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Professional Networking: Don’t Take it Personally — Or Do
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Professional Networking: Don’t Take it Personally — Or Do - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Don’t Take it Personally — Or Do

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Don’t Take it Personally — Or Do

Four years ago, we surveyed friends about what’s wrong with LinkedIn, and one common response among those who try to find (and add) value to the professional networking site was that some people use it to share personal content, stuff that should go on Facebook or Pinterest, such as photos of breakfast or updates on family. “I’m networking with people so we can help each other professionally,” said one friend. “If the same muffin photo is on Facebook and LinkedIn, why do we bother with both sites?”

Recently, we’ve found ourselves at odds with people in our network, in the real world and on LinkedIn. Many people treat networking relationships strictly professional: not only do they not want to see our muffin photos on LinkedIn, but they don’t care to know that we even like muffins, or anything else about our non-professional lives.

It’s a line we all draw for ourselves, of course, some of us consciously and some of us unconsciously, some of us vigilantly and some of us casually. In the workplace, most of us simply meet each other wherever the other feels comfortable. That guy in research is a great coworker, but he never shows up for after-work drinks or the annual holiday party, because all he wants in his work relationships is good people to work with. Other people become so friendly they know each other’s families, and they plan vacations together.

Were we naive to be taken by surprise when some in our professional network bristled at polite but personal questions during what seemed like smalltalk? We have always espoused that good networking is about relationships, and we assumed the best relationships are somewhat personal, but sure, why can’t a professional connection be healthy and beneficial to all parties when kept at a strictly professional level? It seems reasonable, if not what we’d call desirable.

An accountant named Marie made a joke about marketer Lesley’s well-known standoffishness. “Looks like those psychic walls you’re putting up are nearing completion,” said Marie at a mixer, when Lesley said she hadn’t run into anyone from her company at a conference they were known to be at. It was meant to be a silly poke, an acknowledgment that Marie knew and accepted Lesley’s attitudes about work relationships. Yet Lesley was personally insulted, and insisted that Marie keep all conversation professional. She was happy to know her and enjoyed their talks, as long as their talks were limited to topics related to their professions. It had been a mutually beneficial and enjoyable professional connection until that moment and Lesley wanted to keep it that way.

We acknowledge that different people network at different levels of familiarity, but the question is: are widely different attitudes compatible in a good, strong network? In our example, if Lesley felt Marie was unable to keep things strictly professional, she would seem to require some kind of severing of ties. If Marie expects more personal connections, she may still accept Lesley at her level of familiarity, but she may find the relationship unsatisfying, if not frustrating.

Our position remains that good connections are about being of help to others. It doesn’t make sense to lose a good connection simply because one party is less interested than the other in real-world friendship. Because Marie enjoys personal connectivity, she will find familiar relationships rewarding in her professional network, but she should be willing to meet Lesley where she is, if she can handle the frustration.


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Professional Networking: Don’t Take it Personally — Or Do - Executive Leadership Articles

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