January 5, 2024

How to Become a Communication Chameleon

Did you know a chameleon’s tongue snaps out at 13 miles per hour to catch unwitting crickets and flies? Pretty gnarly.

But let’s shelf that for now, since networking (usually) doesn’t involve any tonguing.

What about the fact that a chameleon’s eyes can move in two different directions at once, giving it a panoramic view of its surroundings?

That’s definitely more apt for networking, since you should always have strong awareness of the context and circumstances.

And of course, we can’t ignore the famous color-changing analogy, where chameleons’ brains trigger skin cells of certain pigments to blend in with their environment–much like a good networker adapting to their setting and audience.

Just for fun: this video shows off the chameleon’s security-camera eyeballs and its uncanny ability to almost instantly change colors.

Okay, okay, let’s take off our David Attenborough hat for now and give you several pro tips for becoming a Communication Chameleon in the world of networking.

Networking Tip #1: Communicate in the Style of Your Audience

Imagine you're crafting an email to a potential mentor. You notice their LinkedIn is strictly professional, peppered with industry jargon and formal accolades.

You wouldn't barge in with a "Hey there!" and a barrage of slang. Instead, you'd match their tone, perhaps starting with a "Dear [Name]," followed by a concise, jargon-laden message that shows you can walk their talk.

Conversely, if you're tweeting at a startup guru known for their laid-back lingo and love for brevity, you wouldn't choke up the character count with formalities. A crisp, clever tweet with a punchy question might win you a spot in their busy schedule.

Before you send a message, read it out loud in the voice of the receiver. Does it sound like something they'd nod along to? If not, it's back to the drawing board. The goal is to make your message resonate, not to echo your own preferences.

By tailoring your communication, you're not just sending a message; you're gifting an experience that feels personal and considerate. It's the difference between a hand-written letter and a generic email blast. One gets pinned to the fridge; the other, lost in the spam folder. So, take the time to tailor wisely and watch your network grow in style and substance.

Networking Tip #2: Learn to Think and Talk Intergenerationally

When it comes to networking, remember that you're not just dealing with peers who communicate in emojis and TikTok dances. The professional realm is a melting pot of generations, each with its own communication etiquette.

Baby Boomers might prefer a firm handshake and eye contact over a DM on LinkedIn, while Gen Xers could be the email aficionados who appreciate a well-crafted subject line. And let’s not forget the Millennials, straddling the digital divide with a foot in both worlds.

So, how do you bridge this communicative chasm without coming off as a try-hard or digital dinosaur?

Here’s a little exercise for your next networking event to help you play the Communication Chameleon:

Approach someone from a different generation and strike up a conversation. Pay close attention to their body language and word choice. Are they formal or informal? Do they talk through stories or get straight to the point? Mirror their style. If they're all business, save the memes for your mates. If they're telling tales, feel free to share a relevant anecdote. It’s about tuning into their frequency, not changing your playlist.

By the end of the conversation, not only will you have practiced adapting your communication style, but also made a connection who appreciates your effort to speak their language. It's not about selling your soul; it's about flexing your social muscles. So, stretch them out and be the most charismatic chameleon in the room.

Networking Tip #3: Practice Your “Digital Handshake”

A good portion of modern networking happens digitally, not in-person, so these chameleon appeals to your audience need to translate to things like emails.

Sure, your resume is crucial, but the initial email you send can make or break your chances. It's your digital handshake, your first impression, and let's be real—it's also the most awkward part.

The good news? Like a well-crafted tweet or the perfect TikTok, an effective outreach email can be engineered for maximum impact. The trick is to be respectful, clear, and to-the-point while still letting your personality shine through.

State who you are, why you're reaching out, and what you hope to achieve, all while making it irresistibly easy for them to say yes. And remember, before hitting "send," proofread that sucker like your future depends on it—because, well, it kinda does.

