April 1, 2009

Bulk view

Ethics and egos in virtual assistance and relationships

Leesa Barnes is very firm about this: outsourcing social media content and relationships is not okay.

I mostly agree. oDesk and Elance job posts recruiting people to write reviews and post comments praising products or places give me the heebie-jeebies, and there’s something Really Weird about asking someone to write fan letters to people you don’t even choose. I don’t invite random strangers to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook, and I don’t leave random blog comments in an effort to build links.

On the other hand, I think that a little bit of delegation–yes, even in your personal life–can be surprisingly helpful. I really appreciate the list of upcoming birthdays and contact information that an assistant prepares for me each week, because I’m otherwise horrible at remembering birthdays, and it turns out that acknowledging people’s birthdays makes people smile. I’m glad that I have someone doublechecking the dates and times of meetings, because I’ve been burned by that before. I like being able to respond to Facebook and LinkedIn messages without having to use the Web interface.

So there’s more to this than than just outsourcing, and I wonder how much of it is related to ego. ;) I don’t get frazzled by a lot, but I do know I tend to get mildly peeved when people impolitely make me feel bad because I didn’t make them feel important enough. For example:

  • When I confess that I’ve forgotten someone’s name, and that person doesn’t just gloss over it but instead further embarrasses me by dropping “obvious” hints, I’m less likely to introduce that person to anyone I know because I wouldn’t want him or her to inflict the same treatment on my friends.
  • When I’ve taken a little time and effort to reach out to people, and they zing me because they don’t feel that things are personal enough, I wonder if that defeats the purpose…
  • When someone gives me grief because I unfollowed them on Twitter, I can’t help but think they need to spend less time worrying about their numbers. ;)

Hmm. When I get a half-joking prod about whether or not I had a virtual assistant handle a social gesture, I may send that person a link to this blog post.

What’s important in a social gesture, anyway? Is it that someone holds all of the information about you in his or her head, or that someone cares enough to look it up or have it available? Is it that someone thinks about you all the time, or sets up ways to be reminded of you every so often? Is it that someone reads your blog and follows your tweets almost obssessively, or that someone’s willing to ask you questions about what you’re excited about and to listen to your update, and perhaps even drop by once in a while? (You can tell what I think. )

If I had someone whisper in my ear the likes, dislikes, and conversational topics related to whoever’s walking up to me, I’d love that. I can’t remember everything on my own. Knowing more allows me to be of more help. Also, it makes me less stressed about interacting with people.

If it offends someone that I don’t remember everything about them right away, or that I don’t know about the latest posts on their blog or the latest tweets they’ve shared, well–that’s probably more related to their ego. I’d be happy to let them take the initiative in the conversation. Most people forget, which is an interesting thing.

And if you find yourself having that kind of a reaction… stop and think about it for a sec, mmkay? =) Maybe you don’t need to react that way. There’s a space between stimulus and response, and you can decide how you perceive things. If you find yourself focusing too much on a perceived slight, try to move past it and focus on the good stuff instead.

Of course, other people get the same deal. If you meet me and you have no idea what I’ve recently been writing about or working on, that’s totally okay. If you say you can’t remember my name, I’ll happily reintroduce myself, no hard feelings. (In fact, if you hesitated even a little bit, I’d probably already have reintroduced myself by that point.) If you say, “Nice to meet you!” when we’ve already met, I’m never going to give you a hard time about it.

So yes, I’m fine with delegating relationship-related tasks to virtual assistants (not all, but more than most people do). I think that people can help me both be more thoughtful and learn to be more thoughtful, and I think that there’s more to building relationships than just the mechanics of social gestures.

And yes, W- knows I’m learning more about delegation, and why I’m learning about delegation, and he thinks it’s a good thing. He’s so awesome. =)


This post was inspired by danielpatricio‘s tweet, which led me to leesabarnes’ tweet, which led me to her blog post, which tapped into something else I’d been meaning to write about because people occasionally do that “of course you should be able to remember my name” thing. =)