Help! How do I say no without losing job prospects or upsetting friends?
Saying no isn’t easy when you’re worried about biting the hands that feed you or upsetting friends. That’s where a ‘No Sandwich’ can really save your bacon.
A No Sandwich helps you turn down something you don't want to do without losing potential work or rubbing people the wrong way.
For a No Sandwich to work, you need to make the 'asker' feel good by validating their request, saying no quickly; then letting them know you're still keen to work together in future (just in a different capacity. Or literally any other task than the one they asked you to do).
Step One: Validate The Request
Humans crave validation and seek to feel heard. Even if you really, really, don't think it's a good idea, it doesn't add any value to the business or is completely ridiculous, at the minimum acknowledge their query.
This immediately puts them at ease for what you'll say next. Even if it's bad news, they'll be cooler with it if they feel like you're getting where they're coming from.
- I can see why you might think that
- I can see the value in what you're thinking
- Thanks for the invite!
- Ordinarily I'd love to...
Step 2: Deflect By Talking To The Skill Set
The trick to saying no is not making it personal. Resist the temptation to act like a toddler, stamp your feet and say 'but I don't want to'.
If you're at work, it's likely they aren't asking you because you're the best person for the job. They're asking you because they like you, you seem to know what you're doing and you usually say yes.
Talk to why this is not in your skill set, expertise, or something you currently have capacity for.
- This type of task would be perfect for a SEO specialist rather than branding, which is my area of expertise.
- To be honest, I’m wondering whether the budget would get better results if spent on…
- That's not something I can help you with unfortunately.
If you're talking to your boss here, and technically it is in your JD, it can help to pull the capacity or constructively challenge its worthwhile-ness card:
- To be honest, it's not something I could commit to over the next few weeks. I've got to deliver [KPI]'s. How would you like me to prioritise around these?
- I wont be able to get that done in the next week or so. If you need it before then, I think the faster route would be to chat to [anyone else but you].
- I'm not 100% sure this will get the result we're after. Can you remind me what the objective is?
Now, if this is someone who is not your boss, but views you as a 'yes' person - you actually don't have to give them an excuse at all.
- Unfortunately I can't help with this one.
- No can do, I'm afraid.
With less reasons, there is less counter arguing. It is accepted as a fact, that in fact, fuck no, you will not be doing that.
And if it's a friend you're talking to, just be honest - you'll both find things easier.
- To be honest, those movies aren't really my jam.
- I'm so slammed this week. I just need a night to myself.
- I need some down time this week. Raincheck?
- No time this week unfortunately!
Step 3: Refer someone else their way, or just change the subject
If you're at work, and you are genuinely interested in continuing to work with this person but just don't want to do the thing they originally asked, you can treat it like a pitch and use the convo as an opportunity to get work that is more your jam.
- Talking of [suggestion], I was thinking we could do our EDM’s a little differently. Are you open to a few suggestions?’
- On that note; is there appetite to look at a new look and feel ahead of the campaign? I’ve got a few ideas I’d love to share with you.
- While we're on that topic, I'm keen to chat about resourcing so we can get your tasks done in future if I'm not in the office.
And if it's in a social situation, you can just - change the subject!
Buy yourself time if you're caught off guard.
If you don't feel confident saying no straight away, here are some handy catch phrases:
Let me think on that and come back to you asap.
- Good question; let me check my schedule for the next week and loop back with you.
- Not sure but let me confirm with you as soon as I look over my workload.
- Can't commit right away - let me come back to you.
Header image by Camille Santiago.