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Common templates to help you say “no” (starterstory.com)
140 points by patwalls on April 6, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

A lesson I learned from a sales friend of mine (often the hard way): if you really want to say no, don't give reasons why you're saying no.

Just simply say "no, sorry"

Once you start giving your reasoning, the other side can negotiate a compromise or attempt to persuade you into thinking your no is a bad idea. The more information you provide, the more they can use it against you.

If you don't have time for that, just end it at no and say no more.

You also have to watch for the attempt to extract a reason from you. Sometimes it'll be a bald "why not?" but sometimes it's more subtle like "Oh, spending more time with the family, huh?" trying to leave you socially obligated to affirm, deny, or correct it. I find a very neutral "mmmm" to be a pretty good disengagement; you clearly heard them, but it doesn't affirm, deny, correct, or really leave any opening for them to wedge into without crossing over the politeness line to the point that you can openly call them out if they keep pursuing it.

I'm increasingly prone to "none of your f------ business", though usually only at the 2nd or subsequent query repeat.

Prying is socially hostile and should be responded to as such.

In certain cases of ongoing, and contentious, relationships, sooner.

I took a communication class many years ago and this was the main thing I took away from it. If you give a reason or an excuse the other person will try to help you "solve" it. If you give a simple "no, sorry" or "no, thanks" there's nothing for them to latch onto or argue with.

Realize that the other person is free to ask anything they want, but just the act of them asking doesn't create any obligation on your part. Especially with people where you don't have a longstanding relationship, you don't owe anyone anything more than a polite no.

The other piece I learned was this useful phrase to deploy when under severe pressure to give a reason and for whatever reason you can't just disengage or leave: "Sorry, I'm just not comfortable with that". No one can reasonably argue with that, and if they do, having already given your reason you can then simply fall back into a loop of "No, sorry."

"I'm not comfortable with that" invites them to ask why you aren't comfortable, what they could do to make you more comfortable, etc. If you genuinely can't leave, you'll just have to change the subject or hold your ground. Don't underestimate the power of silence, which is to say blankly staring at them while they attempt to press you (if they're being plainly obnoxious).

You took communication class and main thing you got out of it was how to not to communicate?

It's like going to knife-fighting class to learn how to win every knife fight and receive "buy a gun" advice. Yes, it works. But it's not really a knife-fighting skill, is it?

That's a great example you've used here, because number one lesson of winning a knife fight is, run. The best alternative to running away or otherwise avoiding that fight would be indeed to shoot your way out of it.

WRT GP's comment, what they described is communication. It's precise communication. Saying exactly what you mean and nothing more. Not falling to some kind of instinctive save-face pressure and inventing a bullshit reason, that only leaves you worse off (you now either have to defend from your interlocutor's attempts at helping you, or admit that you've lied).

(To use a knife-fighting analogy, it's like learning to thrust without making it easy for your opponent to dodge your attack and cut you up.)

This is a hilarious example because knife fighting “skill” is Hollywood BS. Any sort of close quarters combat instruction will nearly always focus on getting out of any altercation involving knives.

There’s a saying about bringing a gun to a knife fight, or a knife to a gunfight, I can’t remember which but the guy with the gun wins. Usually.

When I have received variations on a number of these, I've just interpreted as, "it's a wall of text without the thing I want." The details are unnecessary. The more you talk/write, the less responsibility you are taking, which means the less value you have to offer, and the more vulnerable you are to leverage.

Saying no "up," and saying no, "down," are very different things. Receiving a "no," from above or below are very different as well. Responding with an open ended question or a direct question are also the next moves.

Down: "Thank you, this is not a priority for me/us, I will get in touch if that changes."

Up: "Absolutely agree! In terms of priority, would you prefer it in this unacceptable state, this unacceptable timeframe, or for me to use this new unacceptable authority over these resources?"

IMO most of these are terrible. They're all far too long. Go ahead and explain yourself to friends and family members; random business contacts (especially cold calls) don't need three paragraphs of text explaining your policies around human interaction.

"Sorry, not interested at this time" is almost always enough. If they write back asking "when", just ignore.

Yeah, the trick isn't saying "no", the trick is saying no without burning any bridges. Much harder.

A short 'no' doesn't burn bridges. A long-winded explanation full of half-truths might.

