Much has been said of the recent kerfuffle over Kelly Blazek’s snarky rejection message to a LinkedIn connection request and message from jobseeker Diana Mekota and how it went viral when Mekota posted the message to Imgur, Reddit, and Facebook.

If the big headline is that an obviously serious HR operator may have seriously damaged her career by trying to teach a millennial jobseeker a lesson, I think there are added insights for all of us who work more and more with generations different than our own.

While you can make a case that this is simply a cautionary tale about how sending mean or disrespectful email messages are always a bad idea, its also fair to characterize Blazek’s entire response to Mekota as a generational disagreement about what LinkedIn is used for. As much as it feels like a personal contact database to some people, it is actually a public database by design. To be clear, Mekota did not have to do anything special to reach out to Blazek, she simply used the platform in a way it is designed to be used. As much as Blazek might believe that senior professionals should not be approached by younger and less experienced individuals, creating a presence on LinkedIn opens the doors for just that. Even more telltale is that Mekota’s very measured response to Blazek’s email shows that she was actually trying to create a LinkedIn connection not to leverage Blazeks contact network, but to provide easier access to Mekota’s own CV. Another perfectly aligned use of LinkedIn.

This is a very concrete example of how different people, organizations, generations, and cultures use and interface with technology and especially social media differently. One person thinks they are carefully cultivating a personal network of connections, another person thinks a connection is the best way to open up her own information to a potential employer. Some people think nothing of writing something in an email that they would never, ever say to someone face to face. Some people have no problem sharing this nasty email with every person that has access to an internet browser. Yikes.

I think my best takeaway is to remember that in all ways, a social media presence doesn’t actually belong to you – it is public and easily searchable. As your presence grows you will get unsolicited requests of many kinds. Come up with a strategy for them ahead of time. (For jobseekers that seem to be overleveraging this kind of access to you, a nice note pointing out the proper channels for something like this would obviously work better than a snarky response. For a work acquaintance that makes an uncomfortable request to friend/follow you on a more personal social media platform, a brief no thank you explaining your desire to keep your personal and professional profiles separate on social media might work nicely.) And always remember that not everyone you come into contact with in the virtual world is operating under the same set of assumptions as you. Allow for some grace to smooth over the misunderstandings and you may protect yourself from being misunderstood.

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