When trying to supercharge your networking efforts through a social networking site, such as LinkedIn, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be “found” on the system by some former contacts and acquaintances with whom you don’t actually want to connect! One of our clients, in fact, said she received a LinkedIn invitation from her former boss — despite the fact that this person had recently laid her off — and in another instance, a person we know kept receiving invites from somebody they used to work with who was a registered sex offender, and they were therefore terrified of a perceived association with this individual, whether on-line or otherwise!
So in these cases, which can and do come up, how does one best respond? Well, there are certainly no magic bullets, but when talking about the LinkedIn system, specifically, my advice is to start by ignoring the invitation request completely. Since many of these unwanted invitations are actually the result of people using LinkedIn’s “batch invite” feature to just blast out auto-invites to every person listed in their e-mail system, it’s safe to say that many people won’t even notice if you don’t accept their request. And however bad you might feel about it, choosing the “Archive” (i.e. ignore) option is actually a better move than using the “Decline Invitation” option, which can then stir the pot in terms of why you consciously turned down their connection request.
Should the above technique fail, and the person in question come back at you again requesting to connect, you’ll probably have to respond at that point. If you don’t know the individual very well, you might tell them that it’s nothing personal, but that you only use these systems to connect with people who you know and trust quite well — since you don’t want to get overwhelmed with favor requests and have been cautioned to be extremely selective in adding new contacts. Or as an alternative, you can cave in and add the person to your network, hoping that they never actually get around to requesting any introductions through you — which often happens — and if they do, you can then turn them down at that point and share an appropriate reason not to relay their request along.
Sound passive/aggressive? There’s no question about it. But short of confronting a person directly and getting into the specific details of why you either don’t like them, or don’t trust them, you’re given little choice, since the social networking sites (despite all of their marvelous benefits) tend to back you into a corner in these situations. Personally, however, whenever I feel a twinge of guilt about this, I remind myself that the person making the inappropriate request is usually more at fault for trying to amass as many connections as possible on these sites with little regard (despite each site’s stated policy) for quality, customization, or ensuring an appropriate level of trust is in place to justify the connection.