6 Ways to Say “No” in Business
In business, you probably experienced this awkward situation, a person asks you for a favor or makes a written request to you, and you have to answer no. Whether on a call or in-person, you can say, “No, I’m sorry I can’t help you.” or “Unfortunately, I have to refuse your offer.” In person, you can add gestures to soften your message and in person or on a call, you can use verbal intonations to soften your refusal. Just remember to choose your words wisely and carefully.
So, here are a few ways to make saying “no” in business a little less crushing to the asker.
1. Ask them for time to check your schedule
Before committing to an answer, it's a good idea to review your schedule or speak with other principals. Don’t respond immediately. Take time and ask them to wait until you check your schedule. A quick no can be risky or might damage your relationship with the client or associate who is asking. In all cases, it’s vital to commit to a date or time for your final yes or no.
2. Give yourself time to fully digest what is being asked.
It is essential to acknowledge that your brain and body will give you more accurate information for your response with time than giving a quick favorable or adverse reaction after a long day. Confirm receipt and advise that you are considering the proposal. Then take a day or whatever time you need for considerations, take a deep breath, free your mind of external distractions, and assess your gut reaction. You can then send a well thought out response to the requester.
3. Explore the possibility of a reciprocal favor.
In this way, the requester would understand your stance and perhaps reconsider the request. However, you might lose more than you gain. A win-win situation should be the norm for every yes. Strategic partnerships can provide colossal growth for both businesses, despite the work involved.
4. Explain your limits before saying no.
Before rejecting a request, first, explain your limits. The person asking might not understand your budget limitations, competitive pressures, or current workload. So, ensure that you make an encouraging statement so you may receive future requests that are a better fit for your company at that time.
5. Sandwich your no between two positives.
Give a positive explanation to make your answer more palatable. For example, if your co-worker asks you to cover a meeting on his behalf, but you have other meetings to attend, explain that you would cover the meeting except for prior commitments (first yes). Then you can explain how your schedule is full (no), but you will schedule time next month to further discuss request (second yes).
6. Ensure you’re not being defensive.
When you say no, make sure that what you say is not coming off as defensive, just kindly state your refusal. The answer should be strong and non-emotional. Keep that smile on your face and say no clearly because long, detailed explanations are usually read as defensive. Just remember to communicate directly and speak softly.
Here are some example situations to help you understand better, based on the above points.
- Tim: Danny, do you mind going to a conference this weekend for me?
- Danny: Where and when is it?
- Tim: It’s in Chicago at 11 in the morning.
- Danny: Sorry, I can’t. I’m working on a project, and I have to submit it this Monday.
- Tim: You can do that while you’re on your way.
- Danny: I doubt I’d be of any use because I don’t even know anything about the conference.
- Tim: Well, I can tell you everything related to that conference. I’d appreciate it.
- Danny: Sorry Tim, I’d rather not.
- Tim: I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t important.
- Danny: I can appreciate that, but I need to focus on completing my project. Did you ask Kenny or John?
- Tim: No, I haven’t, but I can.
- Danny: Sorry Tim, I hope it doesn’t cause you any problems.
- Tim: Don’t worry, it's a fine man.
- Kris: Hey Jacob, can I ask you a favor?
- Jacob: Hey Kris, yes, sure, what it is?
- Kris: Could you do next month’s sales report. I’ll be on holiday, and I need someone whom I can trust.
- Jacob: I wish I could, but next month is hectic for me. I have around 20 meetings scheduled, and I have to finish the manual training of our new staff.
- Kris: I can appreciate that, but I need someone to do it.
- Jacob: As I said, I don’t have time. I’m sorry. You don’t mind, do you?
- Kris: It needs to be done, and doing it myself is not possible!
- Jacob: Okay, let me consider…I will let you know by this weekend if I can do it.
- Kris: Oh great! Thanks
It’s not essential to be a yes person to be a leader. If you look at the successful small business leaders around you, they are not afraid to say no and gain the same respect for doing it. They are familiar with and learned the art of saying no with compassion and ease. This is one of the best ways to say “NO” and save yourself from over promising.