A couple days ago guest blogger Gary Ryan Blair shared 15 ideas to save you time, energy and money in “What is this two-letter word costing you?”.

But, how do you say no? In business, saying no is often about respecting and valuing your most precious commodity, your time.

How To Say “No”

When you must say no, be direct. Saying no is not a time to beat around the bush. Although no often sounds more polite with a short pre and/or post-amble, “I’m sorry, I can’t,” just begs for a reply of “But why?”

A short explanation proactively stops the inevitable “Why?”

Pre and post-amble examples:

  • “What an interesting project, thank you for asking however I can’t commit at this time because…”
  • I know how important this project is to you.  I just can’t fit it in. It wouldn’t be fair to you to not give it my full attention. I have to (complete, accomplish, finish)….

Replies such as the two above work well when business associates are asking for a favor or partnership, etc.  It is a way to acknowledge their ideas or efforts without accepting the offer or responsibility. They are very affirmative when written in first person.

If you are worried that the “no” might cause an angry reaction, speak in the third person. An interesting little quirk of communication is that by speaking in the third person you depersonalize your statement and make your calendar the “bad guy” and not you. Examine the different response you have as you read the following example:

  • “Unfortunately, the calendar just doesn’t allow time to take on this event.”

The above comment stands on its own, however you can always add a softener with a “because…” or “perhaps in 2 months….”

  • “Unfortunately, the calendar just doesn’t allow time to take on this event.  There are too many other obligations at this time perhaps .”

If the person is pushy, you can always stall with “Let me check, I’ll get back to you,” or I’ll have to review my current obligations, I’ll tell you tomorrow.” It’s considerate to put a timeframe on your stall. Be sure to honor your commitment and respond either positive or negative.

Situations vary; consider combining, mix and matching, adding, and subtracting parts until it feels just right for your situation. Learning to say no will make your relationships run smoother. Being nice at the expense of yourself helps no one. With these few simple suggestions the reaction isn’t as bad as what we imagine.