The California no.

It would be completely uncouth to use this platform to disparage business associates of long past. So, rather than doing that, I will talk to you directly about the problem instead. It is a pattern of behavior I see cropping up more and more in modern business, and it is perhaps my biggest pet peeve in the professional world.

Urbandictionary.com defines the “California no” as:

The way rejection tends to be handled by Californians, who are sunny in disposition and less brusque than East Coast residents. Instead of bluntly saying “no,” Californians say no by avoiding the question, forgetting to respond to emails, and generally postponing the issue. The best way to give a California no is to do nothing at all, as opposed to saying it outright.

I don’t know how we as a society devolved to this point in the Golden State, but I believe the “California no” stems from 2 distinct fears:

  1. The rejector wishes to avoid confrontation with the rejectee because the rejector has a fear of being questioned or in some way slandered by the rejectee.
  2. The rejector wishes to disengage while remaining outwardly ambiguous towards the rejectee so as to keep the professional relationship “on ice,” be it for thawing out later or maintaining in-network reputation.

Every creative professional has been turned away at some point in their life. It’s an unavoidable part of doing business, and we’re trained to handle it like the professionals that we are, with reason and dignity. The “California no” needlessly keeps us in limbo and prolongs the process of moving on to the next project. The client thinks we’ve moved on, but instead we’re sitting pretty like shmucks.

Why do we do this, you ask? Deep down, we want to believe that we’re not really being ignored. We’re better than that, and more importantly, we think you’re better than that. Maybe you’re just incredibly busy right now, and booking over the time that we’ve thoughtfully reserved for you would be rash and irresponsible. Surely, there will be some closure one way or the other sooner or later, so just keep waiting it out like a responsible person should, right?

Do you see the situation this puts us in? Eventually, the patience we’ve invested gives way to frustration and betrayal. The relationship that took so long to carefully build topples over like a house of cards. By being afraid to man up, the client has manifested the very problem they were trying to avoid.

So, can you have your cake and eat it too? How does one say “no” to a creative without burning the bridge forever and being blacklisted for a 50 mile radius? It’s easier than you think. Roll up your sleeves and say something along the lines of:

“Dear so-and-so, we’re terribly sorry but we have to pass on this project. Have a great weekend!”

Easy, right? Believe it or not, this is totally appropriate, sufficient, and a thousand times better than saying nothing at all.


Dragulescu.studio is a husband & wife design consultancy based in the valley outskirts of Los Angeles, California. Let us know what some of your most notorious pet peeves are. We promise not to blow you off.