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How to Say ‘No’ Kindly: the Formula

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of the best ways to focus on your own goals and for your own peace of mind is to leverage the word ‘No.’

More often than not we say ‘yes’ to too many things — and eventually these small, lackluster things fill our days. All too soon, before we know it our days become years and we wonder where the time has gone, and what happened to all the meaningful things we had planned in our lifetime.

Wasting Time GIFs | Tenor

The word ‘No’ comes up in many situations — whether it’s to push back on scope creep, establish boundaries, manage expectations, decline a request, etc.

However, an abrupt ‘No’ can often times damage relationships. If protecting this relationship is important, how you deliver the ‘No’ is crucial.

absolutely not gifs | WiffleGif
Unless you are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and have just asked me to marry you, the answer is no.

Rejecting someone takes significant mental energy. Because it goes against our ‘yes’ nature and against our primal desire to please, how do you deliver ‘no’ in a way that feels like you honored the relationship without it depleting your mental reserves?

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Worst kind of writer’s block is how to refuse someone

One of the best system I’ve found that works has been by crafting a ‘no’ that is systemized. I have a ‘no’ formula, which means there are certain components that I want to include in my response. By creating this framework, I’m able to craft refusals speedily without worrying about hurting relationships and in a more efficient way without feeling like it drains my reserves.

Instead of having to wrestle the ‘no’ from the bottom of my soul and agonize over the words every time, I can put in the time and effort into create a ‘no’ that establishes boundaries but most importantly, is kind.

Be Kind GIF | Gfycat

Making your ‘No’ formulaic.

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A well crafted refusal has five key components:

  1. Acknowledge and appreciate the request.
  2. Decline the request.
  3. Include a positive statement.
  4. Offer an alternative or referral.
  5. Allow for future ‘yes-es’.

1. Acknowledge and appreciate.

Make sure to acknowledge the initial request and thank them for the opportunity or the outreach. It’s important to show appreciation and recognize that this person spent the effort to reach out to you and propose something.

Funny Dog Thank You GIFs | Tenor

Acknowledging their intention is a way of making the other person feel heard.

  • Thank you for the email!
  • So good to hear from you, thanks for reaching out.
  • I really appreciate you thinking of me.

2. Decline the request.

A solid and firm ‘no’ is important to remove any ambiguity or room for negotiation. The ‘no’ needs to be clear enough and emphasize your priorities. There’s no need to make this long winded, but it needs to be clear and assertive.

Looking Around GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
Avoid having the other person feel like this after your vague response.
  • I wish I could say ‘yes’, but I’m not available at the moment.
  • As much as I’d love to be involved, I’m currently focusing on [XYZ].
  • Right now is not a good time.

3. Include a positive statement.

This is an exercise of putting yourself in their perspective.

If you think about it from the perspective of the other person, it’s important to understand that whatever is being proposed is something that has meaning to the requester, and should be honored as such.

Sounds Fun GIFs | Tenor

Acknowledging the request itself is another way to form a further connection with the requester.

Even if the request itself is not a good fit, it is still an opportunity to strengthen a relationship in some shape or form.

  • This seems like a wonderful opportunity.
  • What an exciting project!
  • [XYZ] sounds lovely.

4. Offer an alternative or referral.

One of the best ways to maintain a relationship is to offer help or value in some way even if you are unable to fulfill the original request. This can come in the form of a counter proposal, or potentially a referral.

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  • This falls out of my wheelhouse, but I’d love to collaborate on [Project XYZ]. Are you open for a follow up discussion?
  • While this isn’t the best fit, I know [Person XYZ] would be a great fit. I’d be happy to send an introduction if you’re interested.
  • Right now is not the best time for me, but I’d love to chat in six months once [Project XYZ] is finished.

5. Allow for future ‘yes-es’.

Some of the best ‘No’s’ I’ve seen are not ‘No’, they are a ‘not right now.’ By leaving the door open for future opportunities, you effectively pave the way for the relationship to develop in the future and your refusal will not feel like a full blown rejection.

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Leave the door open for future opportunities
  • I’d love to keep in touch for future opportunities.
  • Let’s circle back in a few months once I have more bandwidth.
  • I’ve added you to LinkedIn, please don’t hesitate to reach out further if I can help in any way.

It pays to be kind.

It’s a small world.

As the world becomes more connected, it also becomes smaller. This image below shows the shrinking degree of separation the average person has to be connected with every other person on the planet.

Opportunities are forged through strong relationships, which are developed through clear communication, mutual respect, and transparency.

It’s important to say ‘no’ as often as possible while you prioritize your focus, but it doesn’t mean that the ‘no’ cannot be kind.

Vh1Beautybar Be Nice GIF by VH1 - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’ll be honest: having a system for saying ‘no’ does not mean a refusal is perfected. This formula and template will not provide a guaranteed positive relationship afterward. A good refusal should be as personalized as much as possible.

What I can promise however, is that this can help expedite the communication process by providing a foundation of what a good ‘no’ looks like.


  • Make it easier on yourself while still offering respect to the other person but creating a more formulaic ‘No’
  • A good ‘No’ has five key parts:
    1. Acknowledge and appreciate the request
    2. Decline the request
    3. Include a positive statement
    4. Offer an alternative or referral
    5. Allow for future ‘yes-es’

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