Whether it’s a client you simply don’t have the time to take on or a job candidate you need to let down, rejecting someone isn’t easy. And, needing to do so when you still want to keep that door open for the future? That’s even tougher.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to soften the blow—at least a little bit.
Keep these five key tips in mind, and you’ll hopefully be able to keep that relationship intact.
1. Be Timely
This first tip comes into play before you ever even deliver your bad news. You need to make your best effort to be as prompt as possible.
Rejection always stings. But, it can be particularly painful if you were left hanging with no communication for weeks on end.
So, keep that person posted on your progress and—as soon as you know you’ll be going a different direction—reach out to let him or her know. Delaying the inevitable ultimately only makes things worse.
2. Provide Reasoning
You might be tempted to keep things short when rejecting someone. However, that person deserves at least a little bit of context behind your decision—especially if it involves something that they could change or improve.
Provide brief reasoning for why you need to pass for now. Maybe you don’t have the time to take on another new project. Or, perhaps you decided to pause on hiring for that position right now. You can absolutely offer that explanation.
However, don’t feel the need to over-explain. In the end, rejection is just part of business, and it doesn’t necessarily warrant a lengthy rundown or apology.
3. Be Honest
Here’s the thing about your reasoning, though: It should be honest.
If you tell that prospective client you’re too booked for more work, they’ll likely be offended when they hear through the grapevine that you actually are taking on new projects.
Similarly, that hopeful job applicant won’t be too happy or willing to maintain a connection when the position they thought was on hold is suddenly filled by a smiling new face on your company “about” page.
If you don’t want to burn a bridge, you don’t want to lose any credibility or trust. So, when it comes to rejection, that old adage holds true: Honesty is always the best policy.
4. Be Gracious
You know how bad it can sting to put yourself out there for something and only get shot down. This is exactly why it’s important that you genuinely thank that person for his or her time and interest.
Will it take all of the bite out of your bad news? Definitely not. But, the simple act of recognizing their effort and commitment will be appreciated—and prove that you’re not a heartless monster they should cut out of their lives immediately.
5. Stay in Touch
If your goal was to keep that door open for future opportunities, the ball is in your court when it comes to staying in touch.
As odd as it might seem, that rejection can serve as the launching point for a professional relationship—as long as you stay on the radar.
Send the occasional friendly email with an article you find interesting. Set up a time to catch up over coffee. And, of course, if you do eventually have a suitable opportunity for that person, let him or her know.
Related: Why You Should Love Rejection
Rejection can be a tough pill to swallow and deliver. But, it doesn’t necessarily always need to mark the end of something. With these tips, it could actually serve as the beginning.
This article was originally published on Inc. It has been republished here with permission.