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  • Mark Howard

How to say “no” nicely (and not damage business relationships in the process)


One of the most important things you can learn as a business owner is how to say “no” nicely and not damage any business relationships in the process. Yes, it is possible. Not only is it possible but it is also essential; essential for the health of your business and essential for your sanity!


So how do you say no politely? How do you stop saying yes to things that waste your time, and drain the energy and resources that could be better spent elsewhere?


3 steps to say “no” (nicely)


1. Start by expressing a desire to help

A “no” can be softened if you start with a statement of regret so let them know that you wish you could help. Something like “Thanks for thinking of me. I really wish I was in a position to help/work with you but I’m afraid that…” This shows your good intentions which makes a “no” easier to accept.


2. Blame yourself and explain to them why

In simple terms, you essentially need to tell the person why “it’s not you, it’s me.” You don’t want them to feel bad for asking or for you to come across in a negative light for saying “no” to their request, so make it clear that you can’t say “yes” because of your own limitations. Maybe your focusing on a specific area of work or you don’t have the time to give them the service that you’d want to. Maybe your business just isn’t the right fit for them.

It helps to provide the person with a simple explanation about why you’re saying no, so keep it short and clear. The most important thing here is that they understand why you can’t help them.


3. Point them towards help

Although you’re saying no to someone, you don’t want to damage your reputation or your relationship with them, so try to help them if you can. After all, you expressed your desire to help at the start of your refusal, so put your money where your mouth is.


Can you offer them an alternative person or business who could help? Can you direct them to a specific resource? If you can give them advice or a next step to move forward, they’ll be left feeling very grateful to you rather than disappointed in you.


Start saying “no” the right way


Saying “no” the wrong way or saying “yes” to projects or people you’d rather not…both of these are doing more damage in the long run. To start saying “no” the right way, follow these 3 simple steps: start with a statement of regret, explain why you’re saying no, and end by offering them the help that you can.


If you do this then you’re not damaging any business relationships and you’re preserving the essential energy and resources that you need to propel your business forward.


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