By now, most of you probably read about Kelly Blazek’s recent email snafu and the tumultuous fallout that surrounds it. In case you haven’t, Ms. Blazek, the head of a local job bank in Cleveland, OH, responded very poorly when a young job seeker, Diana Mekota, contacted her. Blazek essentially lambasted the job seeker after Mekota sought to connect LinkedIn accounts with her. Mekota also asked Blazek to assist her with her job search by sharing her exorbitant list of LinkedIn connections.
If Blazek had politely turned her away or ignored Mekota request, I wouldn’t have a story to write about. Instead, Blazek did the unthinkable. In an email response, Blazek derided Mekota for her lack of experience. Blazek continued her tirade by discriminating against young job seekers in general by claiming that Mekota had a sense of entitlement and noting the imbalance in power between what the two of them had to offer one another. Mekota promptly responded by showing Blazek’s ‘nasty gram’ to all of her friends and family via social network such as twitter and reddit. As much as some people may bemoan the immediacy of the internet in this day and age, the transparency that it creates (along with the democratization of information) keeps us all honest and holds us accountable for the things we say or do. If you wish to read the original email in its entirety, it’s saved on imgur here.
Two Sides of a Coin with Email Etiquette
If we examine this situation in Diana’s defense, what Kelly Blazek did was rude, disgusting, uncalled for, and (most of all) unprofessional. Mekota is a young job seeker. She most likely doesn’t know the etiquette for approaching a professional like Blazek. More importantly, she was probably very frustrated in her job hunt. Diana Mekota had just graduated from a school in a different state, moved back to Ohio, and was on the prowl for that ‘dream job.’ Sure, her approach was a bit forward and probably circumvented LinkedIn etiquette. However, Blazek’s response was really uncalled for and didn’t suit whatever minor breach in manners Mekota may have committed. Furthermore, Kelly’s words were not only insulting to her recipient, but to young professional job seekers everywhere. She insulted and belittled Diana when she told her “Your invite to connect is inappropriate…I cannot wait to let every 26 year old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job.” In doing so, Blazek implies that Diana (and by extension every young, ambitious professional) has nothing of true value to offer. Blazek’s words were tacky and hurtful.
As my grandfather always says, every story has two sides. I would never seek to defend Kelly Blazek and her actions. Rather, I would prefer to examine and explain them. Blazek most likely built her ‘incredible list’ of professional connections through brand/image authority and goodwill in the community. What’s remarkably ironic is that Blazek may very well have destroyed this carefully crafted reputation through a single email. While Blazek certainly could have politely dismissed or ignored Mekota’s email (and will now probably ‘reap what she has sown’), Blazek could have essentially ruined her ‘brand’ by turning her connections over ‘to the masses.’ Scarcity is the very thing that creates value in regards to Blazek’s connections.
I have little interest in playing the blame game with this post. Countless other blogs and news sites have already covered this story in great detail. Instead, I’m interested in studying the effect internet has on our communication as a whole. In short, does the immediacy and the autonomous nature of the internet tarnish modern communication in business and life?
Do We Work in a Big Vacuum?
Most of us are familiar with the term troll. A few people get together and discuss a serious topic. Perhaps the discussion becomes overly serious and borders on the realm of self parody. All of a sudden, some joker pops in and attempts to derail this serious discussion through ill mannered, controversial statements. However, why does this phenomenon occur? Some experts believe that trolls (along with other internet misbehaviors) arise due to the ‘faceless’ nature of our interaction on the internet. Think about it: if you could say and do (to a certain degree) whatever you wanted to with very few repercussions, would you? Some people would answer “of course not.” A majority of the average internet users may even echo this sentiment. Some people would not. Could Kelly Blazek have been influenced by the internet? Could all of her actions be blamed on a simple flaw in the very nature of connected, online, modern life and business?
Not quite. I’m not ready to let Ms. Blazek off the hook just yet. I certainly don’t assume that I know just what Blazek was thinking at the time she wrote her email. If I had to guess, I would assume she was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of desperate job seekers. I also would assume that Blazek never imagined that her email would reach so many people through social media. I’m sure many of us have had at least one moment in our lives when we did or said something that we wish we could take back. Unfortunately for Blazek, she cannot un-send that sent email and what’s done is done. I believe that those aforementioned things along with the anonymous nature of the internet contributed to Blazek’s ill fated email. Kelly Blazek apologized for her actions and may yet spend time atoning for her actions. The good news for all of us is that we may learn from Kelly’s mistake.
If you work primarily in the online sphere, make sure you screen your communication and your image. Try to clean up any things that could embarrass you or the company you work for. Always read through the messages you write and ask yourself: “would I be saying this if my recipient were standing right in front of me?” Try to think of your emails as online letters or even a really slow, physical conversation you’re holding with someone. Professionalism is the key. Furthermore, if you are attempting to secure a job, a perfect image becomes all the more imperative. Some people toss out the ‘basics’ while communicating over the internet. But, I say we should look back to the basics to enhance our communication within the realm of new technology.
The internet may carry with it an absolute mine field of social snafus. When dealing with professional, business communication over the internet, we cannot loosen our restraint. If you communicate primarily over the internet for your work or if you are an ambitious job seeker, please comment on this post. We would love to hear about your experiences.