How To Say No In Business (Without Feeling Guilty)

After all, success is about saying "no" to many things so you can say "yes" to the right things.

As entrepreneurs there are many types of decisions that we have to make. There are also many challenges and distractions that come along with running a business. Eventually, you’ll have to turn down people and clients. It’s just the way things work; you have to say “no”.

The way you say no makes a big difference. Many business professionals are afraid to say no because they believe they’ll miss out, lose something or offend someone. However, when you’re attempting to please everybody, you start to define yourself by how well you are pleasing others; ultimately losing sight of who you are, your own purpose and what matters most to you.

Not all of us have the gumption to say “no” and mean it as a full sentence. So, it helps to ease into the art of saying no with a more creative approach.


1. Consider how you say ‘no’

When you say no without paying attention to the way you do it, hurt feelings is inevitable. Validate their “ask” and consider (or even ask) why they are asking you in the first place. When you reply, start with a positive statement like, “I would love to, but…” and then clarify why you’re unable to meet their request by emphasizing your constraints.


2. Emphasize constraints

Whenever you have to turn somebody down, emphasize the constraints that you’re facing. For example, if you are time-crunched and low on help, emphasize the importance of your time. When someone has a clearer grasp of your responsibilities, and which priorities occupy your time, it’s easier to make your no clear. In business, most people appreciate clarity, since it stems from confidence.


3. Appeal to logic and rationale

Some people are guided by their intellect and not emotion or feelings; these types of people are deemed to be rational. In contrast, logical people tend to follow a strict system or set of principles when reasoning a situation. It’s important to understand which approach appeals to the person you’re turning down.

A rational person may not quickly emphasize with your feelings of being overwhelmed or an outright display of feelings associated with a “no”. In contrast, a logical person will refer to their own principles when they are on the receiving end of a “no”. For example, discussing your principles and how it relates to your unavailability can help a logical person understand your answer.


4. Discuss compatibility concerns

In order for a relationship to work, a certain degree of compatibility must be present. If you have compatibility concerns, now is the time to voice them. However, focus on how potentially working together would alter major areas of how you both do business.

This is not a time to judge the other person; instead focus on your own areas of concern. A logical person would see this as a roadblock and pursue other people and plans.

If you respectfully turn someone down while sharing key compatibility concerns, they are more likely to move on without holding a grudge down the road.


Final thoughts

Once you learn how to say no in business, turning someone down shouldn’t stress you out. In fact, as you become more successful you’ll have to say “no” much more often. As famed investor Warren Buffet has said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

After all, success is about saying “no” to many things so you can say “yes” to the right things.


This article has been edited.

Eva Wislow is a career coach at CareersBooster. She is focused on helping people discover their true calling and achieve their most ambitious career and business goals. Eva finds her inspiration in writing and yoga. Connect with @EvaWislow on Twitter.


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