Team Productivity

How to Say No in a Nice and Professional Way

Stephanie Gonzaga
December 3, 2018
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Do you often say yes when someone asks you for a favor?

Do you give in to people’s requests, even if you’ve already got too much on your plate or a very busy schedule?

As a leader, you want to gain the trust and loyalty of the people you work with. You know that working with people who are comfortable and trusting of you allows you to be more productive and effective.

However, there’s a fine line between being a likeable person and being a people-pleaser.

To be an effective leader, sometimes you have to put your foot down and say no, even if it means turning down a good offer or a teammate’s idea.

Why no is just as important as yes

Saying yes to every single opportunity can be just as disruptive and stressful when you don’t rein it in when you need to.

Your schedule is already bursting at the seams with tasks and appointments. Adding more just to please others can lead to overwhelm, making it difficult to fulfill these requests after all.

Your own priorities are compromised as well. Each yes comes with a cost wherein you’re essentially saying no to other opportunities along the way. These can be:

  • Speaking gigs
  • Networking opportunities
  • Improving your core product or service
  • Bigger and better clients
  • Time for yourself, family, and friends

If you want to achieve work-life balance and still be a great leader to your team, you have to learn to say no to tasks, engagements, and even opportunities that may not align with your short- and long-term goals.

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4 different ways to say no that still make you likeable

If you’re worried about hurting feelings or burning a bridge or two, there are ways to frame the no so you remain polite, professional, and likeable to others.

1. "Let me think about it."

This is a polite and professional way of asking for more time to consider the request. As a busy leader, you often need to think things through before making any decisions.

2. "The idea sounds great! It's just that . . . "

Start on a positive note by sincerely complimenting or thanking the person for thinking of you.

You can then follow it up with an honest reason why you can't accept the request or why you won't be able to make it to this engagement.

3. "I can't today. How about [insert new schedule]?"

This is best for when you truly believe the request is worth looking into again in the future.

If you're absolutely sure this is something you want to consider again, offer to reschedule at a better time when you can devote your full attention.

4. "I'm sorry, but I can't."

If you've got no time or interest in fulfilling the request, a straightforward no is the best answer you can give. There's no room for false hope and you can rest assured that you're still on track with your schedule and goals.

You can tweak any of these 4 scripts to best convey your decision and the reasons behind it.

How to say no after saying yes

The scripts above are useful when turning down a request as it's presented to you. But what if you've agreed to commit and need to cancel at the last minute?

Nobody wants to go back on his or her word, but you may need to step back and make room for opportunities that best align with what you want to do or achieve.

While it isn't going to be easy, you need to be honest both with yourself and with the person you've agreed to work with. Step up and be transparent about your inability to finish the job or commit to the engagement.

4 steps to back out of a commitment gracefully

To help you out, here's a short and simple step-by-step guide you can tweak to best communicate how you need to cancel your agreement in a polite and professional manner.

  1. Acknowledge that you've agreed to commit to the request. ("I know that I offered to take on this project 2 months ago . . .")
  2. Apologize and explain that you have to cancel the commitment. (". . . but things have changed since then and I feel I may not have the time to give your project my 100%. My sincere apologies for this.")
  3. Offer a solution or alternative. ("I don't want to leave you hanging, so I can recommend a few people who have the skills to handle your project. I can also . . .")
  4. Be open to questions, concerns, and positive or negative feedback. ("If you have questions or concerns, I'm free and willing to listen.")

An easier way to say no to scope creep

Saying no to clients and stakeholders is tough—especially when they’re excited about a new feature they want to add to a project. With a clear project plan, you can break the bad news without being the bad guy. 

At TeamGantt, we've got your back! Build, share, and collaborate on projects with ease, and show clients and stakeholders how scope changes impact the overall budget and timeline. That way everyone can make smart project decisions together.

Try TeamGantt for free today!