The Polite Way to Reject Writing a Letter of Recommendation

Emma, a senior copywriter at a reputed advertising agency, found herself in a tricky situation when a former colleague rang up to ask her for a letter of recommendation.

This colleague had been quite unpopular in the office and was known for her temper tantrums when things did not go her way. Now how, in good conscience, do you write a letter of reference for someone you don’t actually approve of.

Saying ‘No’ is a skill that many people lack. But, it is one life skill that helps you minimize stress and stay productive.

People often agonise about saying “No” to others and they get pressured into doing things they don’t really want to do. In reality, saying NO isn’t that hard. When you say ‘no’ assertively and clearly, you are more likely to gain respect than lose it.

There is never an obligation to give someone a reference.

There are ways to politely and diplomatically decline the request without offending the person who asked you. The trick is to do so without making your refusal sound like a personal criticism or a professional rejection.

There are three suitable excuses you can use:

When you don’t know the person well…

The best recommendations come from people who value your character and your work skills. It’s in no one’s best interest for you to endorse someone you can’t speak genuinely about or someone you don’t intimately know.

You can decline the request with the excuse “I don’t know you well enough.” Or in other words:

“I received your request for a letter of recommendation yesterday and I am flattered that you would ask for a recommendation from me. Letters of reference carry the most weight when they are from colleagues who know your work skills. Since I work in an entirely different section of the company, I can hardly speak with authority about your professional abilities. I hope you will understand if I decline.”

If the individual insists on pursuing the matter, explain that you simply do not feel comfortable writing the recommendation as your integrity and professional brand is on the line with each recommendation you make.

Use “I” statements rather than “you”- “I feel that I don’t know you well enough” rather than “You haven’t made a good impression on me.”

When you can’t provide a glowing review…

If you do know the person very well as in Emma’s case and you have nothing positive to recommend, it best to get out of situation at the earliest.

There are people who give negative references without considering how it will impact the individual, professionally or psychologically. It’s better not to give a recommendation at all than to give a vague one or a negative one.

It’s one thing to decline endorsing someone, but it’s a below the belt tactic to say yes and then jeopardize their future. You can considering tell them:

“I am honored that you put your trust in me for such an important task and chose me to write a letter of recommendation for you. Regrettably, I must decline your request as I believe that it would serve your requirement better to select another colleague whose endorsement would truly benefit you.”

When you have things that are a lot more important to do…

When you are focused on achieving a goal, finishing a project and getting home to the kids on time, every additional task you take on upsets your time management, decreases your efficiency and disrupts your productivity.

You definitely don’t have the time to be writing recommendation letters for every Tom, Dick and Harry. People ask for our time every single day. We’ll end up feeling frazzled and grumpy, if we give away our time to everyone who asks for it.

Take the tip from Steve Jobs when he says “Innovation is saying “no” to 1,000 things.”[1]

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

Reference

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