In the rough and tumble scramble to make a buck, lines are crossed and feelings hurt. Yoni Goldstein explores the unwritten rules of conduct and etiquette for entrepreneurs.
Q: I own a boutique real estate firm and I've got a young family. It's a profitable business and a good life overall - I'm pretty content. That said, there's a company I've had my eye on. They sell upscale properties almost exclusively and, to be honest, I've become obsessed with either acquiring it or perhaps forming a partnership. A few months ago, I bumped into the woman who owns this firm at an industry cocktail party - she's in her mid-fifties, quite stylish and attractive. I introduced myself. Since then, I've been following her on Twitter and purposefully showing up to every social event she attends. Of course, I pretend it's accidental - and we've developed a rapport. But of late I feel that she's begun flirting with me, and I'm fifteen years her junior - not to mention happily married! I'm at a loss as to what to do next.
A: Let me make sure I'm getting this right: You happened upon a potentially life-changing business connection, made her acquaintance and started following her on Twitter. So far, great - a bit of luck, some friendly but professional schmoozing and a budding social media relationship. Those are all good steps toward achieving your business goals.
But I'm troubled by the next part of your account. Let's be clear: what you've been doing by purposely turning up wherever she is - that's called stalking. And to make matters worse, she seems to have mistaken your professional advances for romantic overtures, and reciprocated. Now you're in a real pickle - you want to merge your businesses, not bodies (though, since your description of this woman focuses so heavily on her looks and style, are you sure you're not interested, too?), and you worry she's getting the wrong message. Well, who can blame her?
Professional stalking is at an all-time high these days - indeed, it's become such a problem that LinkedIn users have begun petitioning the company to add safety features to the site that would allow them to block other users (often current and former co-workers) who are constantly clicking on their profiles. These people rightly feel uncomfortable when they go on LinkedIn to check who's been viewing their profile and discover the same weirdo has been on their page every day for months, or even years. In particular, the woman who initiated the petition tells a harrowing tale of being stalked on LinkedIn by a former boss turned super-creepster. As of a few days ago, nearly 8,000 people had already signed the letter. Here's hoping more will join the campaign.
Now, I very much hope you aren't one of those freaky stalkers - that you just got more than a little overzealous in your pursuit of that great business opportunity and lost sight of how your incessant advances appeared to others. But there's a solid lesson here: going after what you want is a good thing, but you can take it too far. There's a fine line between pursuing a solid lead and going all Mark David Chapman. You crossed it.
As for the women you've been stalking, here's what you do: be honest. The next time you see her (and word to the wise: avoid being places she's at for a little while at least), come clean - tell her everything. That you really respect the work she does and would relish the opportunity to either acquire or merge with her firm, but that you fear you've been giving off the wrong signals. By following her around (which is a weird thing to do, you must admit), you led her to believe you were interested in something other than what you were truly after. You're interested in business, not romance, and you're sorry for not making that clear from the get-go.
You'll probably lose any chance you had at this opportunity but getting it under false pretenses would have been a recipe for disaster anyways, professionally and, perhaps, personally. Don't worry, though: You'll find another dream company to pursue. And next time, I hope you'll know the right way to go about doing that.