In this post, I will look with my sociolinguist’s lens at the “request an introduction” as a speech act as one of the mechanisms for asking for things that LinkedIn operationalizes.
One of the greatest connectors that I know IRL (“in real life”) is Dr. Carole Sargent, the Director of Georgetown University’s office of Scholarly Publications. She and I are connected on LinkedIn, and looking at her profile, I see that she is connected many folks who are contributors on NPR. Say that I find a particular person who is in a part of the country that I am going to be traveling to, and I have an idea that I would like to get some feedback on. In the parlance of LinkedIn, I might ask Carole to introduce me to some people that she knows who would be a second degree connection for me (we both know Carole). LinkedIn organizes this interaction by, creating the message, warning me that the text that I compose asking for this introduction might be forwarded just as it is so as to make me think about audience design, even attending to negative face needs by suggesting that I give an “out” to Carole “be professional and give Carole Sargent a way to say “no””
This scaffolding might give a sense for the potential interactional pitfalls, the face implications that underlie this interactional event of my asking Carole for this introduction. Facework foursquare below is adapted from research that I have done with Laura West on Facebook:
Starting with my negative face, LinkedIn does work to make asking this favor easy for me by not being too onerous or burdensome, also LinkedIn helps me do positive facework towards myself by telling me how it is that I can look smart and savvy and worthy of the introduction. My positive face needs demand that I “craft my message like a pro.” Now, thinking of Carole. Asking this favor is a potential threat, especially to her negative face, because I am imposing on her time. By reminding me to give her an out, LinkedIn calls attention to this need, so that she can say no (or ignore my request) without damaging her positive face. And while this can do positive facework for her, by telling her that she is “someone I trust” there is another potential facethreat here, which is that by taking this action myself, I have not given her the opportunity to accomplish positive facework for me in making the introduction. While I am often delighted to pass on a resume if I have been the one to see the connection between someone’s skills and interests and an organization’s needs, I can sometimes feel resentful if someone seems to be pressuring me to pass on a resume when I don’t feel that the time is right or that the fit is right or that I am not the right person. Be mindful that if LinkedIn has taken care of some of the manoevering behind the scenes, when an organizational need arises, sometimes the connection can be found naturally. The work that you can do is to make sure that you are the person who is found when that happens.
And when that is not enough, and you need to be a bit more overt in your reaching out, what Brown and Levinson might call “baldly,” now you know what you are doing when you do this, and let your language be shaped by awareness of face needs (imagining how you would feel if you were the person being asked).