How To Decline An Opportunity At Work That You Might Want Later On

When you want to get in on that project or check out that conference—just not right now.

How To Decline An Opportunity At Work That You Might Want Later On
[Photo: Startup Stock Photos]

So you’ve worked really hard to make a name for yourself in your company (or industry!)–and it’s starting to pay off. People want to meet with you, have you sit in on meetings, and even speak to groups.


That’s amazing! The only thing that could bring you down is one tiny catch–you’re swamped. Not in the “today’s not a great day for an extended lunch” sense, but the kind of busy where you’ve worked through every meal in recent memory.

Related: What Happened When I Started Saying “Not Yet” Instead Of No

And whatever’s causing this uptick in work means it’s going to be a while before you come up for air.

Your first instinct may be to see if it’s possible to sleep even less and cram this opportunity in so you don’t miss out. However, it’s doubtful that you’re going to be able to take full advantage of it if you’re a zombie (or constantly distracted). In other words, you’re going to want to ask for a raincheck–the right way. Here’s how.

What To Say Now

The message you want to get across is that you’d like to say yes, but unfortunately, this isn’t the best time for you. The tricky part is: That’s the same thing people say if they want to decline, but think punting comes off nicer than a flat no.

To separate yourself from them, keep in mind that you have a totally different motivation. Their goal is to be nice–and hope the other person forgets about them. Your goal, on the other hand, is to share that you’re interested, but genuinely can’t make it work.


So be enthusiastic, and add in some details to seem even more sincere. It sounds like this:

Hi [Name],

Thanks so much for thinking of me to attend this conference/lead this meeting/share my work with [person]/meet up and discuss [something you’re passionate about]. In a typical week, I would say yes in a heartbeat!

Unfortunately, I’m pushing up against a major deadline/launching an initiative/covering for a coworker who’s away/leaving for an international trip, and have no flexibility in my schedule.

That said, I would love to be considered for this opportunity/meet up with [person]/be a part of [initiative]! Can I reach back out to discuss further in [timeframe]?

All the best,
[Your name]

This response makes it clear that, while you can’t be involved at the moment, you genuinely want to be in the future–so much so that you included plans to follow up.

What To Say Later

Saying you’d like to be in touch when you have more availability, and finding the time to reach back out are two different things. And yes, following up is the best way to show you really do want to be involved.

It sounds like this:

Dear [Name],

I hope this note finds you well. I recently returned from my trip/adjusted to my new management role/ finished unpacking my new place/wrapped [major project], and one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to reach out to you and learn more about [opportunity].

Do you have some time over the next week or so to discuss further? I’m available [timeframes] to discuss. I’m also always happy to get the conversation started over email.

Looking forward to learning more!
[Your name]

Again, including specifics about what’s changed and when you’re available shows you’d like to revisit the opportunity now that you have time.

Of course, this response assumes that your schedule actually opened up as planned. If the time frame you originally mentioned is coming to a close, and you aren’t able to make time, reach back out and say so. While you could say nothing and let them “take the hint,” a short, “Unfortunately, I’m still overextended and won’t be able to participate,” makes it clear you weren’t just leading them on.


In an ideal world, your schedule would magically allow for you take on all of the coolest opportunities. But that won’t always happen, and sometimes, it just won’t be feasible.

Everyone’s been there, so it’s likely the other person will understand. If you carve a few minutes to reach back thoughtfully with one of the responses above, you can keep the door open for when you do have more time.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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