How to Deliver Rejections Gracefully Without Burning Bridges

Published on 2015-04-24

COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY IS ADDITIVE once you get the hang of it. Developing good habits in delivering rejections is particularly rewarding. After studying many books, such as Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, I found a good structure of saying “no” without worrying about burning bridges.
For example, this morning, a college friend asked me if I would like to join his social media group and be a contributor. I would like to maintain a good relationship with him, and, at the same time, I don’t have the capacity to really contribute to the success of the group. I am finding my time tied up with work and many different initiatives in life.
If it were you, would you say “yes” to this college friend and just mute the group message notification? Would you say “no” and potentially hurt your relationship?
Here is what I wrote back:

Thanks for thinking of me and inviting me to join your group. I am very flattered. I have joined many social media groups, and I have found that I don’t regularly check my group messages. It won’t be the best way for me to contribute to your success.

Please come to me with particular questions or refer an individual from the group when they need help. I will be more than happy to share my thoughts and expertise. I am very proud of you for starting something on your own! I look forward to having a conversation about your goals and catch up with you. Let me know how the weekend sounds.

This structure may sound robotic if you don’t mean it. In this case, I am genuinely interested in learning more about his initiative and helping him accomplish something in my preferred way.
What structure am I referring to at the beginning of this post?
Here are the simple steps:
Step 1:
Give him/her reassurance; give your appreciation for the request. It can be as simple as saying, “thank you.”
Step 2:
Explain the reasons for your rejection using the FFF (Feel, Felt, and Found) format. We teach this in our Management Fundamentals program.
Step 3:
Inform the person your preferred way of communication and contribution. You may prefer him/her contacting you via email instead of WeChat. You may prefer the communication happen during day time, rather than midnight. Just be honest and up front on your preferences.
Step 4:
Give praise on the request. It is important especially when you are communicating via social media platforms, emails and text messages. It is important to make sure that the recipient understands that you think positive about him/her. This will prevent you from burning bridges when you need something from this person in the future.
The three main points are:
1. Put yourself in the other people’s shoe. Empathy is very used very little, especially in Social Media spaces.
2. Protect yourself from over committing or being taken advantage of. This is hard to do but, you need to filter what is important and relevant to you. Aligning with your own goals makes you instantly passionate, choose groups and organisations thoughtfully.
3. Maintain a positive tone. This is key because, you have now crossed the bridge and want it to remain a viable means of contact and relationship building.
I encourage you to use this structure in your next situation and I am looking forward to hearing your feedback. Feel free to comment below.
“Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie Stepanek