In a recent business writing course, someone was writing a message to say no to an employee’s unworkable request. In his first draft, he blamed the reader, writing, “Had your request complied with our guidelines, I may have been able to justify an exception.”
That sentence blames the reader, and reader blame is a no-no in a no message.
When you write to tell someone no, your message will already disappoint the individual. Why add to the negative feeling by pinning the blame on the reader?
This message saying no to an employee’s request for time off shows what NOT to do:
I received your message about taking paid time off on Friday. You know Sarah and Margot are scheduled to take that day off, so I am not sure why you asked. You know the policy is to have at least two people on the floor on Fridays.
Tyler’s message not only says no. It blames Cheri for asking.
This improved version communicates the rationale without blame:
I received your message about taking paid time off on Friday. Because Sarah and Margot are scheduled to take that day off, I cannot approve your request. We have to have at least two people on the floor on Fridays.
I am sorry it did not work out this time.
If you need to emphasize company or organizational policy in a no message, you can do it without blame:
I’m sorry I can’t say yes to your request to use the common room for a garage sale. Our condo association rules state that the common room cannot be used for events that are open to the public.
Of course, you are welcome to use the uncovered parking lot for the sale. You would just need to let me know and to give residents a 48-hour notice of your plan.
If you would like to learn more about saying no to employees, clients, and other people, get my book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time. Its chapter “Say No Clearly and Courageously” shows how to say no in even the stickiest situations.
Have you ever been blamed for making a request?