A few years ago I completed the sale of my company and have been doing freelance technical and business start-up consulting. After listening to a cast on the importance of being on Linkedin, I acted on the MT recommendation and signed up. I am trying to be selective in the contact requests that I accept since I have a different emphasis now and there is a fixed number of connections that can be reasonably maintained with regular communications.

Do you have a suggested polite and respectful text to turn down a request and not make the person feel put off?

ken_wills's picture

 Great question, Hammond.

If I can respectfully suggest: you should feel free to link to more people than with whom you'll "maintain regular communications."  If you limit your LinkedIn contacts with that criteria, you'll only link to people you know - and I think you'll lose out on some of the power that comes not from the people you link to, but being able to connect to other through them...

There certainly ought to be people within your LinkedIn contacts with whom you communicated regularly - and maybe even several "levels" or concentric circles (e.g., people you reach out to quarterly, twice a year, annually). m But I think you're limiting yourself unnecessarily if every time you consider linking to someone, you're automatically adding them to a communications "To-Do" list...


I tend to two options only: Accept, or Delete.


Here are some of the criteria/thoughts I go through:

1. Do I know them?

2. Do I have an employer in common with them?

3. Do we have many contacts in common?

3. Have they personalized the invite?

If I can't say "yes" to any of these questions, it's really unlikely that I'm going to link - and I just delete the invite.



jfarrall's picture


No need to respond to deleting a request to connect within LinkedIn (LI). A message is always sent if a person accepts, but nothing is sent unless you reply. Unless someone is persistent - by going back through invites and seeing those that were not accepted and resending them, don't feel badly about enforcing your right to accept or reject someone from "your" network. After all, it is yours, and, as Ken Wills suggests above, feel no regrets about declining anyone or everyone that you don't personally invite yourself. Since LI mirrors the real world, I would suggest that declining a non-personalized invite is similar to tossing out business cards someone handed you at a conference that a few days later you knew you were never likely to ever call. As someone new to LI, realize though there are heavy consequences for people getting the "I Don't Know" responses, so use that reply with prudence. LI looks upon the IDK button as a way to police spammers and others who build massive networks as a business. Someone you might not "know" but who invited you to connect with good intentions does not deserve a real world equivalent slap in the face.

However, also there are a couple of potential "best practices" you may want to consider (perhaps for a future podcast):

1) Have a personal networking policy, and use it if you do want to reply, or qualify the person asking for acceptance

2) Have a boiler plate easily found and copy/paste it as your response for people who might be outside your policy and/or are persistent. For example,

  • Thank you for the invitation to connect. Before I click accept, 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? Have we recently met? 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, expertise, and personal branding. As such, I want to know a little more about you than I do right now. If you would like to call to discuss this, I can be reached at 216.222.xxxx. 

    Thank you, again, and I look forward to hearing from you. 

3) Review your network and your thinking about what you use it for at least annually.

I have found over the years that I have gotten more liberal in who I accept, as I try and foster younger professionals developing their careers, and frankly, as I have developed connections in the LI world I never would have had if I had only my rather highly specialized circles in the physical world to use. I have been, except for one small incident, overwhelmed and honored to "get to know" some of those people on LI, some of whom are now very "inner circle" people for me to bounce ideas off of and seek council from. I hope you develop a strong on-line network. Sounds like you have a strong real network to start from, so it should be easy enough.

Some other great discussion points made by others are linked below. If you have not yet found or used the Q&A portion of LI, do yourself a favor and search for some topics that interest you. BTW, the questions and answers being asked, unless you do broader searches are those by your 1, 2, and 3rd connections.


John R. Farrall, CFA

Senior Vice President, Director of Derivatives Strategies


bug_girl's picture

That little blub on how to respond is very useful, John! Thank you!!

*copies/saves*  :)

jhack's picture

LinkedIn is not Facebook.  There is no expectation that you will maintain a high degree of interactivity with former colleagues.

Many people accept LinkedIn contacts if they meet two criteria:  they know the person, and their reputation is fine. 

After all, they too may be changing their career focus, and you might again do business together. 

John Hack

hammond's picture

I have been using the ideas and suggestions you all provided and appreciate the thoughtful comments. My request in box has been cleared and I feel like it was done in a respectful way.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Folks - good thread here, thanks for helping a fellow member.

I'm not a good guy to ask, because of the (*!*@#*#*!$) public nature of my role.  If someone I don't know says they listen to the cast, I do feel obliged to say yes.  I have only said no to one person who requested to be connected.  I knew them and didn't like them.  They've asked again, and they have been told to stop.

THAT SAID, I have noticed what I think is LinkedIn spam lately.  People with (sometimes) different names, with only one contact, and no indication of their knowledge of me, requesting to connect.  My gut is telling me they're just linking to get connected to my network... it just felt wrong.

I talked about this in a recent (or upcoming) Things I Think I Think newsletter.  I recommend paying attention and not blindly saying yes.


afmoffa's picture

Refusing a handshake or declining to take a business card is almost an affront, but I hope (and expect) that the etiquette evolving around LinkedIn/ Facebook permits us to be more selective, perhaps even making "no" our default answer to requests from strangers.

