How do you say no to a partner through email and still save your career?

Can you imagine saying “no” to a partner? Even though the mere thought of doing so may cause you to tremble. However, it can be completely necessary to refuse something that they have asked of you. Many lawyers, accountants, and consultants have said no to a partner (and lived to tell the tale). Saying “yes” all the time could result in wasting their valuable time with countless emails, unnecessary meetings and work of low value. Yes, they are still alive and kicking and are progressing up the track to partner. And you could be too. Here is how to say no to partner through email.

How to say no to a partner through email, in a positive way

You can’t just say no to a partner for the sake of saying no, you need to justify your actions and give them sound reasoning for your refusal. The most effective way to do this is by alternative positioning. (Say no gracefully!)

Using this strategy, you can communicate a positive conclusion without saying the word “no”. The way you do this is to explore additional options. 

Then, you can come up with alternative solutions that will help them achieve the result that they want. This is by figuring out what the partner’s underlying motivations are and their desired solution.

For example, if a partner has asked you to take on a certain work project which you don’t have time for or you consider it to be of low value, suggest someone in your team or within the firm that it is better suited for. Perhaps someone who is looking to develop those skills or gain that specific type of experience.

A lot of the time, partners don’t care how it gets done, they just want it done. The best stance you can take here is to solve this for them instead of just giving them a flat out no.

Email template examples for saying “no”

If you’re looking for a how-to say no to a partner in a positive way example, we have two. These templates show you how to use alternative positioning to turn your “no” into a positive alternative solution.

Template 1: example of turning down a meeting

Hi [partner name],

Thank you for the meeting invitation.

Based on my current schedule, I won’t be available on [insert date] at the time that you’ve requested, but I am free on any of the dates/times below if one of these works for you.

[list options of dates and times]

Please let me know which date works best for you and I’ll schedule that in on my calendar.

[sign off and name]

If you don’t want to reschedule, clearly state that you cannot attend and your reason. Then, finish with a request to be kept updated with action items that you may be able to help with. By doing this, you are showing that you are interested in what goes on in the meeting. You are also showing them that you are willing to do your part.

Template 2: example of declining a work project

Hi [partner name],

Thank you for entrusting me with [project name], I really appreciate the opportunity to work on this.

Unfortunately, right now my priorities for this week are as follows:

[list priorities]

Since I’m currently at capacity with these tasks, would it be suitable for you if I scheduled [project name] for [state date]? Alternatively, I can potentially delegate [specific task] to one of my team members if you need this completed sooner.

Please let me know if I should prioritise these tasks that you mentioned previously or your new request.

Thank you again.

[sign off and name]

If you don’t want to take on the project at all or if it is just not right for you, explain why it’s not a great fit and recommend someone that is. By doing this, you are showing awareness of the firm as a whole and your effort to help will paint you in a good light with the partner.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

Instead of being afraid of saying “no” to a partner who has requested something, think about what they want and how you can solve that for them without you actually having to do it.

They only want things to get done efficiently and effectively, so if you use these email templates for how to say no to them, you can be sure to refuse them in the right way and all without affecting your career.  

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