A reader writes:
Four years ago, I worked at a company that hired a junior person to assist an adjacent department. She was never my assistant and I did not work closely with her; in fact, she only touched one project for my group. We were not close, but we were friendly and I think she looked up to me a bit, as one of the few women in the office in a managerial role. I left the company and eventually she did as well (she might have been let go). We are linked on social media/LinkedIn but otherwise haven’t kept in touch.
This past year, she has asked me five times to introduce her to different people in my circle, and I just got another request. I did/do want to help, but it is becoming a bit much! And I really don’t have much to say about her work performance. As far as I could tell and have heard from former colleagues, she was not a great or a terrible employee.
I have turned down some of her previous introduction requests, saying I did not know the person well enough to introduce her to them. With one of them, I did intervene and sent a nice email about her, introduced the two of them, and recommended her for a position (which I should not have done in retrospect, since I probably do not have enough information on her as an employee).
I am torn because I would like to be nice and to be someone who helps out other women in my field, but at the same time I feel like this is an inappropriate number of requests from someone I am not that close to and that I have already tried helping her. But I feel like I have already set expectations that I would put her in touch with people based on my previous responses.
Am I being stingy with my contacts? Should I keep introducing her to people? And if not, what would be a kind way of telling her that I am not going to continue to help?
First, no, you’re not being stingy with your contacts. You didn’t work closely with her, she might have been fired from the job you know her from, you can’t vouch for her work. You’ve tried to help in the past, but five requests in a year is a lot for someone you don’t know well. Hell, it’s a lot for someone you do know well.
Your relationships with people in your network have value. Part of that value is your credibility and your judgment. If you ask someone to talk to your former coworkers and they’re not impressed, they’re probably going to be a little less interested in the next person you ask them to talk to. That’s why it’s not really reasonable for someone who doesn’t know you well to make numerous requests of you like this, unless you’ve specifically told them that it’s okay to.
Of course you want to be a nice person and help out other people in your field — but there are ways to do that that don’t mean using up your own capital on someone whose work you can’t vouch for. If you want to help people, offer to answer questions about your field, give advice, share your own experiences … but you’re not obligated to turn over your contacts on demand, and that’s especially true when someone is making multiple requests like this.
It’s also reasonable for you to make choices about where you spend your helping-others energy. You can be generous with your help in general but still decide that you aren’t getting a great feeling about how this person is managing her relationship with you and that you thus would prefer to invest your (presumably limited) energies elsewhere.
So, how to respond to her? I’d just be honest: “I don’t think I can continue making connections — I’ve got a limited amount of requests I can make to my network and have already arranged a couple of introductions. But I’m going to be at the Big Industry Conference in April and would love to catch up with you if you’ll be there.” That last sentence can be anything that’s reasonably kind, even if it’s just “I hope things are going well for you and that our paths cross soon” or whatever.