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‘No, Thank You’ – The Art of Polite Professional Rejection

When I worked as a staff journalist and editor, I received dozens of story pitches per day. I regularly rejected 95 percent of them.

These types of cold pitches from external parties are overwhelmingly common in the media industry, but it’s certainly not unique to our field: Businesses work with all kinds of agencies and vendors to get things done, and everyone’s trying to sell something. More often than not, you’ll probably have to reject those offers.

There are three ways people typically decline requests:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Respond with a “no” and move on.
  3. Briefly explain why they’re saying no, and if possible, offer a different way to work together.

I admit I use the first two response methods often enough, but whenever I can, I try to take the time to give helpful feedback. Does it take time and energy? Yes. But it also helps you improve both your professional reputation and your working relationships.

While ignoring an unwanted offer or request is certainly the easiest and most convenient course of action when it arrives, it actually creates more frustration in the long run. The person on the other end will almost certainly follow up, just in case it got lost in your inbox or accidentally went to your spam folder. Most people will get the hint and give up after a second or third ignored email, but you might earn a reputation as being unresponsive, unapproachable, or even rude.

Giving a simple “no” is certainly better, because you’re not leaving the other person hanging and wondering if you’re interested, but it’s not particularly helpful to either party. Without further feedback, your contact may keep making the same type of offer,rather than adjusting their strategy to find a more effective way to help you.

When you’re drowning in emails, it’s impossible to answer each and every person who contacts you. However, if you do decide to dish out a formal rejection, here are a few tips I’ve learned to soften the blow — and perhaps even benefit you in the end.

1. Be as honest as possible. 

Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason that you need to turn down a request: You don’t have time or room on your schedule, it conflicts with your company’s policies, etc. If that’s the case, let the other person know. But sometimes there really isn’t a “good” reason, other than the fact that you just don’t find the offer appealing. Making up an excuse to avoid offending someone, especially if that person has taken the time to research you and your company’s needs, might seem like the polite path, but honesty is usually the best policy. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not interested.”

2. Suggest an alternative solution. 

Just because you can’t or don’t want to accept this person’s specific offer as stated, doesn’t mean they can’t provide value in some other way. If there’s a different way for us to collaborate, or if I think a colleague might be more interested in the offer, I’ll say so. If not, I let the person know I plan to file the email away and add them to my contact list — you never know if they might be able to help you out down the road.

3. Let the person know what you’re looking for instead. 

If there’s no possible way for you and this person to work together at this time, consider sharing a bit more about your professional needs. This will (hopefully) help the person on the other end fine-tune their communications with you and only send you relevant information and offers in the future. Better yet, they may know someone else who can help you with your current needs and make an introduction.

If you find yourself giving out the same basic responses to similar types of requests, you can save yourself a few minutes by creating a file of “stock response” templates that can be customized to fit the situation. Just make sure you proofread and fill in all the right names and details!

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Steve Johnson/Pexels (CC0)

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