There are plenty of requests you should probably oblige. The department head asks you to sit in on a high-level task force. Your favorite co-worker asks you to help out on a six-alarm deadline. Your boss needs help syncing her iTunes library to her phone. Again.
But there are plenty of others that are OK for you to decline—without feeling guilty about it. Remember: You only have so many hours and resources to spare, and saying yes to requests that you don’t have time for (attending your cube-mate’s fundraising events for her charity du jour) or that make you uncomfortable (writing a recommendation for a less-than-professional-colleague) isn’t a good use of either.
That said, turning down your nearest and dearest is often easier said than done. So today, we’re taking some of the stickiest requests we all get and providing cut-and-pasteable scripts to use next time you really just need to say no.
1. An Introduction You Don't Want to Make
The Ask: Your mom’s friend’s daughter—yes, the one who got arrested for “alleged” arson last year—is interested in a career in marketing and wants to meet your company’s CMO.
Your Strategy: People are busy, right? Sometimes, too busy to even respond “yes” or “no” to an email. Use this fact of life to your advantage, and blame your inability to make the introduction on the requested party’s limited time:
Thanks for reaching out, Sarah! Yes, our CMO is a fantastic person and great role model. Unfortunately, she’s also ridiculously overcommitted right now, so I don’t feel comfortable adding to her already-full plate. Are there any questions I can answer for you?”
2. A Recommendation You Don’t Want to Give
The Ask: The coordinator you worked with two years ago for four very, very painful months is applying for a new job and asking for a letter of recommendation.
Your Strategy: We’re not going to lie—this one isn’t easy. Your best bet is to be honest but kind, pointing to a key reason why you’re not the best person to recommend your colleague for this particular job.
Tom, thanks so much for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm the best person to write your recommendation because I haven’t seen you manage major projects, which seems like it's a key aspect of this role. If you have another colleague who could better share your abilities, I'm sure that would better your chances for this role. Best of luck!”
3. A Committee You Don’t Want to Join
The Ask: You’ve gone to a few (pretty lame) events put on by a struggling industry organization. You’re ready to cut the cord when the President asks if you want to head up the Member Outreach Committee.
Your Strategy: Even if you don’t want to participate, any ask like this is a pretty big honor. So, first show your appreciation, then graciously respond by putting the best interest of the organization first:
This is an honor—thank you so much for thinking of me! Unfortunately, with my current schedule, I wouldn’t be able to take on such an important role and give it 100%, and I would feel just terrible letting the rest of the organization down.”
4. A Vendor You Don’t Want to Work With
The Ask: The printing vendor you couldn’t wait to get away from at your last job has tracked you down at your new office and is dying to set a sales meeting with your new company.
Your Strategy: Keep things short and vague, and hopefully your contact will get the hint. And definitely avoid any mention of time—saying “We aren’t bringing vendors on this year” will only invite a follow-up email come January.
Hey Todd, good to hear from you. It was great working with you at Company A. I’m still getting a feel for how things work at Company B, but it seems like we’re all set with our vendor contracts. Best of luck to you!”
5. Money You Don’t Want to Give
The Ask: Your co-worker is going cube to cube, selling wrapping paper and soliciting donations for her daughter’s upcoming mission trip. While you’re generally up for giving back, spending $45 on holiday supplies isn’t exactly where you thought your “fun” money this month was going to go.
Your Strategy: Pretty hard to say no to a good cause, right? Not if you blame it on another good cause:
What a wonderful cause! It’s such a shame I’ve already spent my charitable giving budget for the year on [insert favorite cause here]. Give my best wishes to your daughter!”
6. A Networking Meeting You Don’t Want to Take
The Ask: A friend of a friend (who you met at a party once—and promptly tried to abort conversation with) wants to have coffee to “pick your brain” about your career.
Your Strategy: Blame it on your mom. No, seriously. This one we can’t take credit for—we learned it from business and marketing strategist Marie Forleo. But it’s quite possibly the most effective turn-down for this request we’ve ever heard:
I have a rule: If I don’t have time to see my mother, I don’t have time to meet new people for coffee. And right now, I owe my mama a visit. But seriously, I’m sure we’d have a blast and I hope you’re not insulted, but my work schedule is packed and I’ve gotta pass.”
7. A Colleague’s Event You Don’t Want to Attend
The Ask: It’s a colleague’s birthday, and the most, er, “festive” of your co-workers are headed to Cabo Cantina for 2-for-1 margaritas. And there’s nothing you hate more than tequila—other than being sober around 15 of your inebriated colleagues (and that creep from Finance who keeps asking you out).
Your Strategy: Obviously, mentioning work is always a good way to get out of not-really-work-related festivities (“If I don’t finish this report, the VP will kill me!”). But if this isn’t an option (e.g., it’s Friday and your boss has been long gone since 2 PM), you can always call in an unrelated party to the rescue:
I’m so sad I’m going to miss this, but it’s my brother-in-law’s birthday, too, and I’ll be blacklisted from the family if I don’t show up. Have fun!”