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How do I Say "no" to an Employee Request?

You can soften your rejection of a request by using the "sandwich approach"; that is, put the "no" part of your response between two neutral or positive statements. The first comment paraphrases the request, demonstrating that you have heard it. "I understand why you would want a draft of the e-newsletter. However, I can’t release the newsletter until all the information has been included. As soon as it’s done, though, I’ll see that you get a copy." If the person is persistent, you need do no more than repeat your earlier refusal. If the individual continues to refuse to accept your reply, repeat your rejection again and again in a matter-of-fact tone.

Most "nos" have no need for explanation. Employees and colleagues have a right to ask you to do something—and you have the right to say "no." Keep that in mind. Bad news like the decision to reject a proposal or cut a budget may be better followed by an explanation, on the other hand.

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Saying "no" to an idea, proposition, or request from an employee or customer can create knots in your stomach. But the damage done in the delivery can be far worse than the answer itself.

You can say "no" with an uncaring attitude: "No way will I let you take tomorrow morning off." Or you can say "no" passively, hiding behind an excuse that is not the real reason: "I can’t let you. The CEO may drop by and I would want you here to talk to him with me." Or you can say "yes" and do "no." Tell the employee that he or she can take time off and then stop the employee as he or she is on the way out. "I hate to tell you but I need you to work with me on the budget. Come on into my office."

The last of these three ways to say "no" may be the easiest—but only at the time. In the long run, you will disappoint the person and even cause more severe problems than an honest "No, I need your help with the budget. Besides, you have used up all your vacation time."

A response—positive or negative—doesn’t have to be immediate. Even if you know you intend to say "no," it would be perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think about the request. If you need that time to consider the wording of your "no," you can do that. However, if your intent is simply to stall, better to get the "no" over with.