The Art of Turning Someone Down

disappointmentDo you agree with this? It’s harder to turn someone down than to be turned down.

By the way people communicate these days, it certainly seems true. Take, for example, the number of times you’ve emailed someone and they’ve failed to reply. Have you done that to people too? Face it: it’s easier to say nothing than to say “No thank you.”

But how does it feel to be ignored?

Not good. When you’re ignored you don’t know why. Is it that the person is really busy? Did they not get your message? Were you not important enough for them to even read it? Did they consider it and decide not to reply? Did they consider it and forget to reply?

It’s even worse when you’ve gone in for a meeting, such as a job interview or a pitch, and you hear nothing back. Was it something you said? Did the company decide not to move forward with the project?

The funny thing is, most people would rather hear the “no” than nothing at all. Most people can take “no” for an answer. They may be disappointed or hurt, but that goes away. Not knowing lingers. It creates doubt and confusion.

How do you turn someone down artfully?

  • Acknowledgement: Thanking them for their inquiry or time spent talking to you is a good place to start.
  • Honesty: Don’t string someone on if the answer is “no.”

Thank you for your pitch for the XYZ proposal. Unfortunately, it was not what we were looking for.

Thank you for coming in to interview for ABC Company. We had a large number of candidates and had to be extremely selective. We ended up choosing someone else for the position, but will keep your resume on file to consider if something else comes up in the future that might fit with your skills.

Thank you for your inquiry. I am not in a position to respond to it at this time.

  • Timely: If you need time to think about it, you can tell them that too.

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I need a little time to think this through. I’ll get back to you when I have an idea on how to move forward with it.

This is turning out to be more complicated than I expected. I need some time to reflect.

The situation at the company has changed. I won’t be able to move forward on this for at least the next 3 months.

Can you check back with me in a couple of weeks? I need time to think about this.

  • Feedback: If it doesn’t meet your needs but you want to give them a second chance, tell them that.

I was looking for X and you provided Y. If you can provide X, please let me know.

Your proposal is about three times what we want to spend. If you can propose a low cost version, please let me know. Otherwise, we won’t be able to take this on.

The art of turning someone down basically boils down to putting yourself in their shoes. How would you want someone to turn you down? No doubt, with dignity.

Image courtesy of stockimages at

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