bit more more rapport-building, this time between my client and her. She, too, went through the same series of steps. She knows the anxiety, the uncertainty. Sight unseen, she can relate to this person.

– I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind answering a couple questions she might have via email about the process.

The strategy here is open to debate. I decided to go vague and to downplay her potential level of commitment. “Wondering,” “wouldn’t mind,” “a couple questions,” “email.” These all suggest I couldn’t be asking for more than 5-10 minutes of her time tops. Heck, the “might have” suggests no time at all. Would it have been better to just say, “Will you talk to my client?” We’ll never know for sure. I stand by being ultra deferential here though.

If you’re too busy, I totally understand.

I like this tactic. “Too busy” is really an eject button. For whatever reason, if she’s not feeling it, she can simply respond with a, “Yeah, things are crazy at the moment. Why don’t you check in a couple of weeks?” Chances are, I wouldn’t follow up after those couple of weeks. And you know what? That scenario is 100% cool in my book. In fact, it was my idea as a subtle Plan B.

Let me know, hope your <career path> is going well!

A pretty simple ending. Again, a very pressure free “Let me know.” It might be tempting to finish up with a “How are you, by the way?” Or “We should catch up soon.” But really, that’s not much better than the insincere opener.

If the askee is receptive to your request, there’s a good chance conversation and catching up will happen organically. Which was the case, after her reply:

“Hi yes of course I remember you! Hope all is well! I can definitely answer some questions just have her contact me at <email address>.
I’ll do my best to help her out, it’s a long process that requires <arduous thing it requires> so tell her to start doing that now everywhere she can.”

She ended with a smiley face.

And I will end this post with one as well.


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