Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dealing with LinkedIn Connection Requests from Strangers

In my networking workshops and lectures one of the questions that often comes up is "What do I do with random connection requests from strangers?". On the one hand LinkedIn's official policy is that you should only connect with people you know. On the other hand someone you reject could turn out to be a valuable connection.

The nuanced reply is that you should be cautious but not too hasty to reject an unexpected request. 

What would help immensely would be to have a personalized message with each connection request explaining why the person wants to connect, but the in the current version of LinkedIn this is quite difficult (How to Personalize LinkedIn Requests), so we have to learn to live without it.

Just accepting any request has some disadvantages. Some unsolicitated requests might be genuine but others might be spammers, scammers, fakes or people who are just collecting connections as a pointless game. Connecting blindly with these people hurts you in several ways. 

Low value contacts diminish your reputation. Having too many poor quality contacts means that when other people look at your profile they will question your judgement. It's easy to recognize when someone has many weak connections. In this case some people might reject your requests; recruiters might choose someone with a more helpful network.

Irrelevant contact swamp your feed. If you unwisely accumulate thousands of uninteresting contacts they will waste your time by clogging your feed do that you miss updates from people who really count. Missing key updates from important people in your network means that you will not be able to maintain the relationship. 

Accepting connections effectively endorses people. Your friends might trust someone because they see that you apparently know them, so you are effectively guaranteeing them. When these people turn out to be annoying or worse they will blame you. It was your friend who wasted their time or tried to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge. 

You might enable a spear phishing attack. Some of the unknown accounts are genuine but some are spear phishing accounts created to exploit you in some way. Don't fall for it. Your security people will look on this like the way people hold doors of secure areas open to let people without badges walk in. 

These hazards do not mean you should just reject all contact from strangers. Sometimes they can turn out to be very beneficial and I have had random encounters on LinkedIn that led to mutually beneficial relationships. The secret is to get to know the person and check that they are genuine before accepting the connection request. LinkedIn allows you to reply to a request with a message without accepting the request.

Engage with unknown people first through LinkedIn messages, discussions and other sites first to see if they are really interested in knowing you or are just collecting thousands of connections. Try asking a question or asking for help. If they completely ignore you then you know they would be pointless connections. Some of these users even have a special dumping email for notifications that they never look at. 

In some cases the accounts are not just low value, they are completely fake. Most fakes are obvious but if you are not confident of your ability to recognize them try these tests:

Look at the profile and see if it is credible. A lack of profile information could mean that whoever created it doesn't know enough to fill in the profile; a lack of words could mean that they don't know the language. Profiles with no text are the most suspicious; they are often the work of spammers or worse.

Look at the profile photo. If there is no profile photo be suspicious, and if the photo looks too good to be true then it probably is. Real pictures look normal, not like staged photos of models. You can also check the authenticity of photos using Google Reverse image search or TinEye Reverse Image Search. These tools often reveal where spammers found the photo they are using.

Cross check with a Google search. Real people tend to have a broad online footprint. When a nearly empty LinkedIn profile is all they have then it is probably fake. Very rarely if ever do spammers or spear phishers attempt to create a credible suite of online properties. In case of doubt I usually look for confirmation of a person on a site that does not allow anyone to create a page. For example, if someone claims to work at a university it is likely that their name appears on the university website.

By being selective in who you connect with you can make the LinkedIn experience less frustrating and more productive while boosting your reputation. You can still discover and get to know strangers, but at the same time avoid time wasters and fakes.

More about professional networking

There's much more about professional networking in my book Payforward Networking. Find it here: Paperback edition. Kindle edition.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan provides lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking and other communication topics. To book a session email or call 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also find out more at

Related Posts about Networking

Why Payforward Networking is More Effective than Tit-for-Tat
Three ways to be more confident at networking events
Why being a connector makes your networking more effective.
Why you should be networking even if you are not looking for a job
How Encouraging Networking Makes Your Workplace More Effective
How to Make Photos for Professional Profiles and CVs
Why Networking is About Building relationships
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
LinkedIn: Why Unanswered Messages are Wasted Opportunities
LinkedIn May Be Hacker's Dream Tool But Attacks Easy to Foil
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Selling Your Ideas: Influencing Your Way to Success

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why No Answer is an Ineffective Answer

One of the questions that sometimes comes up in my workshops about effective email is "Is it ok to not answer an email when the answer is no?". I am tempted to ignore the question and walk away, leaving them to wonder if I heard or if the answer is no.

