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15 Ways to Say No

I know a guy.

This guy says “YES!” to every request.

It can be a giant six-month project or a simple two-minute request – and he is your guy. He is a great team player, great performer, and he is very well-liked at his organization.

But he is burned out. He is overcommitted and underwater on deliverables and his lack of follow-through is beginning to damage his professional and personal relationships. We recently had a conversation about this very topic, and he said, “I say yes because it’s a quick win in the moment, I genuinely want to do the work, and I sometimes feel I am the only one with access to the information or skills they need.”

We discussed the cost of always saying yes and he said, “My list always seems overwhelming, I routinely miss deadlines, people never learn to do for themselves, so they are super dependent, and I rarely get to work on my own goals. It’s not scalable and as more people join the company, I become the bottleneck.”

Learning how to say “no” in a professional manner is sometimes a necessary part of being productive. Adding too much to your plate just to please others can lead to overwhelm or missed deadlines. Missed deadlines can often end up damaging relationships which are often what people who always say yes are trying to avoid!

No one wants to come across poorly or be viewed in a negative light for declining requests. And for this guy, he had a hard time coming up with a professional way to even say, “no” or “not now.” He searched for tips on the internet but found few helpful examples he could use.

Research from a wide variety of resources revealed saying “no” is a common challenge for many people, yet there is a plethora of useful information to aid the habitual “Yes” responders. Below are 15 examples of how to say “no” or “not now” professionally and effectively. Please keep in mind your audience and be as polite and respectful as possible when replying.

  1.   I do not have the bandwidth available to get this done within that time frame (or by that deadline). If you would like to bring this up with (Name) or schedule a call, we can see what other priorities can shift to make this happen.
  2.   The timing right now is not good, I am underwater working on (Project Name). If you need things like this in the future, I need about (time frame) notice to help me manage my other expectations.
  3.   Thank you for this email, but I am unable to complete this item for you. I have made several videos on SharePoint around this topic, which you can reference here (link). I’d also check in with (Name), they may be able to help train someone on your staff on how to handle these requests.
  4.   (Name) booked up my time completely this week to solely focus on (Project/Area). I can look at completing this in a few weeks if that helps.
  5.   I am happy to help with this, but I will not be able to deliver this for a few weeks. I have upcoming deadlines with my projects.
  6.   Thanks for reaching out, I can send you this file, but I am unable to make it into these slides. Is there another way I can help?
  7.   Unfortunately, this request is out of my wheelhouse. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I am not even sure where to direct you. I could help with (one aspect), but I do not have the data or skills to help with (other aspects) by the time you need.
  8.   I am booked solid working on a project for (Name), sorry that I cannot be more helpful.
  9.   I do not have the bandwidth to complete this by the time you need it. Can you reach out to (Name) if it is truly urgent, and they can help shift my other priorities so I can make this work for you?
  10.   This is a large ask with a tight turnaround. I have got some major items I need to get out for my team. I have concerns that I would end up missing the deadline.
  11.   Let me think about this and get back to you, I need to run this by (Name) to see if it aligns with where she has asked me to focus.
  12.   The idea sounds great! It is just that…
  13.   I cannot today. How about by next week?
  14.   I would be unable to do a good job with this request and my other work would suffer.
  15.   Thank you so much for thinking of me for this, but I was planning to spend the next few weeks working on (Project X, Project Y, Deliverable Z). Can you tell me of these three projects, which are the priorities for you, and I can make that switch?

And a bonus example for when you already said yes, but you need to renegotiate:

  1.   I know that I offered to take on this (number) weeks ago, but things have changed since then, and I feel I may not have the time to give this my 100%. I do not want to leave you hanging, so I can recommend a few people who have the skills to handle this, or I can provide this by the end of next month. If you want to talk this through, let me know.

I hope you find something useful from this list that empowers you to change your view that saying “no” is selfish. It is being smart with your time, understanding your priorities, and connecting them to what matters most.

I know a guy who agrees.

Author – Stephenie Rockwell

Director of Operations & Relationship Lead

About InteraWorks

InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent, and energy to produce results that matter most. 


We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team, or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.