Rejection is a part of business, particularly entrepreneurship, but the biggest, most important rejections have to come from you. You can't accept every offer. You can't pursue every idea. You can't please every customer.
Unfortunately, between our "winner takes all" mentality and our fear of turning away work, we rarely develop the skills necessary to say No. In fact, saying No is easy. Stopping an action without destroying a potential future relationship is hard.
Here are three strong, kind and honest ways to say no--and actually learn about potential collaborators in the process:
1. "When we work together, I want to make sure you have my full attention.": One of my biggest pet peeves is when a business partner commits to working together, but obviously has too much on his plate. The problem is that I do my best to make sure that I'm not overextended so he gets the attention and details deserved - and I assume others do the same.
2. "I need to respect those to whom I've already committed.": It reminds me of the adage "If someone gossips to you about other people, you can bet they are gossiping about you to other people." The same could be said for other business dealings: People who are unwilling to say No to you, even though they know they can't give you quality time, are the same people who will willingly sacrifice their commitment to you to work with someone else to whom they can't say No.
A potential collaborator may not like that you are prioritizing others' previous needs over their current needs, but they should respect it. If they don't respect your commitment to others, then that often reflects their own principles - and it may be a warning sign to keep in the back of your mind.
3. "We should make sure the timing is good.": Your business should naturally evolve, whether it means changing your product scope or identifying a new customer base. It means yesterday's great projects are today's misfires and last year's potential partnerships are now pretty lukewarm. There are amazing collaborators, clients and mentors I would love to work with right now, but as I focus in on my core business, I've had to gently let them know that our time to work together isn't here... yet. It leaves the door open for later opportunities and also confirms that you respect other people's time and are keen not to waste it.
How do you say No to opportunities you know aren't in your best interest right now?