This week’s winning question about co-workers comes from TJ. She or he submitted the following question to our Talk to the Work Buzz! Contest.
What is the best way to decline a co-worker’s social networking request?
The awkward thanks-but-no-thanks answer to any request in the professional world is always peculiar. Do you really want to order magazines from your supervisor’s son? No, probably not. You can either get stuck forking over the cash and receiving a year’s worth of String Cheese Monthly, or you could just politely decline the request (while fearing that you’ll become the most hated employee in the company).
Social media (think LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) has added another element to the situation. Unless you’ve set your privacy settings so that you’re invisible to certain users, colleagues can log on to a site and look for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re cubicle buddies who are also best friends or professional enemies who only glare at each other menacingly during conferences, they can find you. Sometimes they can be people you don’t know that well, but you know enough to be certain you don’t want to know more.
Thanks to these sites, one evening you’re unwinding after a long day. You’ve got American Idol on the DVR and a pizza on the way, and then you see the dreaded notification: So-and-so has request to add you as a friend. You want to say no, but can you? How do you turn them down without being rude? You have a few options, and we’ll work our way from the least awkward to the most:
1. Accept the request and live with the consequences.
Once you let someone see your posts, which can range from innocuous to funny to personal to offensive, you’ve opened yourself up to a new relationship with them. Even if your in-person relationship stays the same, they have access to information that helps them form an opinion of you. Plus, they can forward anything they see to other people in the company. Or you could end up best friends. Just remember the pros and cons.
2. Accept the request but let restrict what they can and cannot see.
It’s only awkward if they realize you’re restricting what they can see. Although they might be curious as to what’s being hidden, they probably won’t say anything and you’ll feel more comfortable only showing what you want.
3. Ignore the request indefinitely and just hope the issue disappears.
In the professional world, pretending like nothing awkward is happening is not that uncommon. Therefore this move might not be such a bad deal. But if you’re changing your profile picture or adding mutual friends, they’ll start to notice you’re obviously an active user who’s ignoring them.
4. Reject the request and don’t say anything.
This scenario gives you the relief of not friending them, but it makes you feel uncomfortable around them. If you’re going to be bold enough not to accept their request, you’re probably better off going with option No. 5.
5. Reject the request and explain why.
If you’re going to say no to a professional friend request from someone whom you work with regularly, explain why. Say, “I prefer to keep that profile separate from any work stuff just to be safe. I don’t want anyone seeing the embarrassing high school pictures. I was so goofy!” (You could be more concerned that they’ll see your beer pong championship pictures, but feel free to keep that private.) It will convey the message that you don’t mix your professional and social lives, and that should be it. An easy way to put this plan into practice is to have different profiles for different reasons. Used BrightFuse for professional networking and keep Facebook and Twitter for fun stuff.
Of course, the last option can cause trouble if you’re not honest. Perhaps you don’t want to be friends with that particular person, but you are online friends with several other people at the company. That’s your option and you have every right to do it, but remember that people talk and it won’t necessarily be a secret for long. Omar in HR will tell Lydia in accounts payable how funny your latest status update is and she will tell your friend requestor, who will then realize you lied to him or her.
As with so many things, honest is the best policy. Don’t get caught in a lie or the situation will just get worse. As a professional, remember the following:
- Your information can be passed around once it’s online, so think twice before you post a picture of yourself passed out in the lawn of a Dave Matthews Band concert.
- Restrict your pubic profile and searchability if you know you don’t want certain groups finding you (and putting you in this awkward situation).
- Once you accept one workplace friend request, you open yourself up to many more.
If, despite your best efforts, you still find yourself in an uncomfortable friend request situation, don’t feel pressured to cave in. Don’t do anything that will make you uncomfortable because the fun of social networking and of work will disappear quickly. Few people will hold a grudge about a Facebook rejection (if it comes with a good explanation). But careers can and have been ruined by the wrong people seeing the wrong information.
Thanks for the question, TJ, and enjoy your copy of “Career Building.”
Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Let us know how you dealt with it!