Asymmetrical Relationships and LinkedIn

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875413_balance Any time you take the complexity of real human relationships and try to break them down into very simple codification, you’re bound to have some challenges. In LinkedIn, you’re basically either connected or you aren’t — in or out. Some people let everyone in, others only let in those that they know well.

But what about someone who knows you well, but you don’t know them well? This is called an “asymmetrical relationship”, and they present a significant challenge for those who prefer to use LinkedIn to connect with people they “know and trust”.

See, people who have worked together in the same office may both have a pretty good idea of the other’s professional skills, personality, etc. Or if you’ve engaged someone for B2B services — legal, accounting, management consulting, etc. — then the supplier may know the client fairly well professionally, as well as the client knowing the supplier.

But what if it’s a B2C service? How well does your barber/stylist know your business? The person you bought your car from? Your personal insurance agent? The owner of a local restaurant where you’re a regular? You know their services well enough to recommend them, but they probably can’t say the same about you.

In my own situation, I encounter this when I give speaking engagements. If someone listens to me give a presentation for an hour, they pretty much know my expertise and can recommend me, at least for speaking engagements. But I don’t know them at all.

Should I connect with them or not?

I do. In fact, at the end of my presentations, I usually invite everyone in attendance to send me a LinkedIn invitation. I tell them, though, that they must say in their invitation that they attended my presentation, or else they may not get a reply from me.

When I reply, I also tell them I’m interested in collecting relationships, not electronic links. I read everyone’s profile thoroughly, look for common connections or possible ways for us to work together, and give them a personalized reply. Most importantly, I invite a dialog so that we can get to know each other better.

Does it work?

It takes a fair amount of effort, but I think the return is well worth it. For example, last week I did a talk to several hundred recruiters. Nearly 20% of the attendees have sent me a connection invitation, and at least three have already turned into specific business opportunities of some kind. But the real payoff is this:

Thanks Scott,

I checked out your site and also the e-book. These are great services that you provide.

Whereas most “open network” users simply collect connections, I can respect your being particular in accepting invites but also how you back up your tenet of creating value. I am new to networking and have a lot to learn but so far, you are the only connection that has shown selfless service and value in having a relationship with you. I hope that I am able to reciprocate in the near future. Thanks for setting the example of walking the talk and a personal reply.

Warm wishes for the holidays to you and yours.



Remember that one of the most important things in networking is to be memorable (in a positive way). And that takes more than a mouse click.

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  1. Timely post. I am taking a good look at my LinkedIn connections and realize that I know some of these are connections in only a cursory way. I work at the same firm as a lot of my connections and may have seen the names on memos, email etc..but I do not personally know their work. Alsor, they do not personally know my work. So some of these connections are just, as you stated, “electronic” links.

  2. Hi Scott,
    I did attend one of your presentations eons ago, when you were first doing your webinars. You’ve continued to build on your valuable advice which I appreciate very much. So, my question on this post is…What features could/should LinkedIn build to help sort out this asymmetry?

    Features like Facebook’s Social Timeline, or being able to categorize your lists of connections after classifying them, perhaps having classifications automatically created for you based on activity levels, would provide ways better leveraging this asymmetry. I don’t think it would turn everyone into open networkers, but it might encourage just a few more loose connections to be maintained.

  3. I joined Linked in and do a lot of live networking, so I get lots of Linked In invitations. Although I know it should be making using of them, I didn’t really know where to start. Thanks for the useful tips.

  4. Way to break the relationships down. I typically stray from any sort of social networking site; whether it is for business or personal use. This is because like you said, it does take a lot of effort and it also take maintenance, consistency and I don’t really enjoy creating relationships with people. I guess I need to get around this some how if I ever intend on starting my business!


  5. This is fantastic advice about LinkedIn. I’m an attorney and am in your shoes – my clients know me, but I don’t necessarily know about their business as a customer.

    I like your approach in the way you leverage the connection with a mention about your talk. It’s networking. I’m just starting to work on LinkedIn (looking into it seriously) and I can see from this post that it can by extremely valuable when done right. It’s cyber-networking which I love to do.

  6. I think your suggestion about telling people to include a note about where or how you’ve met, however briefly, is the key. If a lot of people might have this type of asymmetrical relationship with you, you’re probably going to get a lot of connection requests. It makes it pretty hard to process, let alone remember when you might have met those people.

    Even a short one- or two-sentence note with the source of the connection makes that person go from some random stranger on LinkedIn (or any other social network for that matter) to someone with whom you have something in common.

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