Many people struggle to say no. As a result, when someone has a request that we can’t or don’t want to meet, we often say nothing. We simply don’t respond. Or we put the person off telling them we’ll get back to them. Then people wonder. “Did they get my request? Should I send the request again? Will I look bad if I ask again? How many times should I ask before I just let the request go?”
Saying no is better than saying nothing. No gives people closure. Silence leaves people in limbo wondering what they should do next.
Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.
Here are ways to say no:
- Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”
Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about their request.
- Tell the person you need some time to think about their request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.
- Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
- Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell them what you’re willing to do.
How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.
Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and time to do a great job?”
Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something; they just want to know if we will do it.
How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.
Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”
How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.
Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”
A review of how to say no:
- Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
- Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
- Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
- Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
- Keep your commitments.
Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.