Formula for Saying No

Saying no

One of the things I struggled with was saying “no” to people. I emailed my mentors about it, posted the question on Quora and sought advice often. The turning point came from something Dharmesh said.

Remember that your time is finite. Every opportunity you say “no” to means there’s more that you can say “yes” to.

I successfully used Dharmesh’s advice to dedicate myself to HubSpot 100%. That perspective continued to work when I was approached to work on side projects, but I still felt tempted when it came to networking. Meeting someone new seemed a one-time event, and armed with that attitude, I accrued a lot of weak and useless connections. I eventually learned that a real relationship requires constant gardening. Through over a dozen polite refusals for “coffee,” I came up with a response that’s been extremely helpful in respecting that fact.

The Best Way to Say No

Hey there,

…insert some platitude…

I want to be fair and respectful of your time, and I’m already over-extended at the moment. I hate to turn down the opportunity to meet, but would it be ok if I reached out to you when I have more time to really connect?

Breaking it Down

I want to be fair and respectful of your time.

Honestly, it’s as much about your time as it is theirs, but this emphasizes that you understand that value. True relationships take time, and connections you make over coffee or a beer are not going to be worth much without follow-on conversations. If you can’t commit to those, don’t waste their time.

I’m already over-extended at the moment.

Admit the truth. Your time is finite, and there are more important things you could be doing. If that weren’t the case, you should have hunted this person down and squeezed out any amount of downtime they have. Your time is already booked, you just may not know it yet.

I hate to turn down the opportunity to meet.

This is more than just a transition—it’s intention. In this sentence, you are very politely turning down the opportunity to meet. It is not up for debate.

Would it be ok if I reached out to you when I have more time to really connect?

Put off a meeting until an undecided time. Do not cave here by amending, “in a week,” because that adds the responsibility and expectation of a follow up. That brings in a boatload of other issues, all of which can be avoided by simply not giving a date.

The more important implication here is that you convey your dedication to this relationship. This sentence leaves the door open on good terms so that the other party doesn’t feel shut out. You appear approachable despite having no time in the near future.

Is This Disingenuous?

I don’t think so. A relationship takes time to build, and if you truly respect that fact, there’s nothing here that’s insincere. If you want, you could try ruder ways to say this:

  • Sorry, but I don’t have time right now.
  • I’m not interested at the moment, but maybe in a few months.
  • I have more important things to do right now.

I’ve gone through many variations of this. Whenever I added more stuff to that formula, I always ended up giving in to a commitment or conveying the wrong intention. This is the clearest, most succinct version I could come up with, but I welcome any recommendations for improvement.