Five Strategies For Gracefully Turning Down A Request
Written by Dawn Graham for Forbes
Time is the one thing we cannot create more of, so learning to protect it can make all the difference to your career, family and overall well-being. If you’re regularly being asked for your time, before accepting, ask yourself these questions:
Is this something I am truly excited about? If you check in with your initial gut reaction when first hearing a request, this question should be simple to answer. Either your heart soars or it sinks. Activities that are exciting usually elicit visual images of what it’ll be like to participate, whereas activities that feel draining inspire a list of obstacles and “have to’s.” We can readily convince ourselves that something is a good opportunity due to exposure, money or experience, but these practicalities are different than feeling excited about an opportunity. When performing a favor out of obligation, it’s often accompanied by resentment, which can impede our ability to do our best. So, although you may be able to logically conclude that saying “yes” has some benefits, save yourself (and possibly others) the extra stress by setting a solid boundary around your time.
Say: “I’d love to help, but am a bit overcommitted at the moment. Can I offer some suggestions over email, or perhaps refer you to another resource?”
Will I be able to perform at 100% without jeopardizing other priorities? In the moment, it can be easy to overlook the details that are involved in an activity. On the surface, it may appear smooth,when beneath there are travel challenges, unexpected expenses, coordination of schedules, in-depth preparation and last minute changes. Before accepting a project, give yourself space to check your calendar to see what else you have planned and to map out additional time for the unexpected to arise. If after doing this you’re able to move forward, you’ll feel more confident about your ability to perform well while also meeting your other commitments, even if something goes astray.
Say: “That sounds interesting. Let me take a look at what else I have scheduled and get back to you. When do you need a response?”
Am I the best resource for this? While our egos revel in the thrill of being selected for things, we can both enjoy the ego boost and say "no" to the request. Sometimes it’s a win-win to recommend a colleague who might enjoy or need the engagement more, especially if the project falls outside of our primary wheelhouse. It can also benefit your requester because they expand their resource pool for future opportunities.
Say: “I’m honored you’ve asked me, and if you trust my judgment, I’d love to recommend someone who is an expert in this area who I know would be a great match for the opportunity.”
Have I considered a middle ground? Although you may not have time or interest in a project as presented, perhaps you’re willing to take on a piece of it. It’s not uncommon for others to fail to fully think through the details before making an ask, so engaging in dialogue to dissect the request and learn more about their desired outcomes can offer insights into how you might re-shape the opportunity to benefit both parties, or offer to take on a smaller piece that is helpful, but sets a boundary. If the request itself is for a meeting that you aren’t sure is a good use of your time, asking the requester to invest first may help to come up with a middle ground option that works for both of you.
Say: “Moving into a new career is both exciting and a little scary. I’ve written a few free articles on this topic that I think will help a lot with this situation. Here’s the link. If you have specific questions afterward, please feel free to follow up with an email. All the best!"
Does it align with the goals I have prioritized? If the goals you’ve set for yourself have flexibility, it’s tempting to push them off for a lucrative opportunity that steers you off track. While this may be fine occasionally, if you continue to make this choice, your long-term goals will suffer at the hand of your short-term choices.
Say: “I’d love to be a part of this, but I’ve committed to a few other projects that have similar deadlines. If the project can wait until early Fall, I will be able to give it my full attention.”
If you can’t answer an emphatic “yes” to the questions above, it may be best to defer, delegate or decline the request altogether. Even if the request seems doable or you feel pressured in the moment, it’s best to take time to evaluate the situation before responding. Chances are you’ve forgotten a few commitments on your calendar or it takes you away from achieving another deadline you’ve set for yourself.
If you need more time, try, “That sounds interesting. Give me a few days to think about it.”
You can adapt these responses to a variety of situations, both professional and personal. The key is to find a phrase that aligns with your values and feels genuine. Although you may feel compelled to create an excuse or provide an explanation, this is not a requirement. Sometimes you'll have a legitimate conflict or reason, and other times you won’t. It’s perfectly okay (and often kinder) to say, “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to at this time, but I wish you all the best with it!”
On occasion someone may push for more information, but most socially adept people will accept that you have your reasons and respect your boundaries. And honestly, a “no” is much nicer than no response at all, or worse, a lie that you have to perpetuate.
You still may experience some discomfort when saying “no” if your tendency is to acquiesce. However, it may pale in comparison to the regret or resentment you'll feel in the long-run by accepting.