There are a lot of articles about how to give proper recommendations on LinkedIn or how to ask for a recommendation from someone. But what happens when you get a request from a LinkedIn contact and you don’t really want to give them a recommendation?

Whatever the reason – you don’t have firsthand knowledge of their work performance or you may believe their work is substandard – the fact is you are hesitating and debating about how to say “no”.

When you make a recommendation on someone’s behalf, it is a statement that you believe they value and other people will make decisions about hiring or connecting with them based on their profile content.

So, let’s talk about the elephant at work – how do you say “no”? You’ve got a few options – find the one that works best for you.

Ignore the Recommendation Request

So you got busy and the email trailed down your inbox to a place where you haven’t checked it in eons. The truth is you just did not want to deal with the request.

The other person may take the hint or not – they may nudge you with a reminder or the next time they run into you they may ask about their request. So be ready for the difficult question: Why did you not respond?

Have I ignored any recommendation requests? Yes, especially if I received a message that was not personalized.

Gracefully Decline Recommendation Requests

Declining someone’s request may be stressful because you don’t want to hurts someone’s feelings. You’re torn between being nice to them and truthful about what you really think.

Here are some reasons you can use to decline a request gracefully:

  • You don’t have direct knowledge of someone’s work performance. You have heard good things about them, but you write recommendations on your experience with someone.
  • The person is an acquaintance – you know them casually or for a short time, suggest that there is probably someone better suited to recommend them.
  • If you truly don’t like the person or know their work performance is poor, it’s time to reflect on why you are connected with them.

Here’s a situation I experienced.

LinkedIn wants you to ask for recommendations so they make it easy for you – perhaps too easy. There are occasions when someone hits the automatic request button and everyone is contacted in their network to a recommendation for them.

A fellow consultant asked for a recommendation and I had not worked with them directly or indirectly. We were connections because we had met agreed that connecting was beneficial to both of us.

I wrote back and told her that I did not feel like I knew her work well enough to write a recommendation on her behalf. She responded with complete understanding and conveyed her surprise when that request sent to her entire network.

Hint: If it is a canned request for a recommendation, chances are they got duped by the system.

Playing the Offense

This is a tactic that may work or may put you in a situation where you set an expectation that you will follow through with a recommendation. If you get a request and you are not sure what to do about it, ask a question back. Here are some examples,

I received your request for recommendation – what you would like me to say about you?

Do you want to write a recommendation for me to review and I will post it?

I had a colleague do this to me. To be honest, I was dumbfounded. I was not sure if they really did not know how to write a recommendation or if they were looking for a way out. I dropped the request for the simple reason that if they lacked initiative to write it, the recommendation was going to be lukewarm at best.

To Avoid Being Declined:

There are some steps you can take to avoid being declined. Consider:

  • When is the last time you spoke with your contact? Perhaps it is time to reconnect.
  • Ask them by email or phone before sending a request if they are willing to write something on your behalf.
  • Request recommendations immediately after performing a service, doing a project or being recognized for exceptional work.