“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

It still boggles my mind how many people seem to think that, online, no one is looking. Being behind a screen makes people invisible, and thus they can (and will) act in ways they never would face to face. No one knows you’re a dog, and all that…

Except that who is naive enough to believe that anymore? A few seconds of googling, the myriad social networks out there (with their oft-ignored or inaccurately used privacy settings) and you can find out just about anything you might — or might not — want to know.

Now, this isn’t a soapbox delivery to The Kids These Days about being careful with their “pics or it didn’t happen” indiscretions. (Though, seriously, people.)

This is about something I find even more odd and ill-advised. About people bringing their virtual bad manners back into the real world. I dunno if the grandmas are slacking off and letting folks out the door without clean undies and common courtesy or what, but I’ve been privy to rather a lot of behaviour that just leaves a lingering bad impression, and, as I’ll illustrate, tends to have rather longer-lasting results than I think a lot of people realize.

So, the disclaimer: some of this stuff I’ve experienced first hand, some friends and colleagues have reported. I’m not throwing stones from within my glass house here, but I’m also smart enough to understand just how small this town and this industry are.

I’ve generalized the scenarios to protect the guilty. (Put down your rotten fruit; this isn’t a pillory post.)

1) Asking for help to accomplish something skeezy.

Like a number of these items, this tends to be less likely to come from direct contacts — friends, colleagues, etc. More commonly it comes from a person removed — friend, acquaintance, or colleague of a friend. Because really, once people know each other well, they tend to know each other’s boundaries, ethics, etc.

Your definition of skeezy will vary, but often it relates to requesting assistance for something job related: disguising a lack of qualifications, providing a more positive reference than the person deserves or that you’re qualified to give, that sort of thing.

This makes a really bad first impression. Barely being acquainted doesn’t mean I’d be more likely to compromise myself for you. That’s troll logic. Also, I will now forever think that you are sleazy and can’t be bothered to put in the effort everyone else has to. And if your name comes up among other people, guess what I’m going to tell them?

2) Not bothering to do any homework.

Again, this typically happens via a once-removed person. As an example, I get asked about community management a fair bit, and some of those people ping friends of mine looking for a recommendation. I am happy to chat, but not so much when you clearly have no idea who I am and couldn’t be bothered to find out. It would literally take less than a minute to find out the basics about me online. I am really easy to find. So if you come to me asking for info or favours and you don’t know how to spell my name, or where I work, or what my career specialty is, why would I care who you are or what what you want?

This makes me think you’re lazy. And entitled. Because I have nothing better to do in my day but provide any info you might want when you can’t be bothered to find out who you’re approaching? This also makes me feel a bit bad for whomever referred you to me, because you’re tainting my impression of them. Would you go into a job interview knowing nothing about the company or the person you’re meeting with? Well, yeah, maybe you would…

3) Asking for help and then not saying thank you.

This has happened a few times, and, again, usually someone once removed. I’ve had people buy me coffee and send me thank you cards, and I’ve had people want a heap of favours and not even bother taking ten seconds to shoot me an email of thanks. There are far more worthy charities to which to devote my time.

This makes me think you’re a dick. And entitled. And makes me feel really sorry for whomever referred you to me. I hope you don’t treat your direct friends or co-workers like that, but you probably do. Much like when you cry wolf too many times, no one will believe you eventually. When you ask for too much again and again and are not at all gracious, people will stop helping you. And if your name comes up among other people, guess what I’m going to say? And fairly often, those other people? They’re looking to hire…

4) Asking for favours from people you don’t know as if you’re entitled to their time, efforts, or social capital.

This ties pretty closely to preceding items, but bears repeating. You want or need something. You know someone who might be able to help you get it. Ergo, they are compelled to assist. Yeah… no. Not even your mom has to help you. And the further away from you in your social sphere someone is, the less required and inclined they are to assist, a lot of the time.

People’s time, effort, and social capital has value. Just because you refuse to acknowledge that and “pay” for it, or accept that you’re asking for a donation doesn’t mean that isn’t the way the world works. Even if you’ve done favours for someone else, they still don’t have to help you. The idea is, at the very least, balance. Do things for other people if you’re going to want them to do things for you. Or, better yet, just do things for other people because it makes the world better. I think you’ll like how that works out over time.

5) Only engaging when you want something.

This one often is from people you know directly, and often have known a long time, though you’re probably not close friends. This person pops up from time to time, but not to just say hi, update you on their life and ask about yours, or what have you. When they pop up, there’s always going to be an “ask”. And as soon as they get it *poof* they vanish again until the next time they want something. Or, worse, if you say no they get all up in arms like you’re being the dick, then stomp off dramatically… and vanish again until the next time they want something. (At this point they’ve conveniently “forgotten” the past.)

