Get All Access for $5/mo

7 Ways to Say 'No' Without Sounding Like a Jerk It is important to recognize when someone else's opportunity will become your distraction.

By Ivan Misner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

fizkes | Getty Images

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.

Related: Say 'No' to These 5 Things for an Immediate Life Improvement

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.

Related: 3 Entrepreneurs Share How They Got a VC to Say 'Yes'

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).

Related: The 4 Actions You Must Take to Find Your Opportunity

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.

Ivan Misner

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Bestselling Author

Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of the bestselling book, Networking Like a Pro (Entrepreneur Press 2017). He is also the founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, the world's largest referral marketing and networking organization.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business Solutions

Increase Productivity with This Microsoft 365 Subscription, Now $25 Off

It can make the entrepreneur life a lot easier.

Business News

Apple Pay Later Is Ending. Here's What's Taking Its Place.

The program was available for less than a year.

Leadership

This Artist Answered a Businessman's 'Powerful' Question — Then His Work Became 'the Poster Child for Juneteenth': 'Your Network Really Becomes Your Net Worth'

Reginald Adams was the executive director of a Houston-based art museum for more than a decade before he decided to launch his own public art and design firm.

Leadership

Harvard Business School Professor Says 65% of Startups Fail for One Reason. Here's How to Avoid It.

Team alignment isn't nice to have -- it's critical for running a successful business.

Business News

Here's What Companies Are Open and Closed on Juneteenth 2024

Since it became a holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been recognized by some major corporations as a paid day off.

Growing a Business

I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue by Being More Transparent — Here Are the 3 Strategies That Helped Me Succeed

Three road-tested ways to be more transparent and build relationships that can transform your business — without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed.