How to Say “No,” and Leave the Door Open for a Down-the-Road “Yes”

It happens all the time with work; the job offer, the investment opportunity, or the candidate you surfaced are great but the timing is wrong. So how do you say “no” and leave the door open to return?

Here’s one thought on how to keep the door open rather than permanently shut when you reject someone.

It starts, by the way, by having a clear bead on where you are, and what you’re looking for.  More tears, my experience tells me, are shed by hiring folks when the timing was wrong, and connecting with investors that would be great for a later round (when the firm’s foundation is better developed) than an earlier round where the help they bring may not be so helpful.

So how do you handle it?

Channel a variation Oscar Wilde’s alleged comment when he spurned an unwanted suitor; “You’re much too good to be married to someone like me; you deserve someone much better.”

In your case an appropriate way is to state that you’d love to hire the candidate, take the job, or take somebody’s money but that the timing isn’t right. The firm is looking for someone who does not bring such strong credentials at this time; the investor deserves to have a company that they can help move forward now rather than someone who is still figuring out where they’re going, and last, you’d love to accept the job offer but the company deserves someone who is a better fit for their needs now rather than someone who most likely will be a better fit for their needs down the road.

And in each case, add “You’d love to revisit the opportunity down the road when the timing might be better.”

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better. Over the past 25 years as a senior business executive, J. Mike has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as Genentech, AT&T, and Visa. You can learn more about J. Mike at Life Back West.

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