Following up can be scary.
It seems easy enough in theory. After all, you send dozens of emails every day without thinking twice. But when it comes to follow-up emails, a lot of people freeze in their tracks.
Even my most successful clients face this problem. We’re talking about high-earning, outgoing, well-spoken businesspeople who don’t know what to do when faced with a follow-up reminder in their inbox.
What’s the big deal? Why do people suck at following up? What makes it so intimidating?
I believe it’s firmly rooted in our brains — a biological phenomenon that dates back to prehistoric times. I also believe that if you can understand it, you can overcome it.
Here’s the backstory:
In the ‘80s, a world-famous anthropologist named Robin Dunbar made a discovery. He found that human brains are wired to accommodate only 150 people in their social group.
A look at human history supported his theory. Hunter-gatherer tribes from the caveman days were usually 150 people. The same with company size in armies ranging from ancient Rome to the Soviet Union.
In modern times, research confirms that most of us still have 150 main people in our circles — despite the proliferation of social media and instant connection. Although the makeup of your circle can change throughout your lifetime, the number stays the same.
To sum it up: Because of how your brain works, you are only equipped to handle a finite number of people in your life. When a new one comes in, a new one has to go out…for the most part. Some of us can handle more, some can handle less. A few folks can run with a pack of 1,500, but that’s rare. Most of us have limits.
And that’s exactly why following up with new contacts is so hard.
As a freelancer, consultant, or entrepreneur, chances are you already have a circle of 150 firmly in place. Probably more! In addition to family, friends and acquaintances, you have dozens of co-workers, colleagues and clients.
When you try adding new contacts to your circle, your brain starts messing with you. It shuts down. It’s a self-defense tactic — your brain’s way of saying “Hold on! I can’t handle any more people! We’re headed out of my comfort zone.”
That’s the exact moment when you procrastinate on your follow-up.
You make excuses for why you can’t email this person just yet. You tell yourself you have nothing to say to them. You worry that they’re going to be annoyed at you. You feel like you’re bothering them and that maybe you should wait a week, a month, or six months before you talk to them.
Your brain is trying to protect itself at a biological level. But you can override it on a psychological level.
You can do this by establishing a mindful thought process that pushes past your brain’s desire to keep your social group small and safe.
Let’s say you’re worried that your email is going to annoy someone. The prospect of getting in touch makes you feel vulnerable, maybe even scared. You don’t even know what to write, because you’re convinced that whatever you say will just piss them off.
Don’t let that feeling stop you.
Instead, focus on your goal. Remember, your brain’s goal is to keep your social circle limited. But that’s not YOUR goal. Your goal is to connect with people, establish new relationships and grow your business.
Can you grow your business if you stop connecting with people? Nope. Not a chance.
It’s up to you to fight past your brain’s long list of excuses to get what you really want. Even if the excuses seem logical, they won’t help you get to your goals.
Look, networking is overwhelming even on a good day. I think we all wonder how we’re going to keep up with our many connections. Every new client takes up valuable mental space, and your brain will do anything to prevent that. Even if it means messing up your business.
You’ve got to give yourself permission to reject this self-sabotage impulse.
When you feel like you just can’t send that email, say to yourself: JUST SEND THE EMAIL. Write it on a Post-It note and stick it to your desk. Write it on the back of every business card you get at a conference. Make it your desktop wallpaper.
Do whatever it takes to JUST SEND THE EMAIL.
For once in your life, it’s okay to ignore your brain. Do whatever it takes to keep going. Keep growing. Keep connecting.