But I am not certain that this would work and, following my own advice, I give an explicit response. No, not answering is definitely not a good idea because it causes confusion, misunderstandings, frustration and anger. Clearing just the confusion usually takes more time than answering the message would have. Sometimes the consequences of the frustration and anger are never resolved.

Let's suppose that Anne asks Brian if he is available for a meeting on a certain date.The next day there is no response from Brian. What does this mean? Does it mean "no"? Or does it mean that Brian never received the message? Or does it mean that he replied but the message went to the spam folder? Or does it mean that he is not sure and will reply later?  The problem is that you don't know, so most likely you have to send a reminder or call to ask. Either way if Brian hoped to save some time by not typing a five word email then he ends up spending more time answering followup messages and phone calls.

Giving no answer even has a name, the California No, because of its alleged use in California to say no without giving offense. There are actually many better ways of saying no politely and gently; ignoring messages is not one of these. A polite and empathetic rejection is not only more effective, it is also good for your reputation. When job applications are rejected most unsuccessful candidates still have a positive opinion of companies that write a polite rejection letter and they have a fairly neutral opinion of the companies that respond with a neutral letter, but they always have a very negative impression of companies that simply leave them hanging there, having to work out after a few weeks that there never will be a response.

It is the uncertainty that breeds bad feelings. If you respond to a message with a brief but friendly no then the matter is usually closed and everyone can move on. Send no response and the exchange remains open, annoying the other person every morning that they check their mail and see no response.

Clearly you don't need to send a polite response to every mail. Obvious spams can be ignored without regret, and anything creepy or offensive should be deleted immediately, but for everything else remember that a brief, polite answer is the best way to close the issue and allow everyone to get on with their work.

Related Posts about Email

Curing Toxic Email Syndrome
Three Reasons to Avoid Sending Angry Emails
Why Email Isn't Dying Anytime Soon
Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails
Dear Best Regards: How to Start and End an Email
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email
Three Timesaving Tips for Email

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan delivers lectures and workshops about communication including a popular half-day workshop "Effective Email in a Global Business" which introduces people to the essential techniques to make email communication more productive and less stressful. He also does one-to-one coaching and writing about communication. For more details you can email him on, phone 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also read more on his website

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How the Doorway Effect Makes Business Cards Still Relevant

You might think that when practically everyone you meet has a smartphone that electronic exchange of contact information would have superseded business cards. But it hasn't.

Primarily this is because there isn't a convenient standard. You could try to connect on social networking sites, but that doesn't always work because maybe you use LinkedIn and the other person uses Viadeo. There have also been many attempts to make business-card-killer apps, like Bump. Back in 2011 Bump was going to make business cards a thing of the past; today it is no longer available. Many others have tried the same thing but it won't replace paper cards until there is a more or less universal standard, like email.

But there are other reasons for continuing to use paper business cards. First of all there is the ritual aspect. Rituals are actually very important for social interactions and the exchange of business cards is a key ritual in business relationships, marking the point where we effectively invite the other person to communicate with us. Eventually we will develop a suite of digital rituals, but there is no consensus yet in the business world.

Business cards are also extremely important in societies that are more status conscious, so in many countries they are taken much more seriously, sometimes accepted with both hands and studied carefully before being placed, pristine, in a special card case. In these cultures mistreating someone's card would be an insult; not having or offering a card would be an unforgivable mistake.

Yet even in cultures where cards are less important as status markers, even where most people have a smartphone in their pocket, there is still another argument in favor of paper cards: the doorway effect. In a fascinating 2006 study* Gabriel Radvansky and David Copeland discovered that when people walk through a doorway their short term memory is cleared. Normally this has a negative impact on networking events because you meet someone interesting, promise to send things, make mental notes to follow up and then as soon as you have left the room these memories are erased.

This is where the paper card turns out to be more useful than you expect. Perhaps you meet someone and have an interesting conversation but forget it as soon as you leave the room. Later, when you get back to your office or home and empty your pockets the cards remind you about the people you meet, but this time with the crucial difference that you are in a much better position to actually do something. You might even get a second reminder days later when you tidy your desk.

