How to Say No to Requests (Without Damaging Your Relationships)

The Art of No: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less

Patrick Ewers
Mar 16, 2018 · 8 min read
  • An old colleague wants to hop on a Zoom call to catch up,
  • Someone in your network wants an introduction to someone else in your network,
  • A candidate that didn’t work out wants to schedule one more call to collect feedback, and
  • An aspiring entrepreneur you’ve never met before wants to buy you coffee and “pick your brain.”

The Hidden Danger of “Yes”

Saying “yes” to everyone is tempting because it’s easy and — in the moment — it makes you feel good. At the very least, it’s certainly better than saying no and often becomes our default reaction when we don’t want to spend too much time thinking about the “right” decision.

  • You make more commitments than you can possibly keep, leading to unfulfilled obligations and damaged standing in your network.

Why it’s so Hard to Say “No”

On a basic level, saying “no” just doesn’t feel good. After all: Do you like being turned down? In most cases, probably not. We all know from personal experience that rejection doesn’t feel good, so we avoid doing it to others.

  • We simply ignore the request in the hopes it will be forgotten or resolve itself.

“No” vs Ignoring

At face value, choosing to ignore a request might seem negative or socially damaging. But the truth is, ignoring requests has become so commonplace that, from many social aspects, it’s not only accepted; it’s expected.


Say, “No, but [alternative].”

The more successful you become, the more requests you’re going to get. And while many of these requests will lead to mutual value for both parties, there’s a good chance just as many (if not more) won’t be compelling enough to warrant a commitment.

For example:

The request: “Hey John, any chance I could buy you a cup of coffee next week? I’d love to sit down and pick your brain about leadership.”


Say, “No, not right now,” (or “Yes, but not now.”)

Often, you’re going to get requests you genuinely want to follow through on but, for whatever reason, you aren’t able to commit at that moment.

  • Secondly, there’s a good chance their situation will resolve itself by the time you’re available, negating the need to meet in the first place.

For example:

The request: “Hey Erin, would you be free for a 30-minute Zoom call on Thursday? I’ve got a few questions about fundraising and I’d love your input.”


Say, “Yes, but not me.”

Occasionally you’ll get requests from those you want to help but, for whatever reason, you’re unable to. In these instances, ask yourself: Who do I know that could help this person?

For example:

The request: “Hi John, do you know much about CRMs? Our sales team’s growing and we’re looking into a few options. If you’ve got the time, I’d really appreciate your feedback. Would you be willing to meet up for lunch sometime soon?”


A Valuable No is Better than an Empty Yes

At the end of the day, “no” doesn’t have to be a bad word. In fact, used correctly, an honest “no” is often more valuable than obligatory “yes.”

  • For them, because you’ve provided them an alternate (and potentially more valuable) solution.

A Closing Challenge: Just Say No

So here’s my challenge to you: Do you have a pending request you know you should reject? If so, use the tactics above to close the loop on that request with a viable, valuable alternative.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Patrick Ewers

Written by

Executive coach & founder of Mindmaven, a company that teaches entrepreneurs and leaders how to generate breakthrough opportunities from their network.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.