Saying 'No' or 'Not Now' While Building Relationships

This is the second article in our Saying No series. Click here to read the first article.


When it comes to saying ‘No’ or ‘Not Now’ the best place to start is to get clear on your priorities. Once you understand those, you’ll know why saying no or not now is the best choice for you or your business.

The next step is to write down how you plan to say no. If you’re responding via email, this might be a given, but it is important to practice - not only to feel more comfortable, but to do it in a way that strengthens the relationship, rather than pissing someone off. (We’ve all shot off the quick response that ended up not going over like we hoped.) So if you’re planning on saying no or not now in person or over the phone, write down what you plan to say in advance! And keep it short. You might choose to include a reason for saying no or not now, but don’t bog others down in your guilt—let them save their time for pursuing people who are interested in the opportunity! 

Finally, practice, practice, practice. We’ve all done this in email: write, delete, repeat. We get the wording right, reading the message aloud to check tone, before we hit send. Do the same for conversations you plan to have in person or over the phone. And remember, the person on the other side says no to opportunities too!

How to Say ‘No’

Sometimes the opportunity sounds interesting or we simply don’t want to disappoint others, but if the opportunity doesn’t fit with our priorities and schedule, then ‘No’ is the right choice. You don’t have to offer an explanation, but it can be a great way to say no while building relationships. You can choose who you want to share personal reasons with, but we find that people often respond surprisingly well to real, authentic reasons. We all have families and personal needs, so why pretend like we don’t? People can relate.

Here are some examples to help you say ‘No’:

  1. This sounds interesting but I’m really focused on ____ and ____ right now. Good luck and keep me posted on how it goes.
  2. Thanks for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I’m not able to take on new opportunities and don’t know when my schedule will open up. I hope it goes well for you.
  3. What an exciting project! I’m going to have to pass as I’ve cut back on my work hours to spend more time with the family this year, but wish you the best.
  4. It’s great to hear that your company is growing and wish you the best of luck with this. However, our business has decided to pivot and focus on ____. If any opportunities come up in that area, let me know.
  5. This sounds like an amazing opportunity. It doesn’t fit the priorities we’ve set for our business this year, but I’d love to help. Would you like me to introduce you to someone I know in your industry? They may be able to assist you.

How to Say ‘Not Now’

Sometimes the opportunity is right, but the timing is wrong. If this happens offer a fair estimate of when you will be able to take on something new. Do keep an eye on how often you say not now: don’t risk relationships by creating a never ending cycle of ‘Not Now.’

Another option is to leverage your team. You might not have time to commit to a new opportunity, but what about your team? Is the offer actually something that falls under an someone else’s responsibilities? Or, is it a good chance to give an employee that chance to shine that they’ve been asking for? Sometimes ‘Not Now’ can be a great chance to let go and transition responsibility to your employees. After all, didn’t you hire them so you wouldn’t have to do everything yourself? (Be careful not to say ‘Yes’ for others when you aren’t sure of their time commitments, so in most cases, you’ll want to pass the request along.)

Here are some examples to help you get started on saying ‘Not Now’:

  1. This sounds like a really interesting opportunity and I’d like to be involved but now is not the right time for me. Check back with me in 3 months.
  2. I appreciate the offer, but I’m not able to take on new commitments right now. Let’s schedule a time to talk in June.
  3. Thank your for the opportunity—it’s well-aligned with my priorities. I’d love to pick the conversation back up in 5 weeks.
  4. This sounds like a great opportunity, but my team is slammed right now. We’d be interested in talking in 6 months, but if you aren’t able to wait, I’d recommend reaching out to Amy at Coaching Stars, Inc. Would you like an introduction?
  5. I’d hate to miss this opportunity for the business, but I can’t personally take on anything else right now. Let me speak with Alexis and see if she can take the lead on this one.

Sometimes good intentions go wrong, too. If you agree to revisit the opportunity in 3 months but find yourself unable to commit then, have the courage to say ‘No.’ We all appreciate a clear ‘Yes!’ or polite ‘No’ far more than an endless ‘Maybe…’