How to say no gracefully is the challenge facing most people in professional services. Saying no to the wrong person or in the wrong way can be a career limiting move. Particularly if you are on Partner Track or seeking a promotion to the next level in your firm. The problem is everyone needs to be able to say no gracefully. If you just can’t say no to people – whether clients, partners or team members – you will struggle to have enough time to focus on your own stuff. This short video (with transcript) explains how to say no gracefully regardless of who is posing the request.

How to say no gracefully

How to say no gracefully video transcript

I don’t know why, but I really struggled to answer this email, and it was a really nice email. It basically said, “Oh, I love your brilliant business books.” I’m like, “Yes, get it.” And then it said, “As a local business person, do you want to join me on a Friday morning to meet other like-minded business owners?”

And then, my heart sank. That’s not my networking strategy. It’s not how I’m going to win my business. It’s Friday morning, it’s the last thing I want to do is to go out networking before 9 o’clock.” It was simple. I should have said, “No.”

But why was it so hard to say, “No?” It was someone I barely knew but had met through mountain biking, didn’t want to offend, and I agonised. I thought, “Do I tell her why?” like, “Oh, I’m a bit busy on Friday.” And then I thought, no, I have to say, “No,” and I have to say “No,” and why and do it respectfully, and so I did.

I said “I really appreciate you thinking of me, very, very kind. I’m going to decline because that’s not how I go to market, and this is how I network.” Lovely note came back. So why was it so hard to say, “No?” This isn’t about bashing what happened to be the BNIs, the 4Ns or other types of breakfast networking groups.

Far from it. They do a valuable job, and they’re a great way for particularly very small businesses and other businesses, local businesses to get local business. But still, why was I finding it so hard?

And I think it’s often we don’t want to offend. We don’t want to make people feel rejected. We don’t want to make ourselves come over maybe as arrogant or rude, and in a corporate context, it’s often because we don’t want it to be a career limiting move.

And I think when it comes to saying, “No,” which is actually one of the biggest things that can hold you back from being successful in business. In business and your career, being able to say, “No.”, but do it in a nice way that doesn’t offend is really hard, and I think the easy way to do it is put yourself in their position.

Very often, we forget. They’re not always expecting a “Yes.” And actually, for a lot of things, we can say, “No,” and it’s fine. But if you’re in one of those career limiting positions which you may think if you say, “No,” then it’s time to understand what are the boundaries of the problem?

When do they need the work? What are they actually wanting? And then, it’s a lot easier to find an alternative to “No” that isn’t “Yes.” And so my recommendation today is if you’re struggling to say, “No,” and actually, you need to say, “No” because it’s not going to affect your goals and what you’re trying to do.

Then just take a step back like I did and think, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and if you do that, it’ll be a lot easier to say, “No.”