The problem with reciprocal recos, or, "I'll scratch your back if you promise NOT to scratch mine"

Photo from John McNab’s flickr stream:

I’ve had the good fortune to work with dozens of rockstar creatives and account people in my career, and I’m only too pleased to write a sincere recommendation for someone’s LinkedIn profile when asked. 

But when you’re viewing someone’s LinkedIn page, do you ever find yourself checking to see whether the people who recommend them are also recommended BY them? I do, and when I see that Joe recommended Jane at 3:30 on Wednesday and Jane recommended Joe at 3:32 on Wednesday, I can’t help but discounting those recommendations. Not that they aren’t sincere, but they sure are a lot less credible.

After all, no one solicits a recommendation unless they know it’s likely to be positive, so recommendations are already freighted with that bias. So I’m much more likely to put stock in a recommendation when it doesn’t seem like it was written to secure one in return. 

So, what to do? Write more recommendations for people without being asked; when you do solicit a recommendation, explain why you don’t want to reciprocate, at least not immediately; and when solicited for a recommendation, ask the person NOT to return the favor.