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To fend off LinkedIn lurkers, listen to your inner voice

Whatever the topic, whatever the industry, whatever the scandal, there's a recurring theme that pops up when people offer advice about sniffing out frauds.

In so many words, they say, "Listen to that voice inside saying something's not quite right....watch out."

Both the discerning and the duped communicate the same message. The discerning are the ones who blew the whistle, alerted the authorities, stopped the scam-in-progress. The duped are the ones who had a notion that they should ask that additional question, question the detail that didn't seem quite right, or seek out another opinion...but chose to ignore that inner voice.

"If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn't," goes the saying. In those contexts when you are the one bringing up facts or figures that are staggering in scope, it's a cliché that you would do well to give voice to first. It's an effective communications precept that the likes of Amway Executive Diamond Bill Hawkins have employed.

Hawkins, a World Wide DreamBuilders (WWG) leader, has trained thousands of people over the past 30-plus years how to communicate the Amway sales and marketing plan, which includes eye-popping bonuses that alone can exceed what people earn annually. Of course, as Hawkins relates, you would not simply convey that information as if it is a "done deal," but instead might refer to the "too good to be true" truism and add that qualifying for the bonus requires hard work and persistence that most do not exercise.

We live in an era when we might get overly self-congratulatory as we sidestep the blatant email scams from Nigerian bankers looking to deposit millions in our bank account (but only after we send them a modest sum of earnest money). Meanwhile, we must keep our deception-detectors sharpened for more subtle forms of chicanery.

One chink in our armor is our susceptibility to allowing strangers into our social media networks.

Just as people hide behind e-mails, LinkedIn has spawned a growing population that hides behind its all-too-easy process of connecting people with one another. Instead of picking up the phone or sending an email to initiate a dialogue, some simply click on the LinkedIn invitation without so much as taking a moment to explain who they are and why such a connection should happen.

Over the years, I have had varying degrees of diligence in fending off these inquiries, although lately I have renewed the vigor that I bring to the task. Last month, a woman from the Chicago area, working in the marketing field, sought to Link-In with me. She had what appeared to be a respectable background in marketing, claimed to have graduated from a solid college and her photo projected a professional, attractive image.

In addition, I saw that she was connected to a friend. So after sitting on the request for a few days, I shot him an email asking what he knew about her. His reply: "I think she connected to me recently. Didn't seem weird so I said yes. But I don't really know her."

Red flag.

He doesn't know her, and I don't know her. My friend and I are not household names, but we have invested more than a half-century, combined, in building up what we would like to think are solid reputations for integrity and professionalism. Why allow a stranger to piggyback on that? Why confer credibility by association when we have never really associated?

Rather than blindly accept a connection, or feel like you are missing out on a potentially rewarding one, try this bit of good, old-fashioned communication:

Hello,

Thank you for inviting me to Link-In with you!

Whenever possible, I like to have more than a cursory personal connection with / knowledge of someone before Linking In. Since we are both so local, would you be interested in meeting in person sometime and establishing that face-to-face connection?

In these few words, I hope that I've reasonably and effectively explained my rationale and that you don't take offense to this proposed intermediate step. I genuinely hope we can create a stronger connection that can benefit us both in the future.

Sincerely,

(Insert your name)

From there, you can expect one of three basic paths:

1. The person fades away, unwilling to put quality into what is now revealed to be a quantity-driven approach. Feel like a number much?

2. The person responds favorably, and you arrange that personal meeting. If he or she is truly sincere, it will happen at your convenience--meaning you won't have to travel as far as the one making the overture.

3. The person responds negatively, chastising you for having the gall to actually desire a real-life interaction. Good riddance to them.

The above sample of drawing out a Linked-In lurker may not be a perfect fit for you. Simply adapt it so that it's genuinely your tone and style. But whatever course you choose to take, don't let the lurker's persistence and shamelessness drown out the volume of your inner voice.