Why I probably won’t accept your LinkedIn connection request

Reid Hoffman will be the first to tell you that LinkedIn continues to evolve, and is far afield from where it first started in 2002. Back in 2006, when I first joined the site, it still had the “facebook for business” feel to it. All of us were “learning” social media side-by-side with those inventing social media.

One of those things we did early on was add people. They could be colleagues, family, friends, acquaintances, or even the flub who threw his/her business card at you at the Chamber of Commerce networking event. I generally said “yes” to everyone — because I bought into the idea that there’s nothing wrong with a big network: that network could later help me make better connections.

But then every time I would politely start to navigate that delicate dance — of asking someone one or two connections away for an intro for a coffee or a phone call — I got the same answers: “Oh, I don’t actually know him/her.” Or, “I don’t have a strong enough relationship to make an introduction.”

At first, I simply asked myself reflexively, “Then why is this person in your network? Are you aspiring to a relationship?” But as time went on, it became clear to me that the quality of the networking connections you can POSSIBLY make on LinkedIn is in direct correlation to the ACTUAL quality of your own network.

I couldn’t make over LinkedIn in my image (and why would I?) but I could certainly walk my own talk. So I began relentlessly pruning my LinkedIn connections. The site formerly made it quite difficult to remove your connections, but I think over time they have relented. The simple test I formulated was:

Could I comfortably and unreservedly recommend this person to someone else, in a professional context?

If the answer was “Yes” then I kept the connection. Anything other than “Yes” got pruned. I went further and tried to make sure I had written a recommendation for everyone within my network, where it made sense and if I had the proper context to make the recommendation. (Sometimes someone had done some freelance work for me and they didn’t have “freelancing” on their profile so I couldn’t write a recommendation.)

When the dust settled, I no longer had hundreds and hundreds of connections I barely knew. I had under 150 that I absolutely knew and trusted. But I had taken a generic platform and made it my own, subject to a simple rule. I wasn’t just taking LinkedIn in the one-sized-fits-all container. I made a container that would work well for me, and hopefully would work well for my connections. I also cleared out a lot of mental real estate, and as anyone who does a massive cleaning knows, you a) first are overwhelmed at how much free space you now have, but b) recognize once again things (in this case, people) you may have overlooked because of the overcrowding.

As the new year kicks into its third week, maybe you might ask yourself if your LinkedIn network is actually meaningful to you, or something you’ve simply let get away from you, something you don’t manage with purpose and intent. Is it a reactive network, or a proactive network? Is it even a network?

For those unsuspecting souls whose invitations I reject, now you know that it’s nothing personal. Just professional.

Stephen lives in the 2nd arrondissement in Paris, where he writes, runs small businesses, and delights in connecting people. You can read about his adventures at The American in Paris or follow him on twitter @stephenheiner.

This story originally appeared on LinkedIn.