How to Say No Without Sounding Like a Jerk

How to Say No Without Sounding Like a Jerk

Supporting my clients often involves helping them say no to people making unrealistic demands. My role is to coach them on good ways to decline requests without putting their reputations at risk.

Here are some communication techniques I recommend:

  • Stop saying yes. Because we want to make positive impressions, we say yes before thinking through what we’re committing to. Better to say, “Let me give that some thought.”
  • Know your priorities. When a client’s request puts you in an uncomfortable situation, try a response such as “One of the ways that we have been able to best support our customers is by remaining true to our mission. We would be going outside of our core focus if we took on this project. However, I’m happy to help you source this work out to one of our trusted service partners.”
  • Craft the right phrase. Be clear that you’re not going to fulfill the request, but be considerate of everyone involved.
  • Avoid email. The harder you believe the news will be for the recipient to hear, the closer you should be to him or her when you deliver it. The best option: Speak to them in person.
  • Act quickly. Nobody wants to be told no. Making them wait to hear it only makes it worse.

It’s OK to set boundaries on your time and energy. But don’t give people the perception that “No” is your default response to requests.

Before you act . . .

When you need to say no, make an effort to mitigate the situation with some business diplomacy: Offer suggestions, provide referrals or resources, recommend a course of action. It may not be the response the requester wanted to hear, but it gives them something to work with when you don’t have time to help.

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