We are all guilty of this at one point or another. We want to get some press coverage for our company, or perhaps we are looking to get on the radar of our dream investor. Maybe that influencer on Twitter can really help your business and trying to engage with her is very important to you. That first sentence, that ice breaker, it can really make or break the whole relationship.

Now don't get me wrong, I understand the need for subtlety and etiquette, but I can tell you right now, there is a fine line between that and trying to trick someone.

Here are three phrases that raise red flags and should be avoided when reaching out to potential business contacts.

"I wanted to discuss collaboration."

Here is the thing with these words, they are empty. Of course, once both sides know the context, it is fine to say "let's collaborate", but nine out of ten times, when someone sends me a cold email or message asking to collaborate, what they really mean is "I want you to promote me."

If you are looking to be promoted, don't hide behind the word collaboration, which implies a mutually beneficial dynamic, but rather try something along the lines of "This is what we do. Is this relevant for you to tell your audience about?" 

Always err on the side of transparency. It goes a long way.

"Have a few minutes to talk so I can hear what you're working on?"

Really? You want to hear what I am working on or you want to tell me what you are working on and your hope is once you ask about my work, I will ask about yours? The irony here is that asking someone about their work, when it is genuine, is actually a great ice-breaker and you'll find that it really loosens up the conversation, but when it is not genuine, it is just offensive.

"Can we set up a meeting for you to meet my CEO?"

This one is great. "I would love to set up a meeting with my CEO, who you will enjoy meeting." Oh really? That is cute, you being all concerned with my enjoyment and all, being as we don't even know each other.

How about "I see you have a lot of followers and my CEO sure could use your promotion. Would you be willing to meet her?"

The general rule of thumb here is so simple, it is borderline embarrassing that I need to say it. Don't try to trick people and thereby insult their intelligence. It might work once but it'll take about 30 seconds till they figure out what you are really after and there goes the chance of having an authentic trust-based ongoing relationship.

Published on: Nov 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.