Let me recommend you . . . to you.

In the last week, recommendations have occupied a bit of my time. I’m in discussions about some new work that required me to ask people to be available to talk about me to this prospective employer. I’ve had a past supervisor, who has become a highly valued friend, ask me to write a recommendation for her LinkedIn profile. And I’ve had a two conversations with past employees about some exciting things ahead that ended with us spontaneously affirming the strength we see in each other and the lessons we’ve learned from working together.

“You did something positive for me.” 
“You shone a light on my good qualities.” 
“You taught me things that I use every day.” 
"You are entirely capable of moving to the next level."
“You were a good friend to me.” 
“I think you’re an exceptional professional.” 
“I try to follow your example in my own work.”
"I'd love to have an opportunity to work with you again."
“You showed me what a real leader looks like.”

Whether we’re on the giving or receiving end of such comments, hearing those words out in the universe is just a bit like putting on an oxygen mask.  Take a big gulp. Be revived and encouraged. At least one person, one real person, believes we are good enough. Suck in the air.

When I sent the LinkedIn blurb, my former boss sent back a response that, paraphrased, said, “I don’t deserve that kind of recommendation but reading those words encourages me to strive for that.”  I wasn’t blowing smoke – I wrote what was, in my opinion, a pretty accurate description of how she works and what she brings to a team. She’s kind of amazing.

But I’m not surprised that she didn’t immediately see herself in the words I wrote. Most of us don’t usually see our own strengths, contributions, and influence in the same way others do. (Unless, of course, we deal with narcissistic jerks who see themselves way better than everyone else does, but I try to not have to write recommendations for, or exist in the same circle, as those folks.) It's just human nature, perhaps, to think a lot about all the ways we fall short of the mark and downplay our own super powers, but it's not really helpful to us.

I’ve always found that it’s pretty humbling to ask for recommendations but a pleasure to provide them. I've worked with and for amazing people through the years and I’m certain sometimes when I’m called for a reference, the person calling hangs up and says to his nearest co-worker, “OMG. I thought I’d never get that Joan Brown off the phone!”  I like saying good stuff about good people. 

But in thinking about the exchanges over the past week or so, I‘m pretty sure I could do a better job of saying good things to good people. I thought about how valuable it might be if we didn’t wait until we were asked to provide some sort of official recommendation for someone. What if we thought of people who have been influential, motivating, encouraging, productively pushy, challenging, helpful or just plain kind to us as we walk through our lives, particularly our professional lives?  What if we reached out to those folks, for no reason other than mutual strengthening, and gave them a recommendation?

“I’d like to tell you what I see in you that makes you so valuable to me.”
“In case you are in a place where your confidence is low or you are doubting your calling, or you are on the verge of throwing in the towel, let me recommend you to yourself.”
“I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing now without your influence. Here’s what you taught me."
“You might not realize this, but you made a difference at a very important moment in my life.”  (“You might not realize this, but . . . “ is one of the phrases that truly happy people use on a regular basis to lift others up, according to an article in Inc.)

Thinking about the good others have done for us and the attributes and actions we most admire in them creates positive vibes for us as well as for them. It just feels good to say good things to/about people (serious brain chemistry involved here), so it's a huge win/win.

Oh, and put it in writing, because it’s delightful (and sometimes sanity-saving) to be able to pull out those affirmations and read them over and over again.

If we all did that this week, wrote an unsolicited recommendation for someone who's played a unique role in our story and passed it along to them, even for one person, I believe the collective breathing in of pure oxygen would be almost audible.


Joan Brown