How to Say No (and Yes) / by Chel Wolverton


Lately I've heard a lot of people ask the question how do you say no to something constructively? Maybe you're busier than you know what to do with, but someone's emailing you with this one project, thing, idea that they must talk with you about, get your input on, a review of their book/blog/business plan, an interview, a quote, or just help with promotion. Sometimes they use the following line: "I know you're busy but...".   The person on the other end sees a minor time commitment on this really awesome thing but you see your current to do list and calendar and groan.

Here's a way to say no:  "That looks/sounds like a fascinating project, but I can't commit the time to it right now.  Can I help connect you with someone that I think could help with your really awesome idea?"

Maybe your specific brand and knowledge is exactly what the project needs and the asker won't want to work with someone else. If he is adamant about it being YOU, he will work with you to find a time that works with your schedule.

If the asker wants to work with you solely to be branded with your name/company (believe me, you'll know this one when you see it. mostly.), then you likely don't want to do the project, attempt to find the time or burden someone else with it anyway.  In which case, the above will work perfectly.

If it is for a great cause and you are compelled to say yes, you still need to consider what exactly you are committing to.  Here are a few tips for that.

  • Narrow down exactly what is being asked of you. Is it a retweet?  Do they want you to manage a recording or put together promotion materials? Do they want you to show up for an hour and share your knowledge?  Finding out exactly what time committed is the first step.
  • Analyze where it fits best in your schedule. If you don't respect your time, then no one else will.
  • Make it clear exactly what parts you to which are agreeing and committing to do. Then put it in writing, even if just an email.
  • If you can't say hell yes to it.  Don't do it. (h/t C.C. Chapman)

Refine this process to fit your needs.  Strive for clarity before you commit. It avoids confusion and also shows other that you value people who respects your time.

The important thing is to keep it honest and straightforward without hashing the reasons you are saying no.  There is zero need for justification.  Showing that you've taken the time to consider what the ask is will allow for grace, which makes the no easier to bear.

How hard is it for you to say no?  Why?