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  • Writer's pictureHeather Lloyd-Martin, ACC

How to Say No to A Client (And Why It Feels So Weird to Do!)

So, how do you feel when a client asks you to do something that you don't want to do or is out of scope?

Do you get angry and immediately send your client a nastygram?

Or do you feel anxiety flood your body as you figure out how to gracefully wiggle out of your client's requests?

Both responses are very normal.

Here's why you feel weird when you say no to a client

I was thinking about this when I read the classic book, "When I Say No I Feel Guilty," by Manuel J. Smith. He talks about how a situation that pushes our boundaries often elicits a fight-or-flight response.

You're exhibiting the fight response if you get angry. You may have thoughts like, "I can't believe they want me to do that," cross your mind and stew about the client's ill intent. Often, this drama is all in your head, and your client has no idea the request is complex or out of scope.

Now, if you'd prefer to avoid the conversation entirely and hope it goes away, you fall into the flight category. You'd rather go dark than say something that may (in your head) disappoint your client. Sometimes, you may even be passive-aggressive and email something like, "I'm not feeling well," to see if you can wiggle out of the ask. Instead of saying no, you try to guilt the client into retracting your request.

Again, we've all been there, and there's no shame in engaging in one or both of these behaviors. It's completely normal.

But it's also stressful because you're emotionally involved. You're either feeling anxious or angry. And often, you consent and do it anyway because it just feels easier.

So if this resonates with you, I'd Is this coping mechanism serving you?

Once you pull the emotion out of it and create a boundary, saying no becomes much easier.

Why is it so hard for women to say no?

As Gen X and Millennial women, it can be challenging for us to say no. We've been trained to accommodate others, put ourselves second, and find a workaround rather than set boundaries.

We're afraid someone won't like us – or worse, be angry at us – if we say no, even if that means working a weekend, doing out-of-scope work, or putting our needs on hold.

So we accommodate and do it anyway – and then wonder why we're so burned out at the end of the day.

Remember, time is your only renewable resource. The more times you can say "no" to situations that don't serve you, the more opportunity you have to focus on what fills you up.

Saying no doesn't need to be complicated. You don't need to go into an in-depth explanation of why you can't do something. You don't need to apologize or salvage the relationship.

You just need to take a deep breath…and assert your boundary.

Need inspiration?

Here are ten ways you can say no in a professional manner.

  • I don't have the bandwidth, but I can refer you to someone who may be able to help you.

  • Since this request is out of contract scope, the additional fee is X. Shall I move ahead?

  • This looks great! I won't be able to schedule this by (client's requested date), but I can start (on this date).

  • I'm not available to Zoom with you right now, but here's my calendar link -- I have availability as soon as X.

  • I'd love to help. Here's my calendar link to book a paid consultation call.

  • I can lower the price by eliminating this service.

  • This isn't a good fit for my skills, but I appreciate your thinking of me.

  • I'm not available at that time.

  • I don't offer discounts.

  • No.

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