Being human, being generous and helpful is in our nature and it’s really hard to say no to requests from the ones you know, especially your closed ones. When you develop a reputation for being extremely responsive & generous, expect a never-ending snowstorm requests coming your way. This could be the reason why Warren Buffet says: “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

For those of us who has ‘helpful’ as our middle name – or just being polite, this is no easy task. For every “no” said, an opportunity is missed to make a difference and possibly build a relationship. And for some reason your “no” ended up on a wrong way to the wrong person, it’s also a surefire method to rebrand yourself as selfish and rude. 

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What a tough world we’re living in, eh?

Writing about it and imagining it is actually a whole different story when you actually have to say it to a person, face to face. For the generous us, we’d need to learn that there’s a big difference between pleasing people and helping them. Being a giver doesn’t mean that you have to say yes to all of the people all of the time to all of the requests. It’s about saying yes to those request, for instance – when it won’t compromise your own goals, when you have the necessary resources or skills that actually contributes. Other than these specific conditions, successful givers follow Buffett’s edict and decline for one essential reason:

Saying no allows you to say yes when it matters the most.

But for the rest of the time, you’re always asking yourself how to say no without cutting off the water flow and putting your reputation on the line? Since it’s entirely impossible to say yes to everyone, here at atoz2u, we’ve come up with a crash course in saying no with six responses in a first person perspective; each with both advantages and disadvantages, and could be relevant with different people in different circumstances;

1. The Deferral: “I’m drenched right now, but feel free to follow up at a later time”

The first response was to explain honestly that my availability was limited while travelling, but I hoped I’ll have more availability few months down. This introductory filter provided clues about who actually meant to connect with me. People like us, liked prioritizing the people who were passionate and never give up. But we also unintentionally rewarded those who stalkers/takers – who took us for granted – people who would do whatever it takes to get what they wanted. As deplored by Joel Stein, it’s very common that we end up helping the “the pushy ones” and not helping those who are respectful of our time to bother us at all, let alone again.

2. The Referral: “I don’t think I have the knowledge to do what you’re asking, but here’s something else”

Various requests were removed from my expertise that saying yes would result in injustice. (A word of advise: don’t ask your company’s psychiatrist for assistance in startup financing or medical lawsuit.) For instance, when someone reached out to me for career advice, although I’d like to help, I had not a single training as a career counselor. 

Not wanting to leave anyone empty-handed, I replied that I’m often cautious to give customary advise, especially to people I’ve just met. In place of that, I instead provided them resources that might help; like books on career choices, (The Startup of You, Finding Your Element, So Good They Can’t Ignore You). By providing these referrals, it allowed me to avoid saying no utterly and to engage everyone with equal time in a way that protects my time as well.

3. The Introduction: “This isn’t my forte, but I know of someone who might help”

When you aren’t in a position to help, you can offer to find help with someone who could. Provided that you have validated the requester’s trustworthiness. This proves as a huge time-saver and often, far more helpful than any approaches, the outcome would be surprising. 

4. The Bridge: “You two are working toward similar goals”

An entirely different approach; you can instead look for ways to make mutually beneficial connections. There’s a time when I was asked for help by an aspiring screenwriter to get his screenplay read by a film industry insider, I remembered an earlier note where a depressed comedy writer is searching for ways to be a help to others. I instantly connected them to each other. And when I got similar circumstances, I keep their records and hope that I could match them.

5. The Batch: “I’ve heard the same question from others, so let’s chat together”

A dialogue with a fellow employee opened my eyes to another response. Brian is currently an intern in my office and I was stunned to learn that his daily tasks involved scheduling upwards of 100 calls per month with few others pursuing that path. It seemed inefficient to take those calls individually, so I suggested to invite them in small groups using Google Hangouts. And with that, they started their own community around common interests. It is also hardly any commitment made by me.

6. The Learning Opportunity

It is really difficult to imagine a person taking no for an answer. You’ve tried, the deferral, the referral, the batch and basically everything, but he is so persistent.

My response could be a little different if he had followed some of the recommendations in Mattan Griffel’s insightful post on getting busy people to answer your email, or The Six Ways To Get Me To Email You Back. Instead, I decided to level with him:

Now if all else fails, sometimes, the old and traditional way of saying no straight to his face will do wonders. 

How To Say No Politely Gif No
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“I’m sorry to disappoint. Unfortunately, one of my goals this year is to improve my ability to actually say no – you’re a tough audience, I’ll give you that. And that, I suppose it’s a good practice for me, a step closer to my goal.”

Once I said that, he moved on and never came back. And I’m still practicing meanwhile,  :-D.

Now, if you are still shy or feel gutted to say no to your boss or fellow colleagues in an email, try using these methods, you will be surprised at the responses you get.