So, Just What Is A Connection?

By Nigel Cliffe

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How often do you receive the following mundane message from people wishing to connect on LinkedIn?

‘I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn.’

Most of the time, I’d say – which is tremendously annoying!

But before I go into why this happens, and what you can do about it, from both the perspective of the receiver and dare I say the sender, lets go right back to what a connection is.

A long time ago we used to have friends and friends of friends we called acquaintances. Research would have it that you probably have true friends amounting to no more than 6 to 12 people. I, for one, would argue that this number is too low. I count as true friends a much greater number than this. Who would you drop your plans to help in times of trouble? Who would you call to celebrate a special moment?

Social Media has brought about a redefinition of a friend, but I, for one, don’t particularly like the change.

So in this world of connectedness – just what does it mean to have a connection?

“For me, a connection is defined as someone I have had a relationship with, either in person, or through online communication, that added in some way to my life”.

Take LinkedIn for example. I used to be very limited in my approach to being willing to add a connection if I had not met someone in person. But in these days of developing some very meaningful relationships online, I began to challenge my own definition of the term. I have gone on to develop some very close and meaningful relationships with people I have ONLY ever met online, including one which turned into a business before we had actually met!

These days, if I have an honest request to connect with someone for the betterment of my life, I hold out a willing hand to connect or be connected with.

However, that doesn’t mean I connect with everyone who wishes to do so – no sir. And you shouldn’t do so either. Here’s why:

The very definition of LinkedIn, and its core mission statement is this:

“To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful”.

In short, a networking environment. So in general terms, I keep my settings pretty open to be connected with. I can’t see much point in being here if I am ‘locked-down’. However, this does mean that if I let people into my network at a first-degree level, they automatically join my trusted network at a level yet undeserved. I’m simply not going to let this happen. Let me emphasize the importance of trust here. The order of engagement in any relationship will follow these key stages:

Know – Like – Trust

Never will you trust someone before you know or like them. (There is one exception to this which I’ll cover later).

That being so, I do not allow ‘anyone’ into my trusted network without having had some sort of relationship which I can recall.

So, how and why should you reach out to someone?

How to connect on LinkedIn

There is ONLY ONE WAY to connect properly on LinkedIn, and it is this:

Only use the ‘Connect’ button adjacent underneath the person’s image on their profile page.

Never, never, use any other option LinkedIn provides to connect. Here’s why:

Any request you make to connect with someone should always be personalised. It is not good etiquette to simply say: ‘I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn’. The only place that allows you to personalise this message is from the person’s profile page. If you only take one grain of benefit from reading this article, I hope it will be this one.

Why should you reach out to connect with someone?

Well only you may know that, but if we rely on referrals alone when developing new business, we might not be able to generate enough business to fill our engagement pipeline. By profiling people we already have as clients and searching for people who fit the same profile, we can often reach new connections who might very well be pleased to find you too.

How should I respond to the bland request to connect on LinkedIn?

This can be a tricky one. Ninety per cent of the requests I receive fall into this category. Should I reject them all? In short, no. The reason is that most often the person sending the request has not had the advice given above to know how to do it in the first place! They may very well have a legitimate reason for the request which might need further explanation. So I send them this:

Hi [Insert Name],

Thank you for the invitation to connect.

I don’t think we have met in person (please forgive me if we have!).

I am open to connecting with people I have not yet met and who are willing to begin building a relationship, but I would like to know what it is about my profile that motivated you to invite me to your network.

I believe in having a network not built on numbers, but on the ability to refer other connections, which requires some sort of conversation in order to maintain credibility (on both our parts).

Could you please share with me a little bit about why you would like to connect, and how we might both benefit from the mutual connection?

Many thanks,


 I can tell you this reply gets two types of response:

  1. You never hear back
  2. You receive an apologetic detailed reply providing evidence of why the person wished to connect with you. Voila! A relationship begins.

Those in category 1) were simply playing the numbers game. You don’t want to know them.

Those in category 2) are your new opportunities. Reach out to them. Ask what you can do for them. Continue the conversation…

I said I’d get back to the one exception that breaks the rule of Know, Like, Trust. It is this. How many times has a person you don’t know said I have contacted you because you have been recommended to me by so and so? In this instance the trust afforded to you has been generously offered by a connection that affords you a higher status of trust at the commencement of that relationship. Do not let that person down. Treat it as a gift. It has come about as a result of your prior dealings with that person and should be treat with the highest degree of respect.

Now go on – make yourself some great connections!

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