In order to pass the knife safety exam necessary to join the Junior Camper troop, Bart Simpson (the perennial eight year-old star of the television show The Simpsons) must read the safety booklet that will teach him everything he needs to know. Featuring a fictional character who always does the wrong thing named Donny Don’t, the booklet ominously warns its readers: “Don’t do what Donny Don’t does.”

“They could have made this clearer” Bart says with a deadpan expasperation.

I’ve been thinking about the resonant lessons of Donny Don’t the last couple of weeks. You see, Donny Don”t (not his real name) has been emailing me. Maybe someone like Donny Don’t has been emailing you, too.

The message is usually something like “Hello. My name is Joe Executive, with Software Company X. We make the best software you have ever used, this is something you need to see. I know you are busy, but would love to get 5 minutes of your time.” A week goes by, and more messages are sent. The messages become more important. More urgent.

I am not going to respond. Usually, Joe Executive is wrong. The software will not help me at all. Joe Executive probably took a quick look at my LinkedIn profile and incorrectly assumed I would be interested in what his company has to sell, and that I have power to make buying decisions.

I am not going to respond, because if I know I don’t need or can’t buy Joe Executive’s software, I want to avoid a conversation with a salesperson who will be pressuring me to do something I simply can’t do.

I am not going to respond because it is clear that that this salesperson has not done their homework. A quick review of my LinkedIn profile would have shown many posts and blog articles that talk about my work, my area of concentration and my interests.

John Stepper, author of Working Out Loud warns us to be “suspicious of strangers offering too much too soon. When reaching out to someone we don’t know, Stepper suggests we consider the following points.

  1. What would my reaction be if I was the recipient of the email I was sending?
  2. Why should the person I am writing to care?
  3. Why am I doing this?

I thought about all this last week when I got a message on LinkedIn from a salesperson I will call Donny Don’t. As was so eloquently advised in The Simpsons, don’t do want Donny Don’t does.

"I came across your profile and was pretty impressed. People work better when they work together and also the world works better if we were to all work together. You must not have a lot of free time due to all your involved in and what you have done but I just really wanted to connect with you and set up a quick 5 minute discussion."

This message sounded like a lot of the other sales type messages I receive almost every week, but I confess I considered responding this time. Was it the praise Donny was offering? Was it the offer of collaboration? Was it the lack of a sales pitch? I made the decision to write him back, the day got away from me, and I didn’t do it. The next day, Donny wrote me again.

"I work extremely hard to connect with very important people such as yourself, and often times important people do not want to give me the time of day. I'm not just trying to push something down your throat. I have an all inclusive platform that makes every employees job easier and i just want to set up a 5 minute discussion to better explain."

With his additional email, Donny Don’t helped me to decide not to write him back. Donny’s use of the praise “push something down your throat” paradoxically felt antagonistic and combative as he was saying he was not trying to be like that. Also, now it was clear he was trying to sell me something. I am not in the market to buy any software. I chose not to write him back, and my life went on. I continued to do my work, to stay connected with people online, and to blog and share interesting articles I found in my day to day activity. Donny Don’t happened to see one of my posts, and sent me the following message.

"Sir, you just posted about collaboration and that is exactly what I specialize in. I work very heard to improve communication and your current intranet process."

I suppose I could have let this go on and on, but now I was at the point where I wanted Donny Don’t to know for sure I was not going to talk to him, and I wanted him to know why. I did not want to continue to get messages from him day after day. I sent him a very frank message that ended with:

"So I am not going to talk to you, and I would ask that you please stop sending me private LinkedIn messages. Perhaps, after I have gotten more of a sense of you, who you are, what you do and what you have to offer based on your own LinkedIn activity, I may feel its time to connect. But until then, I ask that you don't send any more messages. Thank you."

Just because Donny Don’t told me he was impressed with me and thought I was important, was not enough to get me to want to meet with him. Had he said he would like learn more about my work, and how we found success using Yammer as an enterprise social network, I might have wanted to talk. Had he said that he read several of my blog articles and watched my Ignite speech and found commonality between our work, I might have wanted to talk.

He didn’t do these things. He did not look very deeply for opportunities for shared connection. He did not look very deeply for ways he could be generous with me, rather than just asking for some of my time. Ironically, Donny Don’t did send me one more message.

"About 95% of the people I message do not respond to me at all So I can't really just wait, hoping everybody just didn't get to the message yet, when history has told me that 95% of people do not respond at all."

If 95% of messages Donny Don’t sends do not elicit a response, I would hope that Donny would find a new approach. Rather than spending time sending un-welcome, generic emails, spend time researching people. Learn about them, create relationship, find opportunities for generosity, for shared connection, and for exchanging experience and expertise.

In other words, don’t do what Donny Don’t does.

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