In biz, as in life, we all get by with a little help from our friends. But every successful entrepreneur will tell you it’s important to say no. Nope, nope, nopeity, nope, as you will. To lay down your business law, especially when you don’t want to. In fact, it’s most important to say no when you really don’t want to–like when it’s a friend you want to support, but can’t. You know when this happens. Your gut will check you where your brain can’t.
From rejected requests to straight up ignores, we’re outlining the four ways you can say no to people you know. (We recommend some over others.)
#1 The Ghost
Saying no can be really uncomfortable. Really, really, running to the bathroom after street meat uncomfortable. Especially when it’s a friend or someone you want to continue to work with. For example, if you have a graphic designer friend/acquaintance who wants an in with some of your clients, but you don’t really dig their work, you might keep pushing the request to the bottom of the barrel.
But it’s not smart to put yourself in verbal handcuffs or friend jail. Don’t ghost. DON’T DO IT. It’s the opposite of burning a bridge; it’s the refusal to build one at all.
Sometimes you think it’s easier to ignore it and if and when you run into them simply say, “oh no, it must have gone to my trash.” But that response is garbage and everyone knows it’s a lie. Ghosting makes things more uncomfortable and rude than they need to be. If It’s a friend you want to keep we suggest #4.
However if you need help finding the words we suggest #3 below.
#2 The Hard No
Curt and to the point, you’ve likely been on the receiving end of this kind of ‘no.’ It can come off as dismissive and aggressive, especially as we’ve gotten rather accustomed to exclamation points. If you’re sending a cold email, it’s more likely you’ll get a rather chilly response.
If you want to go this route, we suggest adding in some brief (and likewise to the point) common courtesy. Something like: “I appreciate the opportunity, but this offer is not in line with my brand.” You don’t have to dress it up in lipstick and xx’s, but you also don’t want to slam the email door in someone’s face. It’s never necessary— especially since every contact is a contact worth saving. (It’s one thing you should hoard.) (Unless it’s your psycho ex. Delete that shit.)
Responding to an ask email in a strong, not perfunctory, manner doesn’t have to be rude.
However we always suggest trying your hand at #3.
#3 The Polite Pass
We like to think this is the preferred method of ‘no,’ for most business people. They are emails that take into consideration (meaning: they read) what you had to say and offer a short, but polite pass. Often they read something like: “Thanks so much for thinking of xx for this opportunity, but given her current schedule we won’t be able to make this work. Please keep her in mind for future opportunities.”
Sometimes they even go into a little more detail. You’ll get feedback from someone that will help push your work forward. Try putting a “constructive no,” into practice. Most people will appreciate the honesty.
For example, when someone sends C&C a pitch that has not been tailored to our content (even if it’s someone I know), I’ll write back explaining why this kind of pitch doesn’t work and how they can adjust and change it. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious why it doesn’t work (it’s a dude founder that does nothing in the female space) and sometimes it’s less obvious.
#4 The Elaborate Explanation
You’re not writing a letter home to your grandma. You don’t need the whole backstory. If it’s a business contact you don’t know that well, it’s not appropriate.
If it’s a no that you’re worried is going to damage a friendship, you need to skip the writing part all together and do it in person. Or at the very least, on the phone. Tone matters and no matter how many x’s and o’s you stick on the bottom of your email, something will be misconstrued and poof! you’re in a friend fight. Give them the respect to do it in person.
Have you had to say no to a friend? How did you deal?