How To Say No To Clients Or Colleagues (Without Feeling Guilty)

Sometimes saying yes, just isn’t an option. Saying no is unavoidable. So, how do you do it right? Check out some of these tips.

1. Value Your Time, Put A $$$ On It, And Stick To It

What’s your time worth? Too many people don’t put a monetary number on it. You are the expert. Your time as that expert is valuable. Once you have a $$$ hourly rate for your time, you can very easily convey something like this.

“I’m flattered that you asked for my help. I charge $XX per hour for my time. As the expert in “insert topic/field here”, I get lots of requests for my time. Unfortunately, because of that I’m very busy. Let me know when you’d like to schedule time at my rate.”

Thanks to Jim Kukral of The Attention Formula

2. Say “No” Because You Said “Yes”

People who have a hard time saying no can hurt their teams and themselves in various ways. For those folks, one of my rules is, “One ‘yes’ at a time.” If you have already taken on one extra task or promised significant help to one teammate, here’s the answer to the next request you get: “I would love to help, but I have already promised to (name the action here). If you can wait until (the due date for said action), I’ll be happy to help you then.” You’ll still come across as a good team player.

Thanks to Jim Morgan of TeamTrainers Consulting

3. Let Me Introduce You To My Little Friend…

I simply tell a client my plate is very full and that I won’t have any availability for the next several months. Then, I give them the names of other, equally-qualified writers and offer to introduce them via email. It keeps me from doing work I don’t want to do, yet not look like the bad person with clients.

Thanks to Nichole Bazemore of Simply Stated Solutions

4. How To Say NO. And Have It Stick

1.Politely explain that you can not do it and why. E.g. Sorry I can’t give you an extra discount on that item.

2.Elaborate as is necessary to make the point. Do not over explain. E.g.Our margin is already so low on that we carry it primarily as a service to our customers, not as a money-maker.

3. Explain what you can do. E.g. If you purchase the complete package however, with the carrying case and accessory package, I can give you an additional 20 percent discount on that.

Thanks to Barry Maher of Barry Maher & Associates

5. Be Kind

I’m in sales. I’ve heard “no” a lot of different ways; from surly to sweet.

Kind ways to say, “No”:

“I’m sorry . . .

* we’re going to have to pass on this opportunity for now.”
* it’s not the right time for our company.”
* corporate won’t go for it.” (deferring to a higher power)
* it doesn’t fit in with our (budget, policy, etc.) at this time.

Sometimes people forget they’re talking to a real person if it’s a phone call. Be cordial–as if they’re sitting right there.

Thanks to Hali Chambers of John Morgan Seminars

6. Just Say No + Give An Alternative

My best tip for saying “No” without the associated guilt is to say no, and then offer the person a resource or next step they might find helpful. (Example: another organization/company they can partner with, another organization providing the same type of service, or another person who might be looking for a partnership opportunity).

Thanks to Mary Horowitz of NC LEAP / North Carolina Bar Association

7. Say ‘No’ With A Smile

Clear boundaries of what you will do focusing on making the language neutral.
I’d love to help you with that and I am available from 2-3 today to discuss’. Instead of ‘I can help you!’

‘This position/idea/decision/ is interesting but my concern is…’ instead of ‘I disagree, this idea is …’
‘I feel uncomfortable being asked to stay until 8 pm on this project…’

Thanks to Zele Avradopoulos of ZOrganize

8. It Doesn’t Fit The Path

Keep your vision and goals in the forefront of your mind at all times. When confronted with a request that doesn’t map with your vision and goals you can easily say ‘I’m sorry I can not do that for you. It does not fit with my current path for my business.’ And then help them find someone who can help them if that’s possible.

Thanks to Diane Helbig of Seize This Day Coaching

9. Tell Them Yes To What You Can Do

One of the most effective methods of telling someone “no” without feeling guilty you’re souring the relationship is to inform the customer how you can say “yes”. Rather than saying, “No, I cannot be there for four hours tomorrow morning,” you can say, “To carve out four hours I need at least two days notice. Do you want to schedule that now?” Exceptional customer service – and this is what we are talking about – is not only about the “yes” and “no”, it is about appropriate expectations.

Thanks to Brian Vinson of TRC Engineering Services, Inc.

10. Saying ‘No’ With Grace.

Begin with a simple ‘Thank you for…’ – perhaps taking interest in the product, visiting the store, offering the job etc as this will lower the other person’s defenses and they will be more likely to remain open to future relationship.
Next step is to begin with an ‘I statement’ regarding how you feel about the situation. For example ‘I feel very honoured you considered me for ……but….’ and follow with any negative input.

Thanks to Anne Laidlaw of Shiloh Trust

11. How To Tell Someone You’re Too Busy For Them Right Now

No one wants to feel like they’re at the bottom of your list. Try something like this:

“Right now, all my attention is focused on serving (my/our) current (customers/partners). If we have the opportunity to work together in the future, I know you’ll appreciate that same level of commitment.”

That doesn’t work for current customers and partners, of course, but it’s a graceful way to turn down business or partnership opportunities without offending them or closing the door for the future.

Thanks to Scott Allen of OneCoach

12. Say No With A Smile….

When working with clients…I do my best to develop clear defined policies…mostly for myself. They give me something black and white to use in …especially…difficult situations…Policies help me to keep my emotions in tact…and to be able to say NO without guilt.

Thanks to Sally Gilchrest-Unrau of

13. Saying NO- Brother Can You Spare A Reason?

When I have to say the big N-0, I make sure to give a clear explanation as to why it can’t be done, offer reasonable alternatives, and if applicable explain the current list of projects I’m working with the client and offer to put one on the back burner and replace it with the current request.

Thanks to Meghan Ely of OFD Consulting


The act of saying no is important to separate from feeling guilty. Feeling guilty is appropriate when you do something with the intention of deceiving or hurting someone else. Saying no is a refusal not a rejection and must be communication that way to avoid hard feelings. A business refusal is not the same thing as a personal rejection and it is important to know the difference. It is understandable to feel badly that you must say no, although not to go down the road of guilt. How we presently handle a situation today determines what will happen the next time. If you feel pressured to make choices that compromise your integrity, you may want to question the request rather then the answer.

Thanks to Lisa Brateman of Lisa Brateman, NYC Psychotherapist, The Relationship Specialist


7 thoughts on “How To Say No To Clients Or Colleagues (Without Feeling Guilty)

  1. There are some excellent pointers in this post. As my web design company has grown, I have had to learn some effective ways of saying no to new work as well as to current clients (boundaries aren’t just for children).

    I get a lot of quote requests from potential clients that immediately raise red flags as a client. I can tell from the first phone conversation that this is NOT someone I want to work with. Rather than tell them that I’d rather eat my shoe than work with them, I politely tell them that our project schedule is full and that we can’t begin any new projects for at least 3 months. These people are usually in a tremendous hurry so they move on while retaining a favorable impression of my company.

    The other type of potential client that I have to turn down is the one who can’t afford our services. For these people, I have a list of freelance web designers to whom I can refer them. I do my best to learn their budget and give them a reality check about our fees BEFORE I take the time to put together a lengthy proposal.

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  6. Thanks for finally talking about >How To Say No To Clients Or Colleagues (Without Feeling Guilty) | <Loved it!

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