How to Say No Tactfully in Business

You’re minding your own business when your phone rings. On the line is a friend, family member, business associate or possibly a total stranger. Whomever it is, the one thing that’s unmistakable is that they want something from you. It could be your money, your time, your effort, maybe even your influence. Whatever it is, you quickly determine that you have no interest in, nor intention of, participating. It’s that simple. Then it gets complicated. You’re just not sure how to say no tactfully. So what now? 

Almost every leader, at one time or another, has stammered, stuttered and stumbled his or her way through a similar situation. Too often we hear ourselves saying,

“Well, that sounds interesting. Let me think more about whether I can make that work or not. Is if okay if I get back with you in a few days.”

At that moment the caller is fueled by anticipation of an affirmative response; but you know differently. You know you’re not going to participate. You just don’t know how to say no tactfully in a positive, nondestructive way.

When facing such pressure, I suggest you try practicing the “positive no.” It’s a simple, straightforward and effective technique that can be accomplished in five easy steps.

A positive no is a simple, straightforward, effective technique to say no tactfully in business.

Step 1: Listen intently to the complete thought, idea, suggestion or request.

Don’t tune people out too quickly. It’s a fact. Promising opportunities have been missed by tuning others out prematurely. Stay focused. Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Step 2: Consciously determine your level of willing involvement.

Once you’ve heard the proposition in question, determine whether or not you want to participate. Be honest with yourself. Trust your instincts. Follow your head, your heart and your gut.

Step 3: If interested, proceed enthusiastically. Once you’re in, give it your all.

Never hesitate to exhibit genuine excitement and enthusiasm for an undertaking deemed worthy of your time and effort. Remember, enthusiasm is caught, never taught. If you want your followers to be enthusiastic in their work, let them see enthusiasm in yours.

Step 4: If not interested, say so quickly and definitively.

Keep in mind that for those who will understand your decision, no in-depth explanation is necessary; but for those who will not understand your decision, no in-depth explanation will suffice.

Step 5: Provide alternative solutions.

It’s possible that you’re wondering, “Phil, what’s so positive about saying no? Anybody can do that. And ‘no’ sounds as negative as ever to me!” But here’s the secret sauce. We’re able to make virtually any negative more positive by offering viable alternatives.

“No, John, I won’t be taking advantage of your offer at this point, but have you considered…” then list viable alternatives for their consideration and action.

When you leave people with alternatives, you leave them with hope. And hope is good. Am I sure? No, I’m positive.

Say No Tactfully in Business — How Can this Work for You?

Question: How can you see yourself using this technique to benefit your business relationships, your productivity this week?

#saynotactfully #thepositiveno

Additional Resources


Phillip Van Hooser
Author: Phillip Van Hooser
Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on leadership, service and communication. His popular book, “Willie's Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty” recently hit #1 in Customer Relations on the Kindle store. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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