The Art of Rejection: Letting People Down with Class

New Faces and Uncertain Outcomes


As a business owner, it is a requirement that you actively participate in networking events. In addition to learning new business skills, you are able to expand your social network and discover new opportunities.

Unfortunately, networking events also include interacting with people with less than optimal social skills. In my article, Make Networking Work Using These Ideas, one of my recommendations was to followup after the initial meeting. Unfortunately, not all business relationships are worth developing. This article will discuss legitimate reasons to not pursue a relationship and if necessary, how to terminate a working relationship.

It Is Not You. It's Me

In the classic television show Seinfeld, George Constanza would say, "it's not you, it's me" each time he ended a romantic relationship. George would later tell his friends that he did not like the woman and used it as an excuse to avoid them asking the reasons behind the breakup.

In the business world, most people use avoidance as a way of terminating a business relationship. The rationale is that the person would eventually "get it" that you are not interested in communicating further.

As unpleasant as it is, rejection is a part of life, the business world is no exception.  Avoidance or using the line, "it's not you, it's me" is an immature response and does not help either you or your business contact improve their communication skills. Put it in another way: Would you want to be ignored if someone expressed genuine interest in you or your service? I am betting that answer would be "no."

Be Clear About Your Needs

Often I have heard people say that avoidance is an easier tactic because "you don't hurt anyone's feelings." This is incredibly selfish when you think about it. Those who use avoidance are more preoccupied with their own feelings (dealing the other person's reaction) than being honest with themselves and others. Here is a fresh new idea: When you are more honest with other people, you can be more honest about your own feelings. Avoidance does not resolve anything. Over time, you may meet the same type of person over and over again in different circumstances. Deal with this issue head on. It is okay to let someone know your business wants and needs. And in some cases, a need may include discontinuing a professional relationship.

Do not Qualify on Emotions

Many years ago, Hoi, my husband, interviewed for a contracting job while we still lived in the Washington, DC area. A friend made arrangements for him to interview with the hiring manager. During the interview Hoi thought he struck a good rapport with the manager. A few days later, Hoi's friend informed Hoi that his application was rejected because my husband reminded the manager of prior bad hire who appeared "too charming" and became crazy later.  Hoi is not crazy, but he is charming. This event was over ten years ago and Hoi still remembers it like it happened yesterday. The reason it so vivid is because the rejection was based on emotions than facts.

Recommendation: Do not allow emotion alone to dictate your professional decisions.

While you may want to trust your gut, don't let your feelings alone guide you. Feelings often don't respect the truth. Some of my best contacts where people whom I did not like initially. Do not let a single encounter deter you from developing a relationship.

I suggest coming up with a list of valid reasons before you decide that this person (or situation) is not suitable.

Possible reasons could include:

  • Poor timing for your current business needs
  • Overcommitments that would limit your ability to have a beneficial relationship
  • Family or personal crisis
  • You found a solution (or person) who is a better fit for your business needs
  • Your contact is not respectful or your time and/or effort

I suggest you write out the list and think about whether any of your reasons are valid. Sometimes seeing them written on paper may seem legitimate or absurd.

listen-1702648_640Let the Other Person Down with Class

If you have reviewed your list and concluded that it is not worth continuing a relationship, the best thing you can do is let the other person know as soon as possible. Do not let someone grow frustrated by constantly contacting you. You can let someone know over the phone (preferably) or through an email message.

Below is a sample rejection script. In addition, here is a link to other sample scripts.

Hello (insert name):

It was a pleasure to meet you and learn more about your business services. But due to [insert reasons], I do not think that this arrangement will be beneficial to either one of us. I believe [fill in the blank] is the best path for my company needs. I have thought about this for some time and do not wish to discuss the issue further.

Thank you again for contacting me and I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Thank You,

Your Name

Practice Makes Everything Better

Just as learning to read, riding a bike and learning your trade were difficult at first, with continued practice, things became easier. Learning to reject someone will also get better over time. Remember, no one likes rejection. However, you will gain respect from others and yourself if you are to be upfront about why you cannot maintain a business relationship. You will gain respect because being honest is not very common today. In addition, people may be so positively moved from your honesty they may use your rejection strategy in the future.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if people were more honest with themselves and to others? I believe you would agree with me on this sentiment.

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