The best leaders know that learning when to turn down opportunities is just as important as creating them.
After all, as the old saying goes, there’s only so much time in a day. That’s why the most successful people understand the value in prioritizing projects and not getting distracted by every ask.
But let’s be honest, it’s really flattering when another team asks you to present at their department meeting, or a co-worker asks to pick your brain, or your boss asks you to represent the company at a conference—so when opportunity knocks it can be hard to say no.
If you’re a leader at work, it’s likely you have two or three areas in which you have a reputation for expertise. So if you get invited to weigh in (or speak) on one of these topics, don’t hesitate to give the thumbs up.
But if it’s something completely random, you’re allowed to politely decline! Especially if you’re not familiar with the topics, you risk ruining the reputation you’ve so clearly built up.
If you’re still wavering, ask yourself these questions:
“Do I know the answer off the top of my head?”
“Is this a topic I can easily talk about for hours?
If the answer isn’t “Of course!” then you should probably decline. And yes, I know that can be tricky—so I’ve written up a few templates to make that easier:
1. To Turn Down an Opportunity in the Office
Thanks so much for thinking of me to present at your meeting. Unfortunately [subject matter] isn’t my area of expertise, however [other contact] is an expert on the subject and a great presenter.
I’d be happy to loop her in and make an introduction.
Note: For this approach, you’ll want to first contact whomever you’re volunteering and see to it that they’re interested.
2. To Turn Down an Informational Interview
Dear [Networking Contact],
I’m flattered you thought of me for an informational interview. Unfortunately, I don’t work in [department/ role] you’re interested in learning more about, so I don’t think I’d be able to provide much useful information.
Best of luck in your search,
3. To Turn Down a Press Interview Request
Thanks so much for getting in touch. [Subject matter] isn’t my area of expertise so I’m not well placed to comment. However, if you’re writing a story on A, B, or C, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
4. To Turn Down a Speaking Engagement
Dear Conference Organizer,
Many thanks for the invitation, but [subject matter] isn’t my area of expertise. If you’re involved in the planning of any upcoming conferences on [area of expertise] please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.
Best of luck with the event,
Time is our most precious asset, so make sure you use it to create the kind of opportunities that will support your career goals.