When The Answer is NO


When The Answer is NO

In any given conversation, saying ‘NO’ is a challenge—whether you’re telling someone or someone’s saying ‘NO’ to you.  There could be several reasons for it.  As a business owner, you want to demonstrate your willingness and commitment to your clients and uphold your reputation.  You worry that saying no may affect your prospects as well as jeopardize existing relationships.  And sometimes, ‘No’ is just not in your vocabulary and you genuinely just want to help clients.  There are even times when you feel guilty about it, especially if you adhere to the age-old adage: “The customer is always right.”

Saying “no” to your clients and customers is sometimes necessary to create boundaries and to deliver the best possible product or service to them.  But how you say no makes all the difference to your clients and customers.

  • Express your gratitude.  Thank your clients for their trust and for wanting to do business with you.  Your genuine appreciation will show them you care and will soften the rejection.  Sincerity is the key here.  

  • Lead with empathy.  Show your client you understand them and what they need done.  Make them feel they are not being berated for their request.

  • Give enough notice.  Giving advance notice shows consideration and concern for your client.  You want to make sure that you don’t cause your client undue stress by not doing so.

  • Be transparent.  Honesty is always the best policy.  Admit their request cannot be completed at this time and tell them why.  If you’re short-staffed, let them know.  If the resources needed for their project are not available, tell them.  Your client would appreciate—maybe a little begrudgingly— your transparency in the long run.  It is better to say no now than not be able to deliver when the client needs it.

  • Give options and recommendations.  Provide alternatives and options to your clients.  If you can’t work with them at this time, refer them to others in your industry who can help them.  If not, you can always let them know that you can work with them at a later time.  Giving them alternatives and recommendations shows clients you care about their projects and their deadlines.  And it shows that you are going the extra mile for them.  


  • Stay connected and follow up.  It is important to keep the lines of communication open.  Check in with your clients.  Find out if your recommendations and alternatives worked out for them.  Just because they are working with a competitor you recommended, it doesn’t mean you lost their business.  Keeping a foot in the door shows clients you still care about them and are ready to help if needed.


Remember: saying ‘NO’ goes both ways.  A client can say, ‘NO’, too.  In this scenario, how you handle the rejection and still maintain a good rapport with your client is what matters.    

First off, understand why they are saying no.  Ask the right question and get to the bottom of their why.  It’ll help you see things from their point of view and maybe gauge if it is something you can negotiate.  If not, respect and acknowledge their reasons.  It is an opportunity to build rapport and trust even in this situation.

Second, identify what kind of “No” it is.  Believe it or not—there are different kinds of No’s.  Identify if it’s a hard ‘No’, and it requires you to let them go or it’s an on the fence No—the kind where it requires some persuasion to get a Yes.  There’s a subtle difference between the two.  If you ask the right questions and listen actively, you’ll be able to tell.

Third, acknowledge their decision and let them go gracefully.  Leave the door open for future conversations and interactions. Schedule a follow up with them if they are interested in one. 

In both situations, No is not the end of the line.  Rather, see it as an opportunity to create boundaries for your business, as well as building credibility and trust with your clients—both present and future.  It is also a chance to evaluate your brand and your goods or services.  Remember:  if you get a couple of Nos, then you are bound to receive some yes-es along the way as well.