7 Ways to Say 'No' Without Sounding Like a Jerk
To network well, you really need to learn how to help people, build relationships, and support your connections in some way. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need to also say “no” to requests that are made of you.
It’s important to recognize when someone’s opportunity is your distraction. These are generally situations where someone’s project is not on mission for your business or your life. In these situations, you need to learn how to say “no.” The word “no” is a one-word sentence. It’s just not a full sentence that I like to use very often and I think there are a fair number of people like me out there.
Don’t get me wrong, I am totally good with saying “no,” to people when it is necessary. The secret is: how do you say “no” without sounding like you don’t care?
Here are seven ways to say “no” and not come across like a jerk (or worse).
1. Blame your workload.
A very effective way to tell someone “no” is to tell them that you believe that you’d let them down if you do what they are asking. It might be because you don’t have the bandwidth, the knowledge, or the expertise to do what they are asking for but, in any case, you’re not the person to help make this idea a success and you don’t want to disappoint them.
2. Recognize the difference between an opportunity and a distraction.
That begins by knowing your own personal or professional mission. If you know your purpose/expertise/mission then you can say “no” when someone comes to you with something that is a distraction to that mission. I do this all the time by telling people that my mission is to do X and as interesting as their idea is, it’s not something that fits with what I do.
3. Refer them to someone more qualified.
When I say “no” to someone, I almost always try to refer them to someone who is more qualified or more suited to help that person. I also try to refer them to someone who’s mission is more in alignment with their project.
4. Explain you don't do that.
Sometimes the request and my response are very simple. For example, when someone tries to get me to have a piece of cake or pie -- I simply say thanks, but I don’t eat processed sugar. When they say something like, “Oh, just a bite,” I have no problem telling them they should feel free to have my bite -- because I don’t eat sugar.
5. Don’t Seinfeld it.
One of the really funny tropes from the old TV series, Seinfeld, is how the characters go off on some crazy subterfuge or complicated ruse that ends up getting them in more trouble than if they had just been candid in the first place. Be polite but be honest and be direct.
6. Propose something else.
If you are unable to do something that you’re being asked to do, offer them something else instead. For example, I am always having people ask me to send some communication out to my entire mailing list. The answer is always “no.” However, with people I know and trust, I propose something else. I propose that I post it on my social media instead. That generally works just as well to maintain the relationship.
7. When you say it, mean it!
Be a broken record. Sometimes, people don’t take “no” for an answer. I try to be polite and smile, and repeat what I said before (on some occasions, I’ve repeated myself three times before they realized I really meant it).
One important thing to note is this: don’t become addicted to “no.” I look for opportunities to help people and to say yes. It’s only when I really, truly, can’t help or believe that I’m not a good fit for their request -- that I actually say “no” to people. Many times when you say “yes,” there is an opportunity cost to you for saying yes. You have to be clear in your mind whether this is truly an opportunity or a distraction.
Based on material from Misner’s latest book, Who’s in Your Room: The Secret to Creating Your Best Life.