Politely Say No to US Clients

Posted On: July 31, 2020

Have you ever been in a situation where you were in a conversation with a US client and needed to say no, but instead did not say anything because you did not know how to politely say no or push back?

Well, today I am going to teach you a few formulas and phrases you can use to do just that! These tips will help you build relationships, where as silence and saying yes when you mean no will damage a good business relationship that took years to build.

Take a listen to the video below and some more of the tips and tricks listed under the video to help you to gain mastery, confidence and skill in this tricky technique. It will become tricky no more!



Tips to politely say no or push back in a collaborative way

Notes from the video. Watch the video for more context.

1. Use of the word “honored” to say no 
In the US, I have heard of the use of the word honor mostly for agreeing or thanking to be included. Not as a polite way to say now. For example, the word “honored” could be used when kicking off a project, “[Client name] thank you so much for choosing our team and company to launch your first ever app. We are honored to partner with you and be a part of this journey with you!”

Instead of saying what is mentioned in the video and in the article to say no, use this formula: Acknowledge, add context, end with question.

Acknowledgement in red, context in blue, question in fuschia.

I’m really glad that you thought of me to do this particular project, as you know we have a tight deadline to roll out your product in a couple weeks. So, I am hope hoping if I am able to help you, we can revisit this after the roll out when things calm down a little bit. What do you think about that?

2. Unfortunately, there’s only one of me.
This phrase I have listed here is the opposite of what is mentioned in the article. Listen to the video from minute marker 5 minute 45 seconds to hear how I used this phrase to decline the request.

Here’s another example of how to use the phrase “I wish there were two of me” in a slightly different way:
“I have been waiting to work on a project like that! As you know with the upcoming rollout, I am drowning in deadlines over here, and gosh, I wish I could clone myself so I could start work on that immediately! Can we connect after the rollout to discuss how I can collaborate on that with you? Shall I put it in my calendar?” 

3. When is a good time?
The third suggestion appears too direct in my opinion, and make the response a little more collaborative/positive. Instead, maybe say, “I’m glad you thought of me to help out with this, unfortunately, as you know with the roll out coming up, I’m spread a little bit thin. Can we revisit this after the roll out to see how I can best help you out?”

In this response, we have used two idioms or phrases “spread a little bit thin” and “to revisit [something]. Listen to the video [at 7:45] to get the meaning.

4. The word “booked” in the context it is shared may not be a common use for scheduling meetings in the US
In this point, I spoke about the client trying to scheduling a meeting with you. So, to deny a request for a particular meeting time, use this formula: Acknowledge their request (mentioning why you are not available), mention a time you may be available, ask them if they are available at that time.

This is a polite way to decline a meeting request in a conversation and also in an email.

Note: Another phrase I have heard instead of booked is “double booked.” However, we wouldn’t replace “booked” with “double booked.” We would not say, “I am double booked into something else.” Instead, we may say, “It looks like if we meet at that time, I would be double booked. Can we look at another time to meet?”

I am not sure how common this is, so instead, some say “schedule conflict.” Or more conversationally, one could say, “Sorry, it actually looks like I have another meeting scheduled atc this time, can we look at scheduling XX time instead?”

Notice how it’s easy to expand your vocabulary with easy words! No need to learn long, complicated, hard to pronounce words! (Phew!)

Learn more about: How US Clients Request Meeting Times & How To Answer/Decline

5. Try not to use this one because of one particular word…..
Instead of using the “not so acceptable word,” replace that word with another exclamation like “Oh no!” or “So sorry, it looks like…” Try to avoid the word “but” as to most US Americans whatever comes after the word but would be taken as negative (even as in the opening sentence of this post). See this post for more information on that.

6. This one works!
I did share another adaptation of this response for your interest!

7. The use of the word “lovely” is not so American
I share some alternatives to what is suggested in the article in the video at minute marker 10:40. In this section, I also used the idiom “I’m tied up.” This is a common idiom used in such situations which means “I am very busy, and have a lot of things to do….”

8. May be too direct for the US interactions
Though the suggested answer in the original article may not be that direct, I suggest something even more indirect to soften the blow. (“Soften the blow” is another idiom that means “make it sound more polite, so the other person doesn’t feel bad.”)

9. This suggested answer is close to the first one in the list.

10. The last one may work better for when colleagues ask you to join them on an outing, for an event or some other activity. I suggest a few other ways of using this phrase that are very common in American English.

Do keep in mind above all, it’s about building a relationship with your US client. From even before you talk to him or her for the first time, get to know them with these tips, and as you start working with them, learn how to make small talk and gain a comfort level with the person him or herself so that when it comes time to tackle the more challenging conversations, you will be ready!

I hope you found this post and video tutorial helpful. I help you and teams like yours in India to communicate more effectively with your US colleagues and clients through language consultation and cross cultural coaching. Get in touch with us to start the conversation, or if you still need more inspiration, take a look at some of the projects we have worked on with over 50 companies just like yours!

Related Posts:
Speaking Confidently about Declining Change Requests
Scheduling, coordinating and driving US client meetings (when it’s new to you) 
Tips to using English more politely


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