I can be flexible

An unexpected run, a total power move, and 7 other things worth your time.

Sometimes, you’re willing to do almost anything for a meeting.

A few years back, when I was writing my book about West Point and the Iraq War, I had a breakfast set with a high-ranking officer.

So, I drove to the academy the night before, checked into a cheap hotel, unpacked, ordered a sandwich—and then, I got a call.

Breakfast was off, an aide told me, but if I wanted to meet the general right then, and accompany him on his daily four-mile run, he'd be happy to have me.

Power move, no doubt. But what could I do?

I popped two Advil, drank a ton of water, and ran four miles with him. The interview worked out well—although, man, did I ever feel it the next day.

Another time, more recently, I wanted to interview a famous celebrity.

She was onboard, and I told her publicist that I could talk anytime at all during a two-day period—except for 10 a.m. on the second day. 

You can guess what happened, right? She sent me confirmation for that exact time: 10 a.m. on the second day.

Still, I reshuffled my schedule. The interview itself was the goal. 

These two little anecdotes came to mind not long ago when I was talking with a CEO about cold calls.

Brian Bagdasarian runs a real estate investment company called Simply, and his team spends a lot of time trying to get people who weren’t planning to sell their homes think about it. So, he told me about an experiment he did, to see if changing the way he tried to set up meetings would yield different results.

For a while, as a test, he split his inquiries, 50/50. Half of his cold call emails said basically: “I can be flexible and talk at whatever time will work for you. What would you like?”

For the other half, he sent links to a calendar scheduling service with a small number of available times: “No need to go back and forth. Just choose a time here that works for you.”

  • As it turned out, 40% of the “I can be flexible” emails resulted in a meeting, after an average of four back-and-forth emails to confirm the time.

  • But, 80% of the “scheduling link” emails resulted in an immediate booking.

In other words, a better-than two-to-one advantage. But, I think we can imagine a different dynamic might require a different approach.

For example, suppose you’re a student looking for a mentor, or a prospective employee trying to land an interview. And you ask for a meeting with one of these three constructions:

  • Option #1: "I can be flexible and would be happy to talk anytime." 

  • Option #2: "Please choose a time from the calendar link that works for you."

  • Option #3: "I'm free to talk at 9:30 a.m., or would 2 p.m. be better?"

Option #1 seems like it lacks urgency. As for Option #2, I can’t get past the idea of asking someone for a favor, and then asking them to squeeze themselves into your schedule.

Finally, Option #3 also seems a bit entitled and sales-y, since it skips the part where you actually agree to meet.

Someone once told me: People love choices, but they hate decisions. And so, the general rule I’ve come up, after writing nonfiction for a living for two decades, which in turn means getting a lot of people to speak with me, is this:

Be eager, but not needy or desperate; accommodating, but not to the point of inaction.

Does it work? Well, often enough.

And when it doesn’t, I do whatever’s the equivalent of popping two Advil and drinking a ton of water. Sometimes, you just have to be flexible.

7 other things worth your time

  • The CDC has a new mask warning for businesses: don’t argue with customers who refuse to wear them. And also, consider installing a safe room (not kidding). I’ll be writing about this for Inc. today. (CNN)

  • Talk about forgiveness: A Trump staffer who sued the president and wrote a bestselling, tell-all book describing the White House as a “team of vipers” has been welcomed back, and is writing speeches for the convention. (ABC News)

  • This time it’s real: After a day of insisting it wasn’t true, Jerry Falwell is out as president of Liberty University. (Forbes)

  • Just an interesting investing data point: Warren Buffett’s stake in Apple is now worth $123 billion. That’s more than the entire market capitalizations of companies like Starbucks ($92 billion), Boeing ($101 billion), or IBM ($112 billion).(Insider)

  • Hundreds of thousands of people on the Gulf Coast have been ordered to evacuate, as Hurricane Laura is about to make landfall. (Reuters)

  • A Kentucky man faces six months in prison in Canada and a $569,000 fine for breaking the country’s Covid-19 quarantine rules. It’s the first time an American has been arrested for this, although others have been fined. (NPR)

  • Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, tests positive for coronavirus. (NBC News)

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