Let’s see how ChatGPT can help us:

Subject: Exploring Collaborative Opportunities with [Recipient’s Company Name]

Dear [Recipient’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well. My name is [Your Name], and I am currently a [Your Position/Role] with a keen interest in [Specific Interest Related to Recipient's Field]. Having followed [Recipient’s Company Name] for some time, I am consistently impressed by [Specific Reference to Company's Work, Project, or News Article], particularly [Mention a Detail that Shows You've Done Your Homework].

I am reaching out to explore potential collaborative opportunities that would be mutually beneficial. My background in [Your Field/Expertise] has equipped me with [Mention a Key Skill or Experience], which I believe aligns well with [Something Relevant to the Recipient's Work or Needs]. For instance, [Provide a Brief Example or Idea that Connects Your Skills to Their Work].

Additionally, I recently [Mention a Recent Achievement or Project], which has not only honed my skills in [Relevant Skill to the Recipient's Field] but also underscored the importance of [Relevant Value or Principle to Both Parties]. I am eager to bring this experience to the table and see how it can serve the innovative projects at [Recipient’s Company Name].

I understand that your time is valuable, and I would be grateful for the opportunity to discuss how my background, ideas, and enthusiasm could contribute to your team. Would you be open to a brief call or meeting at your convenience? I am flexible with timings and would be happy to accommodate your schedule.

Thank you for considering my proposal. I am looking forward to the possibility of working together. Please find attached my resume for more detailed information about my professional journey. I am also happy to provide any additional information you might need.

Warm regards,

[Your Full Name]
[Your LinkedIn Profile]
[Your Contact Information]

Seems like a solid template, right? Sort of.

Let’s look at what happens if we take this template and try to individualize it.

Example of an Ineffective Email Outreach:

Subject: Internship Request

Dear Dr. Smith,

I hope this email finds you in good health. My name is Alex Johnson, and I am currently a Neuroscience major at Boston University. I have always been passionate about research, particularly in neuropharmacology. This passion has driven me to achieve academic excellence, and I am highly motivated to contribute to groundbreaking work. I have participated in numerous projects, and my experience is quite extensive. I am now looking for new opportunities to further grow, and I am reaching out to you to inquire about the possibility of an internship in your lab.

Throughout my academic career, I have acquired a multitude of skills, including but not limited to electrophysiology, molecular biology, and data analysis. I am extremely dedicated and would bring a great deal of enthusiasm to your team. I am confident that my unique perspectives and creativity would be an asset to your research.

Would it be possible to arrange a meeting to discuss any potential opportunities for collaboration?

Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I eagerly await your response.

Best regards,

Alex Johnson

What’s Wrong with This Email?

  • It’s too long and doesn’t encourage readership.
  • It buries the purpose of the email with too much information.
  • It lacks personalized appeals to Dr. Smith’s actual research.
  • It could benefit from a better tone that balances being professional and conversational, rather than overly dry and academic.

Let’s apply these lessons and see if we can sharpen the email a bit.

Subject: Inquiry: Summer Internship in Neuropharmacology Research

Dear Dr. Smith,

I'm Alex Johnson, a Neuroscience major at Boston University. I was captivated by your recent work on serotonin receptors in the Journal of Neuropharmacology. I’m writing to inquire about summer research opportunities in your lab. I believe that my strong work ethic and hands-on experience in electrophysiology and molecular biology could benefit your ongoing projects.

Would you be available for a brief call next week to discuss this opportunity? Or perhaps you could just email me back. Either way, I've attached my CV for your review.

Thank you for your time.


Alex Johnson
text or call: 555-555-5555

Why This Email is Better:

Final Thoughts

Whether a chameleon is red, purple, green, or anything in between, it’s still a chameleon. It hasn’t completely changed its form or essence.

The same applies for you. Don’t feel like you have to completely change everything about yourself to be a strong networker.

But keep those prized eyeballs on the look for exciting opportunities and be ready to strategically color yourself a little differently when necessary to create the right tone, message, and style for your audience.  

- Rob and Ryan

P.S. A great start to building your network is to forward this to a friend! 😉

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