In some workplace situations, not taking “no” for an answer can be a sign of confidence and strength. It’s a trait that can help you get what you want by sticking with something long after others would abandon the cause. Other times, however, too much tenacity can make you seem like a jerk who can’t let something go.
How do you know if you’re being assertive, or if you’re being obnoxious? “Persistence is politely continuing to follow up, even in the face of nonresponsiveness, until you get a definitive answer,” says Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams and Thrive.
At some point, however, repeating an action that produces no results and conveys no value crosses the line. If someone has told you “no” and you continue to push—despite what some sales manuals may tell you—it will very quickly brand you as someone to be avoided, says Clark. “It’s certainly appropriate to ask if it’s okay to follow up at a later time, but arguing only serves to alienate them,” she says.
While it seems like walking a fine line, persistence is essential because so many people are too quick to get discouraged, says Clark. Say they sent an email request and didn’t get a response. “They assume that a lack of response means ‘no,’ when it could mean many things: The person is busy, or focused on other priorities right now, or [is] just bad at email,” she says.
People tend to personalize rejection—or perceived rejection—and assume that it’s about them, and a referendum on their worth or abilities. “In actuality, it could just be that the other person is stretched too thin, and if you keep following up, you may well land that meeting or contract,” says Clark.
Effective persistence must always be based on providing incremental value, says Stu Heinecke, author of Get the Meeting! “If you’re simply checking in, your persistence efforts probably won’t be well received,” he says.
From your research and initial conversation, you may have gained insights on something that’s important to the person, such as family, pets, projects, or key interests, says Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector. “Share an article, offer an introduction, send a book, or get them invited to an event of importance,” she says.
Value their time
To ensure your contact is welcome, Clark says it’s important to get to the point. “No one wants to read a long and elaborate saga, but if you can ask a short, clear question on a subject in which the other person has expertise, they’ll often be glad to help,” she says.
Follow the person’s lead, says Clark. “If they tell you they’ll be busy until the fall, then don’t send them another message on July 31st,” she says. “Wait until it’s actually autumn and send a polite note.”
You could say, for instance, “Please let me know if there’s a particular time to reach out that works best for you. And if you’re not able to connect, I certainly understand—just let me know,” Clark suggests.
Stick with it
Being persistent doesn’t mean repeatedly reaching out in the same way, says Robinett. “Consider different ‘touches,’ such as a phone call, email, written letter, or an appropriate gift,” she says. “Get creative and research the person you are wanting to connect with.”
Pace your follow-ups, says Clark. “Unless there’s a looming deadline that warrants a quicker response, every two weeks is a decent starting place, and if they don’t respond, you can slowly throttle back, perhaps to monthly follow-ups, and change your text, so that you invite them to guide you and give them an ‘out’ if they need one,” she says.
Also, keep the correspondence light and ongoing, instead of only reaching out when you need help, says Clark. “It’s not great for your reputation to be seen as purely a ‘taker,’” she says. “Instead, you can send over notes of congratulation or encouragement when you see relevant news about that person, their company, or their hobbies. They’ll appreciate the fact that you’re thinking of them and took the time to write.”
“Being persistent is really about assuring certain goals are achieved. It is the enforcement of intention over resistance,” says Heinecke. “Without persistence, nothing happens.”