Rejecting Collaborations—While Preserving Connections

On her way home from a business event, a friend called to commiserate about an awkward encounter.

About a year ago, a woman my friend ran into at the event called her to suggest teaming for a business endeavor. My friend felt so surprised at the suggestion—and knew so immediately that it wouldn’t work—that she may have seemed a little harsh in her rapid dismissal of the idea.

They hadn’t spoken since.

Other than abruptly ixnay-ing the proposal, my friend asked, how should she have handled the situation to have preserved relations?

Humans naturally want to please; doling out a “no” causes us discomfort. When we interact with someone immediately after turning down his idea, we feel acute awkwardness. And a person receiving a “no” smarts a little—and, potentially, for a while.

Rejection hurts.

The key to preserving relations in such situations? Graciousness.

When turning down an offer, express sincere gratitude; after all, someone who includes you in an idea has complimented you. Detailed explanations for why you cannot participate or agree may exacerbate any feelings of rejection—and inadvertently cause hurt feelings. Simply state that the suggestion doesn’t fit with your business plan or that you prefer to work solo in that area or that the timing doesn’t work for you.

White lies? Maybe a little. Yet they’re all generically true.

If you receive a “no,” you’ll feel wounded. Yet you can save dignity and preserve normalcy by thanking your colleague for considering the offer—and immediately moving on. Remember that the person doesn’t reject you with his “no”—only an idea. Also, you can’t know everything in his world; if you did, you might agree that the idea doesn’t fit his plan or situation. You might even feel thankful that he passed on it.

And pat yourself on the back for trying: After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

In my friend's situation, what would you recommend?