Saying no is hard to do. Well, unless it’s being asked to do your bit in stopping the spread of a deadly virus in the middle of a global pandemic by wearing a facemask during your 10-minute weekly sav-blanc supermarket shop, then apparently it is. But integrity is subjective I suppose…

In reality, the majority of us with reasonable, compassionate DNA, do find saying no to be a bit of a strain – no matter how necessary it might be. This is especially true within a work environment. For example, when someone asks you to take on a project you already know that you don’t really have the bandwidth for, being able to push-back without leaving them feeling rebuffed is a very valuable skill to have, and one that few of us possess. The same applies in social settings, receiving an invite you’re just really not up for and knowing how to decline it politely ensures things don’t get super awks – but so many people can get it wrong.

In order to help everyone’s stress and anxiety levels during this super stress and anxiety inducing year, we’ve come up with some top-tips on how to say no without causing a scene – anti-maskers take note.

*disclaimer, no one really likes having a mask on their face, but as a first world, affluent western country, it really is the least we can do when walking round Primark, you know, for the greater good of the human race.

1. Bookend it with kindness

It’s tale as old as time, give a few good words alongside a rejection to let the recipient down gently.

For example:
“This sounds like a great opportunity, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be fair to take it on at the moment. Thank you for considering me!”

Rather than:
“No can do, it’s not a good fit for us. Sorry”

No matter people’s experience, age or resilience, when it comes to rejection, people are sensitive. Good practice is to always be kind and supportive – this isn’t Mad Men remember, kindness is not a weakness.

2. Be honest and factual

As well as being sure to give a compliment, the person you’re saying no to will probably also want to know the reason why. Unless they’re asking why you don’t want go swimming with sharks with a gaping leg wound, sometimes it’s better to be candid about your decisions.

“I won’t be able to attend this meeting; I have an imperative deadline that I must prioritise. Many thanks in advance for your understanding – it is very much appreciated.”

Rather than:
“Sorry, can’t make it.” – which leaves people feeling jilted and redundant, something which is never conducive to ever eg-centric nature of work, management and new business opportunities.”

3. Brevity not brusqueness

Taking the above point onboard, you don’t always have to explain yourself when telling someone no. However, providing a considerate response is still more effective than no response at all. Leaving people wondering is thoughtless, and in today’s hyper-digitalised setting, is just plain rude. The trick? Be brief, but not too short.

Good example:
“Many thanks for thinking of me to contribute on this, sadly I can’t take on anymore work right now – but please do keep in touch.“

Bad example:
“Sorry, I can’t help with that.”

Note the use of the word sadly indicates that you recognise that the answer probably won’t thrill the recipient, but you want to be clear that it brings you no joy to say so.

4. Leave the door a jar

In most cases, what you’re really trying to say is “not now” rather than “no” – so try and articulate this so that you’re not cutting your (mask covered) nose off to spite your face.

“I would be delighted to speak at this event – but the timing this year is just too difficult. Please do keep me in mind for next year’s summit, as I’d genuinely be honoured to be involved.”

Try not to do this:
“Too busy I’m afraid, you should have asked sooner!”

You want to avoid sounding arrogant or like you’re trying to put something off indefinitely – you never know when you might regret it!

5. Be alternative

Always try and be as helpful and conciliatory as possible by suggesting another time or an alternate option.

“It’s not going to be possible for me to assist in this right now, but my colleague Princess Sparkles (what? Bergen’s can’t have corporate careers now?) is keen to get involved and may have some insights you’ll find vert useful. Shall I introduce you?”

Please do not do the following:
“I just really don’t have the time. You’d be better off asking someone else.”

All in all, telling people no is an essential part of everyday life. And whilst you’re not obliged to offer someone an explanation for every decision you make, when it comes to good business, it’s often worth taking the time to express yourself kindly and thoughtfully.

If you’ve got an idea or new campaign initiative that you’d like to speak honestly with us about, then please do get in touch today, we’d love to help you prove the naysayers wrong!

Thanks for reading!