Recently I’ve gotten numerous requests for testimonials and references. Providing references is a great way to support those in our network. But suppose the reference request is from someone we hardly know? Or from an individual we never worked with, never purchased from? What’s the right call then?
The answer is simple.
We tell them the truth.
We tell them we are not in a position to give what they are asking.
We remind them we have not worked together, or not worked together in years, so offering a testimonial feels out of sync.
We tell them we don’t know them well enough to speak to their strengths with confidence.
We wish them well.
It’s perfectly acceptable to not provide the reference. Opting out of such a request is always an option. The challenge is doing it honestly. Wording it well. Finding the way to say it.
Of course, saying “no” to a reference request might be slightly uncomfortable. Saying “no” usually is. But it’s better than writing a testimonial we don’t feel comfortable giving. To film a video testimonial, or write a letter of recommendation, or provide a verbal job reference that we can’t honestly stand behind, compromises our integrity.
And I am never never “for” that. Saying yes when we want to say no is a people-pleasing act. Helping is great. Supporting others is gracious, but doing so when it conflicts with our own feelings is a bad choice.
The question becomes how do we say “no” to a reference request?
* Being truthful and genuine
* Saying it courteously and with kindness
* Keeping it simple, keeping it short
* Valuing our own integrity
* Not being overly apologetic (Once will do)
As to the way to say it, here are some one line responses to graciously turn down a request for any kind of reference:
“You know, it’s been so long since we worked together that I can’t comfortably write you a reference.”
“Should we successfully work together in the future, I would gladly consider providing you with a reference then. I’m sorry but till then, it’s premature.”
“I’m honored that you asked for my reference. Please know that I only provide references when I can really attest to someone’s work. I just don’t know you well enough.”
“I’m not in a position to really speak comfortably about your skills and attributes.”
“I wish I could help you out, but our working relationship is too new.”
“I’d love to see you get the job, but I won’t be able to help you with a job reference since I don’t know you in that capacity.”
These are just a few simple, honest ways to say “no” without offending the requester or looking unsupportive yourself. You can always follow these statements with softeners like, “I’m sorry I can’t help you” or “I’m sure you understand” or even “I wish I knew you more. It’s just too soon.”
Occasionally someone will ask you to provide a testimonial anyway. Just remember, should they become pushy, it will be even more important for you to maintain your professionalism and obviously, NOT write the reference.
Only give references for those people you feel certain about backing,
whether it’s for their skills, their character or their abilities.
Your references will carry so much more weight and substance when you do write them.