Eventually paper cards will be replaced, though not until there are some global standards in place for swapping data between devices in close proximity. We are not there yet. And when that happens we will also need a digital replacement for the memory jogging effect to overcome the doorway effect.

* Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Situation models and experienced space, Memory & Cognition, July 2006, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp1150-1156.

More about professional networking

There's much more about professional networking in my book Payforward Networking on the Amazon Kindle bookstore. There will also be a paperback edition soon.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

In addition to writing this blog Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking and other communication topics. You can reach him by email at, by phone at 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 and through his website

Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Mistakes to Avoid in Your Professional Profile Photos

Scrolling through the People You Might Know section of LinkedIn I can't help noticing that some people have profile pictures that could damage their credibility.

Some are clearly out of focus, underexposed, taken from too far away, badly cropped, squashed out of proportion or with other issues that are easily avoidable today. Back in the day when LinkedIn was first created in 2003 there were no iPhones and not everyone had a digital camera, but today there are not really any excuses. And if someone really doesn't have access to any sort of digital camera they must have a friend or colleague who could take a quick photo and send it to them by email for upload

Your professional profile photo on LinkedIn doesn't need to be perfect or even great, but at least you should avoid the most obvious mistakes starting with these top five problems I see scrolling through the images in People You Might Know:

UNDEREXPOSED PHOTO. How people achieve this in the 2010s I do not know, but a surprising number of LinkedInners manage to underexpose their profile photo, making it so dark that they are almost unrecognizable. If your camera is that bad then try taking the picture using daylight, going outdoors, preferably on a cloudy day. Getting extra light will do more than solve the exposure problem, it will also make the photo sharper, avoiding another problem, the blurry photo.

BLURRY PHOTO. I suspect that most of the blurry photos were taken using a handheld camera or phone when there really isn't enough light, so the camera moves during the long exposure. There are two ways to avoid this. The first is simply to get more light, as explained above, the other is to use a tripod. If you are using a smartphone and you don't have a tripod try resting the camera firmly on a table and use the self timer while you take the picture. But more light is easier.

SQUASHED HEAD PHOTO. How so many people end up with their head either squashed or elongated is another mystery, too, unless they have been resizing an image using a mouse but without locking the aspect ratio between height and width. Minor errors are noticeable only to an expert, but I see many photographs where the proportions are obviously non human. When you upload a photo make sure that it looks ok before you upload it and check again after the upload. If your head is distorted and you don't know why ask a friend with more expertise in photography or image manipulation to help.

PHOTO TOO SMALL. When you upload a very small photo file to LinkedIn it is presented as a tiny photo with a wide border. There is no camera takes a picture that small so if it happens you must be using a photo that has been reduced in size -- possibly a thumbnail generated by another site. Don't use these very small files. Always use the largest file you have for the upload unless it is some extremely large professional format, the kind that could never be sent by email. Very small photos with borders make you look very small and insignificant compared to other people, so this is another problem to avoid.

PHOTO TILTED TOO MUCH. There was a time when on social sites like Myspace, Friendster and Facebook it was a thing to have your profile photo inclined about 45 degrees. Some people still do that on Facebook but it tends to look out of place on LinkedIn, where most pictures are fairly upright. Clearly if you are looking for a creative job people are going to give you more space here, but if your career aspirations involve mainstream business work then I would suggest not tilting quite so much.

There is, of course, another option that is even worse than all of these: not having a photo. When you leave a blank square or use an image of something else you make other users suspicious. Some fake and spammy accounts have no profile photo because they don't have a photo to show. You might have other reasons for hiding your face, but other users have no way to tell the difference between someone who is extremely shy and someone who doesn't really exist. Avoid this option if you possibly can.

Remember that most people in the world will never meet you face to face. In many cases all they know about how you look comes from your profile photo. It's more important than you think. Any one of the five common mistakes above could cost you a job. Don't screw it up.

If you would like more practical advice about making better profile photos read also How to Make Photos for Professional Profiles

More about professional networking

There's much more about professional networking in my book Payforward Networking on the Amazon Kindle bookstore. There will also be a paperback edition soon.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about social media and other communication topics. You can contact him by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81, by email at or through his website You can also hear more about topics like this through his Twitter account