I’m definitely the type of person whose natural reaction to a (reasonable!) request is an enthusiastic “yes,” rather than saying no. But I know I can’t say yes to everything—every option, every request, every opportunity that comes my way—if I want to focus on what’s important to me and take good care of myself in the process.
Here is the formula I like to use for saying no—to decline a request in a professional, respectful way:
1. Express enthusiasm for what the requestor is trying to accomplish.
Example: “The association you’re asking me to take a leadership role in has been really important for my professional development, and I really couldn’t be more grateful for what it’s given me professionally.”
2. Explain your current circumstances.
Example: “As you might imagine, having just started a new job a few months ago with two little kiddos under 5 and a business to run, I’m a bit pressed for time these days.”
3. Express openness to revisiting the request in the future.
Example: “Please keep me on your list and reach out to me next year if you find you have the same need.”
4. Offer to help find others who might be able to help.
Example: “I’m happy to help you brainstorm names of other people you might ask, who might be able to help. Email me about this, and I’ll send you the names of some of the colleagues I think you should reach out to.”