The problem: Someone recently reached out to me on a professional networking site and asked me to recommend him. We’re in the same industry. Honestly, I’m not impressed with his work. How do I decline the request?


Low road: “Ghosting” in dating is all the rage now. Why not take the cowardly trend into the workplace, and simply “forget” to respond for, like, forever?


High road: Responding to this type of sensitive request is a common dilemma not just on the professional circuit but also on the home front (“Do you like this dress on me?”) and the school front (“Hey, teacher! Will you please write me a letter of recommendation?”). You might feel better knowing that he is likely not reaching out only to you. If he’s on a social network, he’s probably blasting away to lots of people, seeing what sticks and who responds. So you could do a form of ghosting by putting the request in your mental Spam folder.

But the kinder action is to interact human-to-human, especially if he’s trying to build a résumé and get back on track professionally — a challenge that can be intimidating and defeating without somebody in his camp.

You have a few options. One is to figure out what you can say about him that is true. Does he have integrity? A strong work ethic? Passion? Curiosity? Is he willing to learn and grow? Surely, you can find something true to pull from that list.

If you really can’t, would you be willing to meet him for a cup of coffee to see what he’s thinking and hoping? Maybe you can bring resources along to help him build on his strengths, or refocus on what you view as a better fit for him. And if A and B are out, simply tell him you’re not the right person to do this, but that you wish him well and look forward to hearing where he lands.


Send questions about life’s little quandaries to Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at