There are myriad situations in the workplace where you should graciously accept the privilege of obliging: being asked to lead a high-profile project, requests to help your coworker meet an impending deadline, or most anything your boss asks of you. But there are other situations where a repertoire of canned responses can be helpful when saying “no” is the best option. You are only one person with a limited amount of time and resources to commit to your daily priorities, so you shouldn’t feel guilty when you have to turn down an invitation to your friend’s fundraising event,or refrain from writing a glowing recommendation letter for someone you know is less than a consummate professional.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy turning down your close friends and family — or even your coworkers and acquaintances — when they call in favors or make heartfelt personal requests. For these instances, here are guidelines on responding that you can use the next time saying ‘no’ may be necessary, but not simple.
1. You get a request from a less-than-professional acquaintance, friend, or family member for a professional introduction.
In this instance, the fact that you are such a busy person can play to your advantage. You can easily — and plausibly — blame your inability to set up a meeting on your (or your contact’s) schedule. Let the person seeking an introduction know that you don’t feel comfortable adding to the workload of your contact and see if you can field the questions yourself.
2. You are asked for a recommendation you can’t honestly give.
This one is tough, since you don’t want to burn bridges or make enemies, but your best bet is to be honest with the recommendation seeker and let them gently know that you may not be the best person to give a recommendation. Note your lack of experience observing the person in situations that would be key to the given role. Redirect the person to other colleagues or contacts that may be better able to assess their abilities.
3. You are asked to contribute money to a cause, but you’d rather not.
It’s an inevitable workplace occurrence: your coworker solicits donations for a charity, their child’s school, or a gift for a person you aren’t especially fond of. While it can be difficult to turn down requests for funds for a “good” cause, it can become a good deal more manageable when you have another good cause to use as a scapegoat for your inability to give. Explain that you would love to give but have already exhausted your budget for charity for the year on your favorite cause.
4. You are invited to an event you’d rather avoid.
It could be any number of occasions: a colleague’s birthday, a holiday celebration, a retirement party, etc. The bottom line is that you hate being the only sober participant in a group of a dozen inebriated coworkers. Falling back on your schedule is probably the best way to get out of such festivities, but even if your workload isn’t enough to assuage your tequila-hungry workmates, you can fall back on a real or imagined unrelated event as an out.
Virtually everyone has to face a scenario where they would rather be anywhere but there, but by integrating a few canned — but polite — responses to unwanted requests into your repertoire, you can more easily avoid spending your valuable free time and money on less pleasurable activities.