How to Say Thanks but No Thanks

Delivering Bad News with Good Manners

Sports fans love a good rivalry. Red Sox versus Yankees. Lakers versus Celtics. Mike Tyson versus Mike Tyson. Regardless of the specifics, the real plotline is the rivalry itself. Case in point; a new class of college athletes will come through every four years, but Auburn and Alabama will still be locked in an eternal struggle for all time. Recently, former Boston Celtic shooting guard Ray Allen caused a stir by jumping ship for the recently crowned NBA Champion Miami Heat. This greatly upset the fans of Boston for several reasons. The first being that Allen accepted an offer valued at half the amount offered by Boston to instead play in South Beach, forsaking his community, friends, and family for a decidedly less lucrative contract. But the primary reason Boston fans became enraged was quite simply because it defied their own expectation of loyalty for Allen to join an inter-conference rival.

The Pain of Being Jilted

Each of us is made acutely aware at some point in life of the heinous sting of rejection. Whether by a love interest or a potential employer; it hurts to be turned down, and taking rejection with grace can be difficult. To minimize that pain, we must conduct ourselves with grace, integrity, and respect.

But what if we are the ones rejecting?

There are several reasons it is important to be tactful when telling someone “thanks but no thanks,” just as there are tactics and tips for ensuring damage is minimized, and everyone is able to escape with their dignity and respect for one another intact. Below we outline why you should be careful in saying no, as well as four easy steps to ease the potentially painful process.

Don’t Burn Your Bridges

Whether we’re turning down a job offer, deciding against further negotiations with a potential client or employee, or simply putting an end to a romantic relationship; saying no the right way requires sensitivity and strategy. Primarily, we impart value to others when we say yes, but we also impact value in how we say no. If we are abrupt, careless, or selfish, we risk showing others that we do not have high moral character. Worse, we risk sending the message that they are worthless, when that should not ever be the impetus to our message at all. How we say no can impact our offers, opportunities, and relationships far into the future. So what four things can we do to make “thanks but no thanks” easier?

1 – Be Real

Don’t make excuses, exaggerate, try to confuse or wander of f-topic. Be direct, transparent, and honest. Most often, people will sense you are being less than honest, and even if they don’t discover the truth right away, it will inevitably come out and reflect poorly upon you. For an example, look at Toby Keith’s recent turndown of an offer to join the judging panel of American Idol. Keith cited his long-term commitments and insane scheduling conflicts as reasons he’d be unable to accept. What makes this believable? He released an album, a single, a tour schedule, music video, line of restaurants, a benevolent foundation, and his own record label. The guy is legitimately busy, so when he says thanks but no thanks, it resonates as authentic. By going to his primary reason and sticking to it, Toby tactfully turned down the offer while imparting that he was “flattered,” thus leaving the door open for an offer down the road when he’s less busy.

2 – Be Formal

Saying no must be succinct, professional, and clear. If handled in person, make eye-contact, be present, use defined and consistent language. Avoid stumbling with “ums” and other speech defects, and avoid overly sentimental rational or padding. It wasn’t the right fit. It doesn’t work out. But both parties can clean up, and move on, and it doesn’t mean it has to sour the relationship. As a suggestion, investigate rejection letters, as they formalize the process and provide a proven template and road map for how to succeed in saying no without saying never.

3Be Firm

Avoid making promises you cannot fulfill. It is important to be resolute, clear, and defined in your depiction of the situation. Avoid letting the person dangle from false hope or leaving it unclear on how they stand. As strange as this sounds; say no. You would be surprised how many people are rejected without realizing it. Whether they believe it or accept it is up to them, but it’s up to you to make sure they’re aware of it.

4 – Be Positive

While it is important to get to the heart of the matter, a turndown can be a great opportunity to tell a prospect both the good and the bad. Use this opportunity to give advice on how to improve in the future, as well as details about positive elements of the individual or organization. After all, you wouldn’t be having this conversation if it were an easy decision. Parting

Thoughts on Parting Ways

Ray Allen smoothed things over with the Boston fans by taking out a full-page Ad extoling them for their support, community, and love. Ultimately, the fans seem to support Allen no matter which jersey he wears, and the Boston Celtic identity carries with “true Celtics” across their careers, regardless of the cities they represent on the court. In saying thanks but no thanks, it’s important to remember that pain will come from an outcome that differs from expectation, and there are simple, straight-forward ways to minimize that pain and maintain exemplary relationships.