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  1. Blog
  2. Advancement

How to Say No When Opportunity Comes Knocking

Until it’s time to say yes

How to Say No When Opportunity Comes Knocking
Image courtesy of Jem Sahagun

Picture this: You’re working hard, doing all the things a go-getter employee does, when your boss asks if you’d like to be involved in a new project, transition to a new role, or anything else that’s a departure from your current responsibilities. You might have a million thoughts, like:


‘Bout time!

Oh great, more work.

Whatever the thoughts might be, take a pause, ma’am. Before offering a response, there are a few things to consider. 

Appreciation can make you feel obligated

Now don’t get me wrong, being selected and appreciated for past efforts and future contributions is great. However, appreciation can be sneaky, sometimes compelling us to prove that we were the best choice or that we are, in fact, go-getters—and go-getters don’t say no. Then a few minutes, weeks, or months pass and you’re giving yourself eye rolls in reflective surfaces because you said yes instead of thank you, but...

So when you’re  approached with a new opportunity, say thank you, get the facts, and then confirm a date when you’ll follow up with a decision.

Be the decision maker and negotiate

Always assume any offer is open to negotiation until being told otherwise. Always.

To initiate the negotiation, decide when you’ll provide a response. 

If you’re met with pushback or a counter, like:

  • We’re really looking for an answer today.

  • I thought you’d jump on this opportunity.

Here are some responses to help drive consensus and bring the negotiation to an end:

  • Oh wow, today? Can you talk me through the urgency? I’d love to understand if there are any immediate deadlines or expectations that I should be aware of that might inform my decision. 

  • I’m really excited to explore this opportunity and I appreciate your enthusiasm and confidence. Before committing, I want to make sure I’ve thought through a transition plan that won’t result in any gaps for you or the team.

  • I want to make sure that I’m setting both of us up for success, thinking through all my current responsibilities along with balancing this exciting opportunity. I’d like to take a few days to make sure there aren’t any areas where I might need additional support so there are no negative implications for you or the team. 

Slow down the other party and get them to explain why they’re pushing back while showing your concern about making sure your manager and team benefit from your decision. 

If they double-down and continue to press, welcome to your first red flag. They could see your negotiating for more time as a sign of only the first of many requests you might make during this process, like a higher salary, direct reports, or flex scheduling, to name a few. There could be metric or timeline urgency because it’s taken longer to fill the role than initially anticipated, or a deadline has been pushed up to meet financial projections. You may never know the exact reason, but if things are starting rushed, one can only imagine what other obstacles await.

You’re still curious though, aren’t you? Let’s press on.

Read more: 5 Traits Women Should Lean Into

Decide what’s important to you

It’s hard to get the facts if you haven’t first determined what’s important to you. There are a few ways to think about this:

  • What are your nonnegotiables when deciding whether to take opportunities?

  • Is there anything about the offer that would need to change for it to become appealing?

  • Will you need any support fulfilling the obligations of this opportunity?

  • What are your career goals and how does this opportunity help or hinder your achievement of these goals?

  • Will you lose anything by accepting this opportunity?

Once you’ve established what matters, it’s easier to ask clarifying questions that will help you make an informed decision. The last thing you want to do is say yes and then learn something pivotal after the fact like:

  • The project is expected to be completed in six months (and no one has really thought about what you’ll do after that, but no worries, your old role will be backfilled in your absence).

  • The role will require 40 percent travel (and you already feel like you’re never at home).

  • The assignment will actually require you to report into a new manager (and you already moved office mountains to report into your current one).

You’ll also want to negotiate for the things that are most important to you, if they aren’t already included in the offer. 

Once your questions have been answered and the negotiations have concluded, the opportunity that was once a glittery unicorn might just be a banana slug (no shade to slugs). And now it’s time to say no.

Read more: 4 Body Language Clues to Watch For While Negotiating

How to say no with grace

You’ve taken the time to make an informed decision, and based on your needs at this time, that decision is to say no. Feel confident in that, but in case you need some reassurance, just remember:

  • Saying no now doesn’t mean you’re trapped/unappreciative/doomed to be overlooked for all great things to come.

  • Saying no is not embarrassing.

  • You aren’t saying no because of self-doubt, lack of confidence, or fear. (Or are you? If these negative emotions are guiding your inner monologue please scroll back up and decide what’s important to you again, because ain’t nobody got time to prioritize self-doubt.)

The mechanics of saying no

  • Prioritize delivering your response face to face. 

  • Express confidence in your decision and appreciation for being considered.

  • Offer an explanation as to why this opportunity isn’t a good fit, but be succinct, i.e.:

    • The timing doesn’t align with personal obligations.

    • The opportunity pulls you away from the areas that you’re most interested in or doesn’t align with your future goals.

    • The inability to align on X negotiated area was a real blocker for you to be able to confidently move forward.

  • End with confirmation that you look forward to being considered for future opportunities that might be a better fit.

  • Follow up with an email summary of your conversation.

The ideal outcome

They respond with something like:

  • I respect your decision.

  • Tell me more about your future goals, I’d like to make sure that the next opportunity I share with you is a better fit.

Moving forward

  • Don’t try to hide and hope that this moment is forgotten.

  • Keep being that go-getter that got noticed in the first place.

If your no is met with hostility, like:

  • Well, I know plenty of people who would be happy to accept this role.

  • You’re really putting the company in a difficult spot by saying no.

  • If I were offered this type of opportunity, I’d figure out a way to make it work.

You’ve reached another red flag. However, don’t be discouraged. Not only have you learned how to navigate opportunities through this exercise, but you’ve also learned, or confirmed, the leadership style, support network, and benefits that you need to feel whole. Now, take that information and go find your yes opportunity.

Read more: Use These 5 Thoughtful Tactics to Manage Team Burnout

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