The #1 Misinterpretation We Make In Biz Dev


If you’re an entrepreneur or in some sort of biz dev, you know that contacting people is a numbers game. Especially if you’re reaching out cold, no matter how succinct, personal, and unique your message is, there are some people that simply aren’t going to write you back.

It’s hard not to take it personally. Even though you understand the reality in your mind, your heart screams out a little each time. Why? Because you’ve given it your all. You’ve researched the person, dug into your similarities, and crafted a message that’s unique to them and why you think the relationship could be special.

You get your hopes up.

After enough days have passed, you follow up. You know that if you don’t, you’re leaving an opportunity on the table. Sometimes this works and you get a reply.

But when it doesn’t and you simply never hear back, you might start thinking things like…

“He just doesn’t see the value.”
“She’s a jerk. Too self absorbed.”
“He’s probably not the right fit.”

And by assuming these things, we’re exercising something the psychology world calls the Fundamental Attribution Error:

When we look to determine (or attribute) the cause of somebody’s behavior, we often overemphasize the importance of their personality, and underemphasize the power of the situation or context.

Imagine someone cuts you off in traffic. It’s easiest to assume that they’re an inconsiderate jackass. But that’s making assumptions about their personality without considering the situation. What if the the driver got a call that his wife just went into labor and is rushing to meet her? Or that his kid just got into a scuffle at school and needs his dad?

The Fundamental Attribution Error is around us all the time, whether we’re committing it or someone else is. Being more aware can help you understand how others may interpret (or misinterpret) your actions, or how you may be misunderstanding theirs.

In the case of non-replying business folk, ask yourself what kind of situation may prevent those replies from coming your way.

Maybe the message reached your target only moments after he lost an important client.

Or maybe her parents are flying in next weekend and she doesn’t have the brain space to consider your proposal.

Or maybe he gets 300 emails a day, and he’s learned that the only way to navigate them is to prioritize the ones that jump out at him as both important and urgent.

Either way, it’s not that she’s a jerk or ignorant or closed-minded. It’s some other confluence of factors that simply are not working out in your favor.

Of course, there’s another possibility.

Maybe he’s a jerk. Or ignorant. Or closed-minded. And in that case, maybe you’re better off.

More often though, I believe that there’s a middle ground. As a person that gets a large number of requests for attention myself, I’ve found a new sort of golden rule.


So I write back. For the less urgent or “I’m sorry I don’t think we’re the right fit” responses, it may take a moment longer to get to, but ultimately, I will respond to everyone. Because it’s the respectful, basic minimum a person can do.

And even if I need to send 50 one-liners that take up to ten seconds each to complete, I’m only spending 8 minutes a day doing something that I believe is a minimum of human decency. I can make that kind of time.

And if someone that I’m contacting takes that kind of time, whether to say, “yes, let’s talk more” or “sorry, I can’t help you,” I make a mental note of what that says about them as a person. Of course, just by admitting that, I’m committing the Fundamental Attribution Error myself. Maybe they were just in a good situation to write back.

A few weeks ago, I sent a cold email to Jon Westenberg who contributes some great thoughts on Medium. I was reaching out to ask for a specific word of advice, since he has been posting here far longer than I have.

And you know what? He wrote me back. But what he wrote was an even bigger testament to his character than the mere fact that he did. He told me that he didn’t have the ability to help me with my specific request, but wished that he could.

There’s absolutely nothing in it for him to write that, aside from showing respect for a fellow person in his community. And that, to me, shows far more integrity than perhaps any other response I could have gotten.

A few days after our email exchange, Jon published a post about authenticity and staying true to yourself. In it, he talks about respect — respect for yourself and others. From what I can tell from our brief interaction, he’s not just talking the talk. And that only solidifies my commitment as an avid reader of his work.

As a thin-skinned person who wears her heart on her sleeve, I’ll admit that my first instinct is to feel hurt when someone doesn’t respond. It feels personal. To me, it’s a question of respect.

But I also know better — that to write people off for that reason alone would be premature. I think of the Fundamental Attribution Error, and it reminds me that blaming the person on the other end is just engaging in sour grapes mentality, and that the situation’s conditions might just be the most important factor in the equation.

But for those who do write back, I’ve got a warm place in my heart for you.

With gratitude,

Amina Moreau