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3 Tips to Handle Email and Decline Requests Politely

No matter what type of work you do, you’ll have to deal with responding to multiple requests via email. Even if you have an assistant, on some level you still have to make the decision about whether or not to accept or turn down certain opportunities. Saying yes seems to flow easily while saying no can feel awkward. If you’re tired of wondering how to politely decline and you’re trying to come up with what to say and email back, here are some tips to do so.

1. Create a system to sort emails. 

Sometimes we are presented with so many requests that we don’t know what to do with them.  It can be especially frustrating to devote time to responding when we already know it’s something that doesn’t align with our current goals or it’s simply something we don’t want to do. Our inboxes can become so inundated that we can’t keep up and we end up not taking any action at all.

If you want to respond to people and you need to say no right now, devise your own system to handle such requests. Make folders or special labels in your email and park their email request there temporarily until you are able to respond. You can set aside time to quickly answer when you finish your work. Pick a number of emails to handle daily, so you can create a routine to work more effectively.

If you want more specific guidelines, Pat Flynn of reveals how he overcame this problem with the help of an assistant after his email became majorly backlogged. They discuss processes they put into place and how they developed a system to organize what comes in according to urgency and other criteria that meets his business needs in episode number 115. This keeps them both on the same page and allows him to have a system in place when responding to his inbox.

2. Create canned responses

One of the tips that Pat mentions on the podcast that I happen to already do myself involves canned responses. This is wording you can compose and save to use over and over again when an email requires a similar response. For example, when you’ve decided to say no to a request, it can often be hard to word it. Having a general response handy can allow you to respond quickly and be straight forward in a nice manner.

Think about creating some canned responses to use when you want to decline certain types of work or when sending other information that warrants a similar response in a given situation. It can minimize the frustration in handling them and save time by avoiding having to craft a new one every time. Once created, you’ll have it ready to ship in minutes. Gmail users are able to insert canned responses right into an email so they don’t have to be stored separately. You just have to enable the feature and set it up under settings.


3. Tweak your email responses for slightly different scenarios as you go

While certain situations can be generalized,  you may have to tweak an email slightly to fit different situations. You can still use the canned response. You’ll benefit from already having some wording to hang on to when the time comes. You’ll just have to add or delete sentences as you see fit. Worded properly, this can potentially ward off future emails from repeat offenders and hopefully reduce the amount of time you have to spend going through your email. Time that can be better spent on more important aspects of your business like goal setting, acquiring new clients or setting up epayments.


Here are some quick and dirty samples I use to say no. Just like setting expectations for getting paid upfront, this can make things clear and perhaps set a boundary to avoid certain types of requests from repeat offenders in the future while still sounding polite. I call this the been there, done that response.

Hi [Name],

Thank you so much for thinking of me. I have explored opportunities like this in the past. It usually ends up not being a fit. For this reason, I have to say no to these types of requests.


Thank you again, and good luck!


You can vary this same script a bit if you’re saying no to a particular request. You don’t want it to hinder the person from reaching out for potential opportunities in the future. Another possibility would be gently stating things you are interested in doing.


Hi [Name],

Thank you so much for thinking of me. I have explored opportunities like this in the past. It usually ends up not being a fit. For this reason, I have to say no to these types of requests but if there are ever opportunities to do [Insert what you’d like to do], feel free to reach out again.

Prioritize the time and energy you spend on email requests. Create systems to sort them. Allocate time to handle such requests and come up with canned responses when you need to say no politely. You can handle these types of emails more efficiently and spend time on more important aspects of your work.




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