Everyone likes an employee or coworker who is willing to go the extra mile and is open to the ideas and thoughts of others. However, being agreeable has its limits. Being afraid to say “no” can lead to a range of problems, from endorsing ideas and projects you don’t believe in to overextending yourself to the point that your work suffers. The ability to decline with professionalism and grace is an essential part of being an effective leader. Take a look at our tips below for saying “no” while keeping your professional relationships intact.
Create a “Positivity Sandwich”: Begin and end your response on a positive note, sandwiching your denial in between. For example: “This sounds like a really interesting project and I appreciate all the work that you’ve put in. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take part this time around. But thank you for thinking of me!”
Provide an Explanation: Letting the person know why you’re declining a request can help soften the blow. Providing an explanation shows that you’re not arbitrarily saying “no” and that your response isn’t personal. It can also be a great opportunity to provide feedback, for example, if you think a project or idea isn’t viable in its current form, but could benefit from some small changes.
Give an Alternative: If possible, provide an alternative along with your “no”. Your listener will appreciate your consideration, and you may help contribute to a solution. For example: “Unfortunately, there is no way I can write that report by Tuesday given my current workload. However, if we can reschedule Monday’s meeting, I could make it work.” Or, “I wish I could help, but I’m just too overextended at the moment. However, my colleague Jayne has expertise in this area and may be interested in this project. If you’d like, I’d be happy to make an introduction.”
Be Clear: Make sure that you are not so polite that your response is unclear. Although you want to be as positive as possible, make sure that there is no misunderstanding that you are definitively saying “no” to the request.
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