It’s January, so I’m good to still to talk about resolutions, right? One thing I’ve seen on a handful of lists is to “say no more.” After years of saying “no,” I’m finally ready to start saying yes; however, all that practice has given me some great strategies for declining invitations with no burned bridges or hurt feelings. Whether it’s an opportunity that isn’t a great fit, a coffee date request that you’re not looking forward to, or any other invitation that you just don’t have time for, there are ways to make that “no” easier for both you and the person hearing it.
1. Play matchmaker.
Before accepting any invitation or opportunity, I take a minute to think if I’m really the best person for it. In some ways, this has more to do with considering what is a best fit for my brand, but it also applies to other offers. If someone reaches out to collaborate on a project, does someone come to mind who’s totally perfect for it? For instance, if someone asks if I’m interested in starting a book club, I know just the girl. Need someone to help you set a clothing budget? My friend has much more experience in that than I do, and I think y’all would get along swell. Want to do a DIY guest post? My crafty friend was just looking for someone to put one together! I love this strategy because instead of focusing on the “no,” you get to open a new door for someone (two people, actually) to move forward.
2. Two birds, one stone.
There was a time a couple of years ago when I literally did not have room in my schedule for one more coffee date. Even if it was with someone I wanted to get to know better, my weekly calendar was too booked to fit one in. Instead of declining altogether, I started thinking of one night a week as my office hours. I would post up at a coffee shop while I worked on blog posts or podcast planning and let anyone who asked know that I’d be there if they wanted to come work on stuff and keep me company. If you’ve got a local co-working group you can join one day a week, that can be a great way to get work done while still engaging in your community. Plus, someone who comes to see you might meet another person in the group, and then step one has taken care of itself!
From a business standpoint, this strategy looks a little bit different. If a brand contacts me wanting to collaborate on a specific feature that doesn’t interest me, I’ll do my own brainstorm sesh and try to come up with a counter-pitch. Just because the offered opportunity isn’t a good fit doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential collaboration in there that may be more mutually beneficial. Even if there is a specific campaign a company is trying to promote, most are just looking for exposure and to be affiliated with what you’ve got going on, so they’ll be open to what that looks like when working with you.
3. Be honest.
Honesty is always the best policy, isn’t it? That’s what they say, but there are a couple of reasons it really can be the best way to decline. First, none of us is the only one with a busy schedule. If you can’t sacrifice even one night this month for an event, it’s not the end of the world. Your time is precious and should be guarded — no matter what anyone tells you. When you put yourself first, you set an example that saying “no” is allowed, is okay, and is how we all can all strive for work/life balance.
The other reason you should be honest is because, depending on the offer, you may be able to turn a “no” into someone else’s “yes.” Was something about the pitch way off base? For instance, if they offered way below the industry standard rate, you letting them know could help them reevaluate their ask. Have you ever been turned down for a job and wished you knew why? Giving a little feedback can go a long way!
Do you have trouble saying “no” or wish it weren’t so uncomfortable? How do you deal with turning down offers and invitations?