Every day in October, I recommended someone in my LinkedIn network as part of what I creatively call my LinkedIn Challenge. I didn’t just ‘endorse’ them (let’s face it, this can be pretty meaningless – I’ve been endorsed for things I’m not good at by people who hardly know me). Instead, I took real time to write actual words about my experiences working with people.
After 31 days of writing recommendations, I’d like to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned.
- It’s easy to be vague. ‘Carol is hardworking.’ ‘Derek is a great team player.’ It’s so easy to share vague opinions about a person’s strengths; the way we get to know them is to stack up individual experiences into a general feeling. The first few recommendations I wrote fell straight into this trap (sorry to my guinea pigs!) and will probably not be as valuable to readers as the ones I wrote later, which were way more specific. It’s best to think about the individual moments that add up to the vague feeling: did that person defend you in a meeting? Offer help at an event? Teach you a new skill? People want to know about encounters like this so they can build up their own vague picture of someone.
- Recommendations are a total gush fest. I didn’t write a single negative thing about anyone the whole month. Of course, the point of a recommendation is to highlight someone’s strengths, but reading back over all of them I see a rather skewed version of reality. I chose the 31 people I recommended because I respect and admire all of them, but it would be unrealistic to think that at least some of them didn’t have flaws. I sure do. Would I do it differently? No. LinkedIn isn’t designed to take ‘realistic’ recommendations, and I don’t think we are either. Reading something flattering is great, but if I received a short paragraph saying ‘Lucy came up with some innovative ideas but many of them didn’t get off the ground because she isn’t always very organized’ I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t publish it to my profile.
- Writing good things makes me feel good. Thinking about the people I recommended, reflecting on why I respect and admire them, writing it down and sending it to them was an exercise in creating joy – for me and for them. I found myself smiling as I wrote, partly because I was enjoying remembering working with them and partly because I knew it would make them feel good to read what I had written. I also got inspired to focus more on certain aspects of my work. Breaking my vague feelings down into individual experiences gave me ideas about simple things I could do to be more creative, empathetic, organized and helpful.
- We should give each other feedback more often. Being so happy to write these recommendations made me realize we probably don’t take enough time out to praise each other for a job well done. The first few times I submitted my feedback about people I felt nervous and even embarrassed – who was I to think they would value my opinion? – and that in itself suggests to me that I’m not forthcoming enough with feedback and praise. October might be over, but I intend to keep recommending people for the brilliant work they do. Just not every day.
In my messages to the people I recommended I asked them to pay it forward (or back, if they wanted to). I want to try and spread some praise on LinkedIn and replace the empty endorsements with meaningful tales of teamwork, stories of super salespeople and experiences of empathy. So I challenge you to recommend someone on LinkedIn today. Then maybe do it again tomorrow. Try it until you feel like you’ve mastered it. That way we’ll all be better at giving – and receiving – feedback.
(In case you’re feeling brave and want to try it for a whole month, here’s what I did: I trawled through more than 800 LinkedIn contacts and wrote down the names of the 50 people I most admire and respect. I then randomly chose 31 of them, put them in a random order and started at the top. I’d love to say I stuck to one recommendation a day, but that would be a lie. But I did write 31 in October.)
Are you up for the challenge?