Business networks: the ghost of rudeness past

I recently got an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, from a name I didn’t recognise. I clicked through to the profile and the penny dropped: this person works for a company where I applied for a job quite a long time ago. It all came back to me then: I spent hours jumping through the application hoops, but wasn’t even given the courtesy of a rejection letter.

Another, even worse example: our former landlord, probably the worst landlord we’ve ever had, invited my husband to connect on LinkedIn. The man who hid from phone calls and emails was suddenly coming over all chummy on a business networking site. What gives?

Of course, these kinds of LinkedIn invitation aren’t sent out personally. They happen when you allow LinkedIn to access all your email contacts and send out multiple invites on your behalf.

Imagine if This Is Your Life was actually about bringing together all the people you’ve encountered in your life, rather than about making half an hour of heartwarming telly. Well, LinkedIn’s automated invite system is a bit like that. It’s a computer program, so it’s not going to differentiate between valued business contacts, the person who unsuccessfully applied for a job five years ago and the former tenant you still owe money to. If you go through life treating everybody with courtesy, your crop of automatically generated LinkedIn invites might be welcome to everybody who receives one. But if your only contact with someone involved treating them badly, the chances are that your LinkedIn invite will just act as a reminder of that bad behaviour.

What can you do about that? First, try to avoid letting networking sites plunder your email contacts for connections. Otherwise you’ll be inviting your GP surgery to be your pal on Google Plus despite the fact that your only email contact involves terse requests for a repeat prescription.

Secondly, the bad behaviour of networking sites is a reminder to be aware of your own behaviour. Yes, the obsession with connecting everybody is annoying, but it’s a reflection of our connected world. When you treat someone badly, you don’t have the luxury of being able to assume you’ll never see them again. Sure, you can ignore that job applicant or leave that tenant with a broken boiler, but do so in the knowledge that they might be back in your life in the future. And if you’re clumsy-fingered or bad with technology, the invitation to reconnect will be coming from you.