You Are So Kind to Think of Me

My last post focused on when to say “no” to people or activities that aren’t aligned with your most important priorities. Deciding to decline a request is the easy part. Delivering the news in a way that doesn’t damage the way people think of you is a bit tougher. Because I struggle with disappointing others, I pay special attention to the artful ways the “thanks, but no thanks” message can be delivered. I received a particularly good template for future use last week.

At a colleague’s suggestion, I sent an e-mail invitation to a rock-star faculty member I don’t know very well. I wanted her to serve on an advisory committee and promised that we would be efficient, so the commitment would not be terribly burdensome. Two weeks went by without a word, so I assumed she had communicated her answer by not answering. And then something surprising happened. I got a response!

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say that I could do this—because I would enjoy it. But the terrible truth is that I am really overcommitted in the next couple of years, and adding anything is probably not a good idea.
I really hope I can help in the future.

I am not so gullible as to think she was actually disappointed that she couldn’t honor my request, but I appreciated the gracious and respectful way in which she responded. I decided immediately to add her approach to my repertoire of ways to say “no” without sounding negative. Here are some other phrases that might work for you:

  • I’m not the best person for that, so let me suggest (insert two names).
  • It would be so great to work with you on this, so I’m crushed that my schedule won’t permit me to do this.
  • I wish I could say “yes,” but I’m in the middle of a big project right now.
  • This is an important event, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to give this the attention it deserves.
  • Can you give me a few weeks to think about this and call you if I think I can make this work?
  • I wouldn’t be able to participate on a regular basis, but I’d be happy to serve as a sounding board from time to time.
  • You are so kind to think of me. I wish I could.

Do you have some favorite phrases you use when you want or need to turn down a request?

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