3 Ways to Say “No” Nicely

The more you network, the more your network grows. And while it’s true that “random acts of lunch” can sometimes foster surprising opportunities, it’s just as true that networking for its own sake leads to burnout. If you aren’t careful, you can get to a point where people you barely know are soliciting a significant amount of your time. You could be nice about it and accept all of their invitations, but then you’ll find yourself sitting through a lot of unproductive meetings. On the other hand, declining graciously requires a certain finesse lest you offend invitees and potentially damage your professional reputation. Here are 3 ways to say “no” nicely.

  1. The Vet: “Out of respect for your time and mine, let’s schedule a quick call so we can explore whether it makes sense to meet.” (If they can’t make a convincing case for mutual business synergy during the call, you only wasted ten minutes instead of ninety.)
  2. The Full Dance Card: “I appreciate your outreach. Unfortunately, I won’t be a very productive referral source for you as I already have several established relationships with professionals in your discipline—but I wish you much success as you continue to build your network.” (In other words, it’s not you, it’s me.)
  3. The Deferment: “Thank you for your invitation. Unfortunately, I have a backlog of projects and must defer any new networking obligations for the next few months. Let’s revisit this in the winter when my schedule lets up.” (If they contact you in the winter and your interest level is still low, defer again until the spring. They will eventually get the hint.)

Of course, you can tweak the language and the details to your liking, but these 3 sentiments provide a kinder alternative to a flat-out rejection (or pretending you never received the invitation at all). They also allow you to guard your time against tedious meetings without burning bridges in the process.

Authored by David Ackert

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