Because of a blog post that Samantha Collier wrote yesterday, I became aware of an unfortunate situation that took place on LinkedIn.
The goal of my post today is to leave you with lessons learned, which you will find below, but it might help for you to have a little background first.
HERE IS THE FORMERLY-PRIVATE LINKEDIN MESSAGE
It involves an exchange between someone many consider a senior-level communicator in Cleveland, Ohio, Kelly Blazek, and Diana Mekota, an early-career professional looking up to her for guidance and connections upon her upcoming move to the area.
Here is how this private conversation started. Diana sent this private message on LinkedIn, asking to be added to the Cleveland Job Bank, which Kelly runs on a volunteer basis:
Seems pretty harmless, right?
It was until Kelly Blazek replied.
CNN has now covered the story, so this exchange is taking on a life of its own. Kelly’s response is likely to have an impact on both parties for quite a while:
“Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky,” Blazek wrote, according to Mekota’s post. “Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job.”
“I love the sense of entitlement in your generation,” she wrote, then continued. “You’re welcome for your humility lesson for the year. Don’t ever reach out to senior practitioners again and assume their carefully curated list of connections is available to you, just because you want to build your network.”
“Don’t ever write me again.”
WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING KIND?
I was disheartened to read Kelly’s response to Diana, who is early in her career, and appears to be winding her way through the maze of networking opportunities that now exist out there.
Lindsay Griffiths, Director of Global Relationship Management at International Lawyers Network, is right:
“We ALL had help earlier in our careers (and even now), and there’s nothing wrong with being kind to people and sharing our advice and time.”
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
There are many ways this situation can be parsed, but allow me to boil it down to lessons learned when communicating with others via social (or any other) media:
Use your head.
Now is a great time to curtail any tendency you might have to be a hothead, jerk, prone to lashing out at others or judgmental. It wasn’t appropriate before, and it sure isn’t now.
Learn to think before posting.
Learn how to apologize.
Always consider what might happen if any correspondence becomes public, then ask if it’s worth it.
Belittling and being patronizing have consequences, and are not characteristics of a professional, online or offline.
If you’re feeling emotional, step away from the keyboard.
Timothy Corcoran, Principal at Corcoran Consulting Group, said:
“The takeaway is that what was once private correspondence and private interaction is now increasingly likely to be public, or at least more public than intended. And the question we should continually ask is whether our actions will withstand public scrutiny.”
Jaimie Field, Esq., a legal marketing and business development professional, summarized it this way:
“Years ago, the woman who received the email [Diana] would have just complained to her friends about how nasty this was – and then it would have been forgotten by everyone. But now, whatever you say or do can go viral very, very, very quickly. And, in fact, your past can come back to haunt you. There is no more privacy and if you are going to survive in this world, you have to understand that anything and everything you say or do can be posted on the internet (even if it’s not true).”
I was pleased to see that CNN reported that Kelly took the time to apologize to Diana and everyone for her lack of civility:
Blazek on Wednesday e-mailed an apology to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
She repeated the statement in an email response to CNN, saying she has apologized to “everyone involved.”
“I am very sorry to the people I have hurt,” she wrote. “Creating and updating the Cleveland Job Bank listings has been my hobby for more than ten years. It started as a labor of love for the marketing industry, but somehow it also became a labor, and I vented my frustrations on the very people I set out to help.”
Blazek was named 2013′s “Communicator of the Year” by Cleveland’s branch of the International Association of Business Communicators.
“I’ve always been a passionate advocate for keeping talent in NE Ohio, and we have so much of it in the region,” she said in her acceptance speech. “I want my subscribers to feel like everyone is my little sister or brother, and I’m looking out for them.”
On Thursday, she appeared to have deleted her Twitter account and WordPress blog.
“The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong …,” she said in her e-mail. “Diana and her generation are the future of this city. I wish her all the best in landing a job in this great town.”
Whether Kelly was having a bad day or bad year, I don’t know, and I’m very sorry if she is going through something that is causing this kind of emotion. I am not interested in slapping the hands of either person in this situation.
WHAT I WANT TO SEE HAPPEN
What I am interested in is causing everyone to become more aware of their actions.
Whether these are old or new behaviors, or whether the ease of communicating from behind the safety of a keyboard and monitor are causing some to exhibit less-than-professional behavior, I don’t know.
What I do know is that I believe in the Lessons To Be Learned above, and that it takes just as long to be kind and positive to someone as it does to be nasty and condescending to them.
Those of us who have been given the gift of mentoring, coaching, training or counseling others have a responsibility to use communication tools at our disposal wisely…and this includes our mouths. If someone needs a stern wake-up call, it is often our jobs to give it to them. But, for heaven’s sake, do it in a manner that we and others will be proud of, and that will actually be beneficial to the recipient.
In other words, do you really need to say that?
If you do, what is the best way to say it?