How To Politely Decline a Request (With 10 Examples)

Updated March 16, 2023

Whether you're just beginning a new job or you're a long-term professional, your time is valuable. No matter your position, clients, vendors, supervisors and coworkers will ask for both your time and attention. As a result, being able to politely decline requests at work is an important skill for both maintaining relationships and staying productive.

In this article, we examine the steps of politely declining requests at work.

Read more: 8 Ways To Build Workplace Relationships

Why is it important to politely decline requests?

One reason declining requests is important is that you have a limited amount of time in your day and others may ask you to do more than is possible. You may take requests from clients, vendors, managers and coworkers who are simply unaware of your schedule and workload. Declining time-consuming or overly challenging requests realistically communicates your capabilities and competence. The second reason to politely decline requests is that, when done correctly, you can maintain relationships at your workplace. Further, if you offer effective alternative solutions, you may even improve workplace efficiency, teamwork and communication.

Types of requests at work and why decline them

At work, requests can come from several sources: coworkers, supervisors, customers and vendors. Common requests from coworkers include asking for assistance, making an introduction or providing a reference. You may decline these due to being busy on other projects or not being comfortable providing a reference. Supervisors may ask you to schedule a meeting on short notice, which may not be feasible given your other commitments. Customers may want to change an order or receive a discount, which may be inconsistent with company policy. Vendors may request you consider buying products you are not interested in.

Being able to tactfully decline these requests allows you to maintain these professional relationships and develop honest and skillful ways of interacting with the other party.

Read more Guide To Customer Service

How to politely decline a request

No matter the source of the request or your reasons for refusing it, consider taking these steps when declining a request:

Understand the reason for the request

Make sure that you understand, for example, why the meeting must occur on short notice or a customer wants to cancel an order. Clarify by asking questions and restating concerns.

Brainstorm several solutions.

Try to brainstorm at least two possible alternative solutions to the request. The better you understand the reasoning behind the request, the easier it is to identify solutions. If your supervisor calls a meeting to meet a new client while you're at an appointment, for instance, you may be able to meet the client at a different time or attend part of the meeting remotely.

Firmly, but gently, decline the request

Be clear and direct to avoid any chance of misinterpretation. For example, "I'm sorry, but I am unable to write a recommendation letter for you at this time" directly and politely indicates your position.

Give a reason for declining the request

Briefly explain why you have to decline the request. For this step, only provide what information is necessary. For example, "I cannot attend the meeting because I have another appointment scheduled at that time" is sufficient.

Offer alternative resolutions

If possible, propose two or three of the possible alternatives you brainstormed earlier. In declining to write a letter of recommendation, you could say, for example, "While I'm not comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation at this time, I would be happy to look over your resume or put you into contact with our human resources department. Which would work best for you?"

As a last resort, ask for help

If politely declining the request, explaining your reasons and proposing alternatives doesn't achieve your intended result, then refer the person requesting an immediate supervisor.

Read more: How To Nicely Say 'No' (With 50 Examples)

Examples of politely declining a request

Here are some example scenarios of when you may need to decline a request:

Turning down a meeting

"I understand the need to meet with a new client on short notice. Unfortunately, I am unable to make the meeting, as I have an appointment planned for that time. I can, however, offer two alternatives. I could attend the first half of the meeting remotely before leaving for my appointment, or I can come in early the next day to discuss the highlights of the meeting with you. Please let me know what works best."

Saying no to a project

"I understand the importance of beginning this project right away. I'm sorry, but I can't begin this project until I finish the one I'm working on currently. I plan to have this project finished by the end of the week, so I could begin the new project early next week. Alternatively, I could allocate an hour to meet with the project team and discuss how I would approach it. I'm happy to do both. Feel free to call or email me with your preference."

Avoiding an introduction you don't want to make

"Thank you for the email. It sounds as though you'd like me to introduce you to my supervisor. I've only been here a short time, and I'm not comfortable making introductions. If you'd like, however, I can provide you with contact information for our human resources department and am happy to look over your resume."

Avoiding writing a recommendation letter

"Thanks for contacting me, and congratulations on applying for a new position. I appreciate that this is an exciting time for you and recommendation letters are an important part of the hiring process. I don't think I'm in the best position to speak to your qualifications for this position, however, so I'm going to decline. If you'd like to meet with me to discuss how I think you can stand out as a candidate, I may have some suggestions. Please give me a call at your convenience."

Declining a vendor request

"Thanks for taking the time to put together this offer for your product. I agree, your rates are very competitive. At the moment, however, we are very happy with the contract with our current vendor, which runs through next year. If this changes in the short or long term, I will consider contacting you to meet our future needs."

Declining to make a monetary donation

"Thank you for stopping by our office yesterday and giving a presentation on your organization. While we all agree your cause is a noble one, after discussion with my supervisors and colleagues, we have decided not to donate this year because we contribute to several similar campaigns. I will reach out if this changes. Thanks again for your time, and please consider stopping by in the future."

Rejecting a customer request for a discount

"It's great to hear from you! I understand that, given your long-term loyalty to our brand, you were hoping for a discount on your next order. We are, sadly, unable to provide discounts on individual orders. We do, however, offer a rewards program for our customers and free delivery on automated orders. Would you be interested in either of these?"

Refusing a customer feature request

"Thanks for taking the time to complete our survey. We love hearing back from our customers. While we're happy to take your ideas under advisement, we are satisfied with much of our current business model. We are, however, very interested in your thoughts on any additional products you would like to see in our store. Do you have any suggestions? Again, we thank you for your time and welcome any suggestions you have."

Declining a promotion to a position with greater responsibility

"I'm honored to receive the offer of this new position, I believe it acknowledges my skill, growth and dedication to this company over the past few years. As you may know, I am also busy taking classes at the university and hope to complete my studies this spring. As a result of the time required to complete my studies, I reluctantly decline this position. I hope that you will consider me for similar opportunities in the spring when I have fewer commitments."

Turning down a purchase request

"I understand that making this acquisition may be in the long-term interests of our department. Currently, however, we do not have the budget to make the purchase. We could either wait until the end of the next fiscal quarter to make the purchase or look at removing some items from our budget over the next two months to purchase it sooner. Which do you prefer?"

Explore more articles

  • 6 Reasons To Consider Getting a Second Bachelor’s Degree
  • How To Calculate the Confidence Interval (With Examples)
  • How To Write an Effective Theme Statement (Plus Definition)
  • How To Delete Files on Google Drive Using 3 Methods
  • Qualities of a Good Listener and How To Be One in 6 Steps
  • 10 Key Metrics You Should Incorporate in a Business Plan
  • How To Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant in 8 Steps
  • 79 Accounting Terms You Can Use for Multiple Industries
  • What Is the Procurement Process? (Including Steps and Types)
  • How To Highlight Words in Excel (Plus Why It Matters)
  • 10 Strategies to Effectively Promote Your Professional Growth
  • 21 Skills of a Good Manager