The trouble with you (Mark) being an Internet Personality is that you've preached the gospel of "always let people into your network," which is a good approach for the 99% of people who are not Internet Personalities. And as the social media revolution keeps turning, we may all need to be a bit more selective. You just reached that point a little earlier than the rest of us.

Per your advice, I'd be honored to become part of your network if we met in person, (and frankly, a bit dismayed if you didn't add me, given your advice about building your network far and wide). But if you rejected a LinkedIn request from me (or any other Internet stranger whom you don't know from a Tetris block), I wouldn't be upset.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

If you're a member, and you tell me so in your request, I'll agree. PARTICULARLY if you let me know your user name here, and I recognize it.  it would be the least I could do as thanks for your attitude of helping others.


jfarrall's picture

Along the thought lines of who to accept or why, there was a fairly recent poll in LinkedIn on the topic of how many people you "know" in your network that was very interesting to me. The pollster probably asked the wrong questions and biased the results, which is easy to do in polls, but the responses were amazing at over 11,000 completing the poll before it was closed, plus over 1,100 people not only answered the poll but also left some comments.

Hopefully the link below works for those who are "LinkedIn"; not certain if it works if you are not:

Since I recently posted a response, including some links to the excellent related podcasts from Career Tools, and this discussion, I thought I would mention it to those participating here that it is out there. Not certain how many people have explored the Q&A or poll sections of LinkedIn, but I find them a great "free" resource to many topics and great value add to having a large network. (I pay for premium content in both Manager Tools and LinkedIn, as I find them of value, so they are not "free" per se to me.)

Back when I thought LinkedIn was some kind of electronic rolodex (Plaxo) or scam, I accepted an invite, then didn't do much for about six months. I was surprised in the Q&A sections at some point that everyone was asking and answering questions about tech-related Microsoft or Cisco black-belt training. Then it dawned on me that my "network" of the guy who invited me was really his network that I was eavesdropping into since I had no network of my own. 

A lot of people, including our Mark Horstman to some degree, are correctly cautious about reputation risk and who you might connect to, or for what reasons someone want to connect to you. Well, you have a lot of choice in what you want your network to be, and who to accept. However, the power of LinkedIn is that your network can be levered to people and thoughts you otherwise would not have any access to know.

At any rate, just because your are "open" to any invite, this does not mean that you cannot discriminate and have to actually accept them, or quickly dump them after accepting them, or personally recommend them, nor be able to do a one-on-one or know their kids names. Plus, as time goes by and things change, your focus might change or they have issues that cause you to drop them. On the other hand, you might finally meet them in person and have a drink with them after five years of having a 2D relationship of emails and updates.

Strange virtual world and new tool that you can decide how to implement. 

Good luck to you in what is a "personal branding" opportunity in my mind. Connect to who you want, don't to those you don't want to, say what you want on your profile, realize this is all public and your reputation is at stake, or can be improved (or detracted) by any answer you post or person you accept. It's your brand... Manage it as you think is best.

Although a bit old, being written before Y2K and far before social media became mainstream, I recommend you read and then contemplate how a tool like LinkedIn might have been included in Tom Peter's thoughts about the Brand You 50:


P.S. Check out or ask a question to your "network" soon. You might be stunned about the quality of responses and how people go out of their way to help you find a decent answer. And... If you see a decent answer, think about reaching out to "connect" with intelligent people you would want to associate with in the future.


jocadl's picture

Hi all,

I feel I must echo what John just said and add another perspective. I'm currently completing college on the sidelines (guess it's time for a bio/intro, expect that from me the coming week...). And as part of my college work, I recently studied how "social software" (like LinkedIn) can be applied to get work done on projects, especially in virtual teams. Just as anyone studying this subject would, I came across the works of Mark Granovetter and his theory on "the strength of weak ties".

Consider this: social software lets you maintain a larger and wider network than traditionally possible. Furthermore, social software allows people to "refer" contacts, or content, simply with a couple mouse clicks, within their own respective networks. Say you have a problem or an interest in some exotic situation or discipline. You might not know anyone directly who can help, even if your network of LinkedIn connections already is broader than your "real life" network. But by forwarding your inquiry to their respective contacts, your own acquaintances can significantly -- SIGNIFICANTLY! -- increase your problem solving power. What if one of your friends' friends happens to be the world-leading expert on your current area of need, and interested in helping you out? You could have instant access in less than 24 hours.

Granovetter argued back in the 1970s that "weak ties" in social networks are actually much better suited for problem solving or expertise gathering than the "strong ties" you have with actual friends. Simply because your network of "weak ties" carries less redundancies and is more likely to tap into areas of expertise entirely different from your own. Read for yourself if you're curious:

It sure pays off to have people in your network that aren't "real world" friends. Why not connect with people you're unlikely to ever meet again, but who were interesting acquaintances from a conference, or someone you've done business with 20 years ago.

Hope this helps, and wasn't too long or otherwise inappropriate. I just liked to share.