You're fortunate to be able to simply say "No." without it being taken as curt or rude. That's not the case for me personally, and a lot of other people.

In a perfect world, that should be all that needs to be said. In reality, people and emotions are complicated.

Even friends and family get the, "Sorry I can't. I already have plans." from me. They don't have to know my "plans" are to gorge myself on the couch by myself while binging television.

While this has some value - it just screams another product that was slapped together in a night for "product hunt" clout.

Most of these examples aren't that great, and it could've been delivered as a blog post.

On how to say no without actually saying no, see also Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by former hostage negotiator Chris Voss. Thoroughly enjoyed the book, recommmended

I find some of these disingenuous:

> Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to [Event] on [date]. But thanks again for sending an invitation my way.

That's not saying "No". That's giving an excuse as to why you can't make it. Better to say "No, I'm not interested" or something along those lines.

There's no excuse there. It's simply a polite way to decline an invitation.

The excuse is that you'll not be able to make it. The implication for the reader is that if you were able to make it, you'd come. But you actually can make, you just don't want to come. It's pure excuse and lie.

One woman's politeness is another woman's dishonesty.

Jony Ives relates how Steve Jobs asked him; "How many things have you said no to..." [1]

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oksetv3i90

I'm not a huge fan of template e-mails, if you're just gonna do an automatic response then make that obvious from the start.

However I do see how these can be useful as a reference point, I especially like the templates/examples that have a little story behind them. Saying no "like a pro" isn't about the exact phrasing, but knowing that you can and often should say no.

Template emails are the worst yeah.

If anyone knows how to deftly bow out of a forced company outing, I'd love to know your method. Last time I tried to get out of one of these things, I informed one of the owners I had too much to do and needed to spend the day catching up on work.

She was furious and told me I was "damaging the culture."

Sounds like a culture worthy of damage.

Are these curated? There are a few that seem quite smug (eg "deep work"). Be careful in what you choose.

I think a good tip is that you don't have to explain all your reasons all the time e.g. it's okay to say you're too busy without having to justify what you're busy with.

Love this! There were so many many times I wished I said No but I didn't know how to do it. The amount of pain and time wasted that came after were hundreds of hours. I'd imagine if I billed people for those hours, it would have been terribly expensive. Having templates like these would make it way easier for me to say No and avoid all of that now. Thanks Pat!!

Looks like "Import all 31 templates into Gmail" redirects to OP's business. Kudos. I think this type of technical, developer-led marketing is the future. Especially as traditional acquisition channels like Social and Search become more saturated and expensive, this type of work will stand out.

These are great, good job. Not sure about the templates though, I got a kick reading these and agreed/disagreed some were useful ways of saying no in different contexts.

Missing this one: (how to say no to a friend in need) "Hey! I’m so glad that you reached out. I’m actually at capacity/helping someone else who’s in crisis/dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I don’t think I can hold appropriate space for you. Could we connect [later date or time] instead/Do you have someone else you could reach out to?"


what are "non-transactional meetings"? sounds like a pedantic way to say meetings that could be an email update.

No, thanks. Additionally, I wish that you wouldn't do this, so please stop. Thank you!

This is great, but needs 31 more ways to say no to recruiters :)

No thanks.

Remove phone nr from signature and hit send

I try to answer recruiters even when I'm not interested. A simple: "Hi [so and so], thank you for reaching out to me. Unfortunately, I am not interested in this opportunity. Best of luck in your research".

Simple, to the point, takes 3 seconds to copy/paste and help recruiters to move on to the next person.

If I was a recruiter I think I'd rather receive a rejection email than no answer.

Why reply?

Sharing how to say no is the ultimate humblebrag.

This is ridiculous:

> Unfortunately, I’m not able to attend because of prior scheduling—but please keep me updated with action items I may be able to help with.

Way to make yourself a doormat.

I have literally never offered to take on action items from a meeting I don't plan to attend, even by implication as here, and I'm certainly not about to start now.

Of course I'm happy to help people but they need to ask explicitly and specifically because, at the end of the day, we're all pretty busy.

To me it reads more as passive-aggressive, not a serious offer to "keep them updated" but a weasly way of saying "I would prefer not to". Same with "Unfortunately, I’m not able to attend because of prior scheduling".

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