Let’s face it—even when you work in a traditional office, you spend most of your time communicating with colleagues through email. Though it takes up 28% of your week, email just seems easier to deal with than meeting in person or scheduling calls, especially when you’re juggling a million and one priorities. The catch? Every now and again, you’ll run into a sticky office situation (read: super awkward) where you're faced with having to turn down a request. Even though the person on the other end can't see your panic face, saying no through email isn't always easy to do.
As round two of our email template series, we’ve written 9 email templates for awkward office situations that you can save for later. Feel free to use and tweak as you see fit!
Turning Down a Meeting
Whether it's for yourself or your boss, sometimes saying no to a meeting request requires more than a simple decline. If you're saying no through email, leave the door open to reschedule. This shows that you're not just hiding and are willing to put it on the docket later. You can also ask the person to provide action items after the meeting is done so you still get essential details.
Decline While Asking to Reschedule
Thanks for sending the meeting invite over. Based on my current schedule, I won't be available on [insert date here] at the time you've carved out, but I am free on any of the dates/times below if one of these works on your end.
[option 1: insert date and time]
[option 2: insert date and time]
[option 3: insert date and time]
Please let me know which date works best for you and I'll get it on the calendar!
Decline While Asking for Action Items
Thanks for sending that meeting invite. Unfortunately, I’m not able to attend because of prior scheduling—but please keep me updated with action items I may be able to help with. You can feel free to send those notes over after the meeting, though I won't be available right away.
Saying No to a Project
When your boss assigns something completely out of scope, or a colleague asks for (yet) another favor, saying no through email is necessary—for both your sanity and documentation purposes. Any time project details are involved, a written conversation can help solidify what was discussed.
When The Project is Part of Your Job, But You’re Up to Your Eyeballs in Work
Thanks for including details about [project name]. Based on our last conversation, my priorities for this week are as follows:
[Priority project #1]
[Priority project #2]
[Priority project #3]
Since I’m currently at capacity with these tasks, should I table [new project] for [day] next week? This works best on my end so I can complete the above tasks without affecting the overall timeline.
Please let me know if I should priortize the steps you mentioned instead.
I appreciate the clarification!
When The Project Is Just Not Right for You
Thanks for thinking of me on this one! I’m always up for a challenge, but this falls a little too far outside my skillset. Even though I can't help you out, I do have a tip—this sounds like a great assignment for [insert name of colleague whose job it actually is]. [S/he] handles similar cases all the time!
I can forward the instructions over to [Person] if that’s helpful?
Avoiding an Introduction You Don’t Want to Make
Maybe you don’t know the requester that well, it’s been a long time since you’ve chatted, or you’re just not comfortable making an introduction.
Great to hear from you, thanks for reaching out!
[Name of person they want to meet] really is awesome and I’m lucky to work with [him/her]. Unfortunately, I also know that [Person's] schedule is packed for the next few weeks, so I’d prefer not to add any more to that workload! I might be able to help though, so you can shoot me any questions you have in the meantime.
A Recommendation You Don’t Want to Give
We’re all for boosting the Ninja image and helping each other, but sometimes, you get a recommendation request that just doesn’t feel right. Plus, handing one out without full support from your gut can come back to haunt you later.
When You Can’t Comment on Their Skills
Thanks for thinking of me, I really enjoyed working with you. However, I’m not sure I’m the right person to write your recommendation, as I can't adequately speak to your skill in [area they want kudos for].
If you have another colleague or former direct manager who saw you in action, I’m sure their recommendation would be more telling of your abilities.
Best of luck!
When It’s Company Policy Not to Give Recommendations
Even if you wanted to give a recommendation, your company policy might now allow it.
I really enjoyed working with you on [project], but our company policy restricts us from providing any personal recommendations. Sorry I couldn’t help with this!
Thank you for all the help you’ve given up to this point! We’ve decided to go in another direction, but will keep [company] in mind for future partnerships that could work out better.
Money You Don’t Want to Give
Someone is always fundraising for a worthy cause or charity, and it’s common to ask colleagues. No one wants to be seen as the office scrooge, but you can’t donate to every community event, charity, or school theater project without going broke.
That's a great cause to get behind, thanks for thinking of me! This year, my focus is on [your favorite charities], so I'm saving all my extra change for that.
I’m rooting for [you/your child]—best of luck!
Saying no to a project or an invite doesn’t have to be hard. The key—especially in email—is to be honest, direct, and gracious about the request. That way, you get your message across without burning any bridges.
Ninjas, what other workplace scenarios have you gotten out of through email? Let us know below!