Using people isn’t cool, and that’s what this is. Even worse, it’s usually accompanied by manipulation. Just because you’re acquainted with someone doesn’t mean you’re eternally best friends. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. At the very least, if the favour is from someone who is the only person who can help you, acknowledge that it’s an imposition and a huge ask, and make sure your enduring gratitude is very clear.

6) Showing up late and not apologizing, particularly for a meeting you requested.

At best this could be seen as lazy or sloppy, at worst this could be seen as a lame psychological play. “My time is more important than yours and I’m more important than you.” Make it a habit to be on time, always. Unless you’re in a dire accident or something, and then apologize profusely for being late even though circumstances were beyond your control. Even better, be early. It shows you’re engaged. If you suck at judging things like how long it takes to get somewhere, ask people who are better at it.

For those doing interviews, remember that the candidate is interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them. That you couldn’t be bothered to show up on time, or apologize for whatever might have kept you says a lot, and none of it would leave a candidate inclined to think you or your company is awesome. If you can’t be bothered to show up on time when you’re supposed to be in woo mode, what kind of manager are you going to be day to day?

7) Playing favourites or otherwise manipulating those over whom you have power.

This is mostly for those aforementioned managers, or people generally in positions of some power or influence. Your role is to lead, to manage. And no, not everyone on your team is going to be identical. That doesn’t mean you can stratify people. Yes, you can treat people differently — that will be necessary. That’s the essence of management after all, knowing how to best work with, lead, and improve the person you’re dealing with that the time.

But differently doesn’t mean better or worse. It doesn’t mean ignoring someone you don’t feel like dealing with, don’t understand well, or who isn’t right in front of you all the time. It doesn’t mean rewarding or punishing for your own secret reasons to which those being rewarded or punished aren’t privy.

No, it’s not sparking a little “healthy competition”. It’s torpedoing trust, camaraderie, morale, and introducing a host of other toxins into your team. Poisoning the people you rely on and their environment seems counter-productive, no? As management, no, your staff shouldn’t be your friends (most of the time), but nor should they hate or fear you — or each other.

8) Claiming experience or accomplishments you don’t have (and asking me to back you up on them).

This could go under the banner of skeezy requests, but in general skeezy requests can cover a lot of things, and this is pretty specific: you’re straight up asking me to lie. And lie about something I have no control over being discovered down the line. (As if that’s the biggest consideration here.) In which case your credibility and integrity go right down the toilet, closely followed by my own. And then when my name comes up in conversation among others, guess what they’ll say? It’s very true that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and seconds to destroy it. You’re not worth that much to me.

News flash: you’re not as smart or crafty as you think you are. Really. Also, re-read the comment I made at the beginning about how small this town is. Double-checking things isn’t terrible hard.

So you end up “successful” and get that job or whatever it is you wanted. What happens when you actually have to do it? Fake it til you make it? Good luck. Especially in smaller companies or departments where there’s nowhere under which to hide incompetence.

Also, just as a general rule in life, you’ll probably end up better off building relationships with people not based on who you know will lie for you on cue. Now, having friends who are willing to help you hide a body is another matter… (Kidding.)

9) Ranting and raving and threatening and trying to start a witch hunt because you’re displeased with someone/some company/etc. (usually when you’re in the wrong).

No one likes a toddler having a tantrum. And that’s exactly what this is. Bullying and tantruming. Not cool. Disappointment is part of life. Life isn’t fair. Pick your platitude, but they’re true. Add to that a dash of “entitlement isn’t sexy” and you get the idea.

Your moment of frustration or anger is hardly cause to cause lasting damage to a person or company’s reputation. And have you noticed that the people who tend to try to do that are the ones who usually are full of crap in the first place? They’re lying, or didn’t read the instructions, or didn’t understand the instructions, or are just scummy and want freebies or companies toadying to them.

Just don’t. Nothing good will come of it. You’re ruining a lot of people’s day, you’re probably costing them money, and you know what? You’re not going to be happy afterward. People who get into that mode can’t be satisfied, no matter what you tried to bend over backwards to offer them. They’ll just want more, and just get meaner, and just be encouraged to try it to someone else. Toddlers get timeouts. Adults eventually get bitchslapped. One way or another.

Bottom line, none of this is rocket surgery. Just clean undies and common courtesy. And sure, there are a million more examples. Feel free to vent in the comments. 🙂

Really, it’s all easily avoided by not letting anger or frustration get the best of you (the time for burning bridges is almost never). Making the kinds of friends and maintaining the kinds of relationships that bring out the best in you, and them. Accepting that you have to earn things in life, and that if you try to get around that, you’re screwing over yourself as much as those you’ve deceived or manipulated.

And understanding that there is always someone looking.

About The Author

Melanie Baker

M-Theory is a guest column by Melanie Baker, who is a big fan of building communities and working with geeks. She spends her days fixing the internets (in a way), writing, chasing her puppy, and creating fanciful beasts out of socks.