One of the guilt-tripping, unspoken rules in life is that you’re a bad person if you say no to requests. I’m talking about what are often reasonable requests, nothing extreme. This compels some of us to say yes, but then later we often regret doing so. But if we say no, we may be wary of being unfairly judged, and worry about developing a bad reputation for being selfish and unhelpful to others. (Even though you know you’re none of those things.)
Even if we forget about how we think we are perceived by others, what about our own feelings and self-perception? Even thinking about saying no can make some of us feel guilty, never mind actually deciding no. We want to avoid feeling bad. We don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings. After all, most of us are reasonable people and don’t want to inflict emotional pain on others.
Unless you’re Donald Trump, then it’s A-Ok. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
In all seriousness, though, the difficulty in saying no is a real issue and a challenge for many. It can even be debilitating.
Don’t believe me? From anecdotal evidence alone, a lot of us have problems with it, for all sorts of reasons. Here are just a few Google.com search findings:
• “how to say no” = 532 million results
• “ways to say no” = 273 million
• “guilty saying no” = 146 million
• “difficulty saying no” = 141 million.
But what about on LinkedIn?
Surely on LinkedIn, however, a network where all of us are there purely for professional reasons and not for cat memes and jokes (supposedly), we can at least expect to be able to say no and not feel guilty?
I’m not so sure. When the topic of LinkedIn crops us with my friends and colleagues, it seems a fairly common experience for some to feel bad about one action in particular: saying no to unwelcome unknowns who invite you to connect.
Guilt, even though we don’t know the person from Eve or Adam, someone with whom we have never worked, know absolutely nothing about, and who typically from their own profile has nothing whatsoever to do with our profession—or even industry. Enough, I thought. I’m declaring a guilt-free, just-say-no zone on such invites.
So here are eight good reasons to click No to useless invites to connect and not feel guilty about doing so.
1. LinkedIn says so. (Really.)
Tell that to your inner, faulty conscience. Heck, in the LinkedIn Help Center, under “Inviting or Connecting with People on LinkedIn” they recommend that invites should be based only on “people you know and trust.” Isn’t that sensible advice worth heeding, for a clear conscience?
2. You are legally obligated to say no. (Honestly.)
Did you know that? How about them apples? Yes, I kid you not. Because many of you I suspect may have joined LinkedIn years ago, it’s understandable if you may have forgotten the fact that you entered into a legally binding agreement with the company simply by signing up for an account. This may sound like some sort of dictator’s decree, but it’s in the interest of maintaining the integrity of the site and arguably your integrity along with it.
In their legal User Agreement, in Section 8, “LinkedIn “DOs” and “DON’Ts.”―their caps, not mine, I hasten to add—under Item 2, titled “Don’ts. You agree that you will not,” they state that you mustn’t:
Invite people you do not know to join your network.
Why, then, should you feel guilty about saying no to a person who has already broken the User Agreement? After all, you don’t endorse criminal behaviour. So why should you feel bad about refusing to collude with someone who is and who has no right to do so? Instread, if you click no, you have just acted not only sensibly but in accordance with LinkedIn’s binding code of conduct.
So well done, you. Goodbye, guilt. And helloooo clear conscience.
3. Don’t trust strangers
Image: The Horrible Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
One of the first things we learn as children from our parents about the social world is not to trust strangers. There’s a good and obvious reason for this. They are protecting us, keeping us safe from possible danger.
Surely it’s ironic, if not troubling, then, that as adults we waiver our responsibility towards and protection of ourselves by not only accepting invites from complete strangers, but also by compounding that troublesome act by feeling bad about it as well?
So we click yes, and think, what the heck. But now you have compromised your sense of who you trust (because you don’t trust a stranger, surely?), and possibly feel bad about that. Instead, every time you click no to an unknown who invites you to connect, know this: that you are protecting yourself and being responsible to yourself. After all, if you don’t, who will? Clicking no can be a good and sound action to take.
4. Don’t trust strangers to be trustworthy
Related to reason 3 above, let’s not forget that as soon as you have clicked yes to a stranger’s invite, you have instantly given them access to mining your 1st-degree connections. A bad apple (well, unknown and unscrupulous at best) is now among them, and you. Thanks to an action of yours you didn’t even want to do in the first place.
So when you feel bad about clicking no and don’t care about protecting yourself, at least feel good and zero guilt about this: namely, the fact that by saying no you’re also protecting those in your professional network from being bothered by that stranger, too. Respect!
5. Would you give your primary email address to a stranger on the street?
Then why would you give it to a stranger on LinkedIn? And, once they’re connected, they have access to all your contact details that you have published there.
While it’s true there are all sorts of ways a person can find out your email address — some of which I highlight, for good reasons, in another article elsewhere, Are Recruiters on LinkedIn connecting for You — or Mining You for Your Connections? — do these things excuse the fact that you―personally, voluntarily, willingly-are giving up your own contact details? You wouldn’t give them to a person you’ve never met nor ever intend to again, so why do so online?
6. Will the person really be a part of your professional network, or just an “empty suit”?
Image: Invisible Man by Marlan Beck
Assuming good intentions, let’s never forget why we’re on LinkedIn in the first place. Because we’re professionals and we want to network as such. I can’t put it better than LinkedIn themselves, again from their User Agreement, Section 1, Introduction, under Purpose:
Our mission is to connect the world’s professionals to allow them to be more productive and successful. Our services are designed to promote economic opportunity for our members by enabling you and millions of other professionals to meet, exchange ideas, learn, and find opportunities or employees, work, and make decisions in a network of trusted relationships.
Since you don’t:
• know them
• trust them, and now also don’t
• believe they will present you with an exchange of ideas or opportunities, nor
• believe they will help you be more productive and successful
how can they rightly be a person in your professional network?
7. Why compromise the integrity of your hard-earned professional network?
Let’s assume, fairly, that you’ve worked hard to get where you are. Even:
The whole shebang. The people in your professional network are those you trust. You’ve either worked or collaborated with them in some business or voluntary or professional capacity. They trust you, you know them. So why compromise all of that? Where will it end? Respect the integrity of your work and your career. Leave your network to your professionals. That’s what it represents to you and what it will continue to mean for you if you protect its value and refuse to spoil it with rubbish.
8. Call it your integrity, your conscience, your ethics or your code of conduct. But know this: if you act accordingly, you never have a reason to feel guilty
Whatever your philosophy of life or your principles, leading an ethical life is not an easy process; otherwise we’d all be enlightened beings. Personally, whenever I read the principles of life in action according to the Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path:
I’m humbled — and frustrated — by how little I achieve and how inept I am in doing what is good, in the sense of ethical, right conduct. Still, getting one of those things right once on just one day feels like some sort of accomplishment. (My low standards, I know, I know. Ahem.)
But whether it’s those or other principles, including the simple and compelling counsel of Lao-Tzu, the mythical philosopher:
and irrespective of your beliefs—whether a secularist or a Muslim, a Christian or a Nietzschean, etc.—one thing surely we all have in common is recognising the importance of first acting according to our conscience.
If you do, and you rightly reject strangers who want to impose themselves on you without respect or consideration for who you are, then surely your conscience has every right to be clear, and guilt should just be a five-letter word? I wish you a good conscience and, thereby, right action. And I hope the next time you click yes to an invite, it’s only for someone who matters to you.
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PS: Do you have other compelling reasons not to feel guilty about saying no to placebo contacts? I’d love to know what they are. Many thanks.
PPS: As a thank you for any reader who managed to get this very far, and if you find sometimes that you have problems with saying no, here are some helpful articles bundled up for easy access.