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?