A tricky balance: social etiquette

I took some flak last week online from a long-time online friend for sending her a LinkedIn invitation-to-connect, but without (gasp) adding a personal message….

Can we learn social etiquette from 1908? Tricky. Read on…

I took some flak last week online from a long-time online friend for sending her a LinkedIn invitation-to-connect, unhealthy but without (gasp) adding a personal message. Now, buy information pills I was catching up on a bunch of LinkedIn stuff and realized there were dozens of friends and colleagues I wanted to invite. Also, I’ve been using the standard “Dennis Van Staalduinen would like to connect with you” template for years without thinking about it, and never stopped to think how impersonal that might be.

But her reaction got me thinking of Social Etiquette in general and how the online world and the “norms” of the offline and online worlds get a bit muddled up. And how, without a manual, it’s easy to cross lines and offend people without realizing it.

Which brings me to the manual – and yes there really is one. Or should I say “was”? Below, I stitched together a few iPhone / Instagram shots I took from a delightful old book I have in my office from 1908 called the New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information.

As you can see, things change a lot. But do they really change that much?

The book – which is awesome – was an ambitious project purporting to teach upstart Americans all kinds of “useful” European skills like how to play the violin, dance, speak German and French, and play polo, among other self-improvement pursuits. How about a magic trick where you pull a cannon ball from a hat? It’s in there!

The section on Letters of Introduction is to the right. What do you think? Could that serve as an etiquette manual for introductions on LinkedIn? I’m not sure, it’s pretty heavy. But it certainly sounds like what my friend was trying to tell me about my lapse in social judgement.

But a few things have changed: 1) the tone of snooty confidence,  2) the idea that all things on earth can be contained in one volume (who needs Google?), and 3) the classic old illustrations – including one of an early form of “planking” (see above).

If you’re interested, I can post some more nuggets. Or if you’re really eager, you can find the whole book in PDF form here. (Warning: it’s HUGE.) Particularly interesting are sections on “Health for women” (spoiler: not very progressive), “The automobile” (debates whether steam, electric or gasoline will prevail), and the dancing section (check out the Polka instructions which are just hilarious).

9 thoughts on “A tricky balance: social etiquette”

  1. Count me as one person who doesn’t care about personalized Linkedin invites. I hear a lot of people complaining about this, just as others complain that every @ tweet should receive a reply, as should every blog post. I’m of the “pick your battles” school of thought–e.g. I put effort into what I personally feel is important. To me, Linkedin is a rolodex of professional contacts and my level of interest in connecting with someone doesn’t usually warrant me spending time customizing the invite. Sorry if that offends people; if it means the person doesn’t accept my contact request, I’m ok with that. 
    The other side of the “personalization” coin is that I find that most personalized Linkedin invites are from sales people–the more personalized and friendly the request to connect, the higher the chances are that person is just looking to spam me. 

    1.  @maggielmcg Ha! That’s true too isn’t it? It’s like if I get a letter in the mail with “HEY DENNIS VAN STAALDUINEN” scrawled in pen on the envelope, I’ll suspect it’s just a real estate agent or something who went to a seminar where they were told that’s more friendly and personal.

  2. I find it important for the invites to be personalized when they do NOT come from someone I know well. I need the context to figure out why I may or may not know this person. Sometimes, a simple, “Great to meet you at XYZ Conference/Meetup/Party/Event” is all that’s necessary. I immediately remember who they are, given the context with the name.
    When it is a person I know, I’m not bothered by the lack of personalization. I’ve done that before, because it’s simple and takes no time, and if it’s someone I was just talking with or talk with all the time, there’s no need to add the context.

    1.  @AmyVernon That’s pretty much my approach too. I’ll customize a note if there’s a *reason* to do so – like the one you mentioned where there’s a chance they won’t remember me – or if there’s a particular urgency or need to connect. It’s funny that there are these expectations though, when the tool makes it so easy not to.

  3. I find it hard to imagine anyone not remembering Dennis. Now that I got that off my chest, rather than just personalizing an invitation because you should, I think it’s more of question of context and do you need to provide some. They may not remember you (back to Dennis again). Or, you may want to provide the context of your original meeting. I am forever replying back to invitations asking for the context of the invitation. Did we meet face to face, online, etc? Help them out for goodness sake. Sometimes if the relationship is unclear, I simply ignore the invitation. As Amy pointed out, if it’s someone you know then often, no further explanation is required. Beyond that, help out your new connection with a little context.

    1.  @PetersNewJobs Ah Len, the guru of proper networking etiquette. Context is a good point. I guess a good rule of thumb is this: assume everyone is as forgetful an idiot as I am.

  4. When I got the invite from @DenVan my immediate reaction was, “Who the “f” is that?” Kidding…
    Not a big deal if I get the template from you…but I get loads from people I have never met or even engaged with…so why would I say yes? It was tough enough to decide if I wanted to say yes to you.
    Thanks for the insights Dennis. This isn’t life altering. And whatever works is what works for folks…And I still like and respect you, in spite of your LinkedIn template invite.
    And by the way, the Letters of Introduction excerpt is truly awesome. I want to share that with everyone I know. Truly love it!

    1.  @HeidiMassey Well then, dearest Madame,  I shall not lightly give or receive coments upon my Weblog either. You’ll notice that I very carefully avoided including any individually incriminating details, but since you outed yourself, very well… IT WAS HEIDI!! Isn’t the tone of that book wonderful? I just shared this short one on bathing your children this morning:http://instagr.am/p/Kr9-Shrx9B/But if you want to kill an hour check out the link to the book itself. I just randomly flipped to a page and got this yummy recipe:
      CALF’S HEAD. Boil the head two hours, together with the lights and feet Put in the liver when it has boiled an hour and twenty minutes. Before the head is done, tie the brains in a bag, and boil them with it; when the brains are done, take them up, season them with salt, pepper, butter, and sweet herbs, or spices if you like use this as a dressing for the head. Some people prefer part of the liver and feet for dressing; they are prepared like the brains. The liquor that the calf’s head is boiled in makes a good soup seasoned in a plain way like any other veal soup, or seasoned turtle fashion.

      1.  @DenVan Even if I wasn’t a vegetarian, that recipe would make me want to throw up.
        And I appreciate the “seriousness” with which you shall now respond to me 😉 Going to check out more of the book, for sure. Right after I finish rejecting a whole load of LinkedIn template invites …

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