Business, Projects, and Saying “No”

Generally, everyone has been in at least one of two of the following positions.  In position number one, you’ve had to deny the request of someone whom you genuinely like, plaguing you with guilt and remorse because you hate saying “no” to them.  In position number two, instead of dealing with the guilt of saying “no,” you said yes and now find yourself stuck doing something you completely hate and/or inconveniences you to a monumental amount.  Neither position is desirable, so what is someone supposed to do?

Thus brings us to our topic today: saying “no” when it comes to businesses or projects.  No one wants to be that person who says no.  After all, no is the easiest word one can say that will cause some hurt feelings.  Unfortunately, for businesses and projects, it’s somewhat unavoidable.  Someone has to be in charge of saying it.  If there isn’t, it’s very easy to find yourself in position number two, and whatever you’re working on could risk floundering.

How does one take the plunge of saying “no,” though?  Even I struggle sometimes with rejecting people, as it’s not like I intentionally want people to feel bad.  However, today I am here to provide you with some arguments and repeatable, mental mantras.  These are things that have helped me over the years in coming to terms with saying “no.”  They may not work for you, nor are they perfect, but repeated enough in your mind they may help ease the process.  Thus, I feel I should share these if it will help someone out.

Now, before I begin, I am going to take some liberties and expand what I mean by saying “no.”  Of course, I do mean having to reject others, whether it’s denying their submission or just flat out telling them you do not want to implement their idea.  However, for the sake of creating a more thorough article, I am also going to include situations where you might have to ask someone to leave your project or business.

Now then, these are my tips for mentally preparing yourself to say “no.”


  1. Business and personal matters should be kept separate.

As the old saying goes, one should not mix business and pleasure.  This is true whether you’re running a high-end, professional business or a fun project with friends.  If you want whatever you’re working on to succeed, you need to remember that its success should not be dependent on personal relationships.  This goes the other way as well: personal relationships should not hinge on the project’s success.  What this means is that sometimes decisions need to be made for the good of the project, not vary depending on your relationship with any given person involved.

To put this in more example form, let’s say Bob, Tiffany, Luna, and Suzanne are working on a project together.  Bob told Tiffany he didn’t like her idea, and Tiffany got so mad she left the project and never talked to Bob again.  Meanwhile, timid, shy Luna couldn’t reject Suzanne’s idea of wearing ski masks to their upcoming convention, because Suzanne was her best friend and that’d be awful.

In both situations, the problem was that these people allowed business and personal matters to mix too much.  As separating business and personal matters is easier said than done, the best way to follow the tip is to make it verbally clear to everyone involved that your opinions and decisions have nothing to do with how you feel about them personally; they are simply opinions and decisions you make to see the awesome project/business succeed.

Of course, there are those who have the sorts of friends who will agree to this, but then get extremely mad over the pettiest of differences.  At this point, one should probably consider whether or not this “friend” should be part of the project.  However, if you’re this friend, you should perhaps consider sticking to solo projects for the time being.


  1. Learn to explain rejection in a thorough, non-attacking matter.

Often when people say “no,” a lot of hurt feelings come from simply how you word it.  Even just saying, “I don’t like that idea,” can rub some people the wrong way.

The better way, in my opinion, to handle rejections (or firings) is to thoroughly explain why you are rejecting them.  In other words, instead of saying, “I don’t like that idea,” it’s better to add the why.  Say, from our above example, Luna becomes brave enough to tell Suzanne “no” to the ski mask idea.  Rather than saying she just doesn’t like it, Luna would be better off elaborating that she thinks ski masks might scare away potential customers, and that security might think they’re suspicious.

The key here is to show the other party that your reasoning is not personal; it’s simply for the good of the project.  It is also important to never make attacking statements.  These would be items like telling the other party their idea is stupid and imply that they aren’t thinking for the good of the project.

Of course, let’s say you’re in the situation where you have to kick a member off a project because they’re just a shitty team player.  How does one not make that personal?  Though these situations are a bit harder, wording choice can still make a difference.  Rather than just telling them they’re shitty, a softer approach like saying “their work ethic isn’t up to group standards,” would probably be better.  This is definitely one that takes practice, but it is do-able.

In the end, though, you can definitely make saying no easier if you learn to provide the why and have good word choices.


  1. If you don’t say no, you could not only hurt the project/business, but also yourself and other people involved.

For me, this is a fantastic mental mantra that always helps prepare me to reject someone.  After all, if you’re truly passionate about the project, you do not want to see it fail.  Heck, if you’re just a perfectionist like I am about some things, then you’ll want to see it succeed even if you’re not that personally attached to it.  However, if you don’t say no to something you think is bad for the project, then that could wind up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Trust me, it’s a worse feeling to know you’re partly responsible for a project’s failure than it is to deal with any temporary guilt from rejecting someone.

Much like the first tip, the project’s success should come first when it comes to these matters.  If you fully commit to that idea, saying “no” becomes quite a bit easier.  If you’re lucky enough to have three or more members, you can also take comfort in the fact that sometimes saying no saves these other members personal anguish, something that is admirable.

Lastly, though, you must consider your own sanity.  As I introduced in the beginning, position two is where you wind up by not saying “no,” dooming yourself potentially to anguish, suffering, and regret.  Inevitably, besides the fact you’re personally hurt, from my experience this slowly makes you into a toxic person.  Often, you will complain in private conversations about this totally preventable situation, annoying people around you if it becomes a constant problem.  So, even for people outside the project, you could be saving them some trouble as well.

Either way, just repeat this mantra, as it can definitely help convince your cynical conscience about your motivations.


  1. Accept that not everyone in life can have their way all the time.

This is by far the hardest tip to follow, and one that really must be mentally repeated a billion times over.  Real life is a harsh place, and we unfortunately do not live in a meritocracy.  As such, everyone in life will find a lack of fairness at some point.  You may work 1000 hours on your masterpiece novel and sell one copy.  Then some random dude bro comes along, writes a dinky, fanfiction novella, and somehow sells enough to retire for life.  These sorts of situations happen often, and everyone will wind up disappointed sometimes.

Does this mean you should feel guilty for adding to this disappointment chain?  Absolutely not.  It is not your job to give everyone everything they ever wanted.  I can promise you, no one will do that for you.  Just like these people, you’re working hard to see your businesses and projects succeed.  Thus, it’s not a terrible thing to prioritize your investment and happiness over someone else’s, especially if you think their idea, submission, or whatever is going to negatively impact all that hard work you put in.

Of course, rejected people will be disappointed.  That’s just unavoidable.  However, people are also resilient and can grow from rejections if they try.  It’s not your fault if people take the rejections too far to heart, especially if you were as un-malicious and apologetic as possible.  You have a right to live your life to best of your ability, and sometimes what you want and what others want will conflict.  Thus, hurt feelings are just an inevitability, as someone will always get the short end.  If you focus on the guilt from that, you just hinder yourself from progressing.


In summary, much of saying “no” is simply about mental preparation.  As long as you remind yourself your intention is not to hurt others, then it becomes a lot easier.  Although, keep in mind for certain matters one must also be open to compromise, and you shouldn’t stubbornly stick to your “no” in every situation.  However, it’s always okay to say “no,” and you’re not a terrible person for doing so.  I hope these tips help those struggling with this matter, and if you have any questions I’d love to answer.  Until next post~!


Image: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay.