The Best Decline Letter of All Time: Edmund Wilson

147 Comments
Edmund Wilson

Edmund Wilson

Edmund Wilson, recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal for Literature, was one of the most prominent social and literary critics of the 20th century.

He realized, like most uber-productive people, that, while there were many behaviors needed to guarantee high output, there was one single behavior guaranteed to prevent all output:

Trying to please everyone.

He had a low tolerance for distraction and shunned undue public acclaim. To almost all inquiries, he would respond with the following list, putting a check mark next to what had been requested…

Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him without compensation to:

read manuscripts
contribute to books or periodicals
do editorial work
judge literary contests
deliver lectures
address meetings
make after-dinner speeches
broadcast;

Under any circumstances to:

contribute to or take part in symposiums
take part in chain-poems or other collective compositions
contribute manuscripts for sales
donate copies of his books to libraries
autograph books for strangers
supply personal information about himself
supply photographs of himself
allow his name to be used on letter-heads
receive unknown persons who have no apparent business with him.

But Edmund was no hermit. He was sociable. His writing, honed at Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The New Republic, also played a large role in introducing F. Scott Fitzgerald (a friend who referred to Edmund as his “intellectual conscience”), Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner to the mainstream public.

Though he was thought stubborn and prone to odd whims, a perception no doubt encouraged by his auto-response, he had his good friends and got more done in years than most will get done in a lifetime.

Is it time for you to craft your own Wilson letter? How much more could you get done if you eliminated even one type of request?

Question of the day (QOD): What is the best wording you’ve ever received or written in a decline letter?

Posted on: October 7, 2009.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

147 comments on “The Best Decline Letter of All Time: Edmund Wilson

  1. Not quite a letter, but as a programmer a particulary low moment was a rejection from a machine….

    “The server is unwilling to process the request”

    One of Microsofts more human but not very helpful error messages!

    Like

  2. Wow, Edmund Wilson must have been pretty sought after for him to have a pre-made letter of rejection. I have yet to see anything like that in my dealings with people. Maybe I’m just interviewing the wrong people.

    Like

  3. I’m surprised that someone who solicits spec work also thinks it’s a good idea to have a list of things you won’t do without compensation. Perhaps you should reconsider your stance on spec work?

    Like

  4. “Is it time for you to craft your own Wilson letter?”

    Absolutely not. That sort of brusque rejection letter is best for those who are in high demand already and at the peak of their success. The rest of us will probably get further in life by being more gracious than that.

    Like

  5. One of the greatest decline letter I ever received was from McGill University for graduate school. I had submitted my application before the advertised due date but the secretary in charge had set two dates, Feb 15th on the applications and Jan 15th on the main website, so I was denied based on not submitting my application in time for review. I called and was given the academic version of ‘tuff luck sucka!’ by the secretary. Fortunately my undergraduate supervisor was good friends with the department head. One phone call and 5 minutes later I was in, with funding for graduate school. I remember the secretary having to call me back up and ‘officially’ offer me my placement, priceless…

    On another note, the posts seem to be picking up Tim. Why so many so suddenly?

    Like

  6. David,
    If you’re saying its hypocritical you’re wrong. Obviously someone as established as Edmund doesnt need to work for free to get his name out there, however those of us trying market ourselves to establish our name as trusted are willing to work for free if it give us a better chance to accomplish that end.

    Like

  7. I like

    http://www.thanksno.com/

    Hi. The person who sent you this link is a friend who likes you a lot but who wants you to respect their email address, their privacy, and their time.

    Chances are, this person asked you to visit this page because you did one of these things:

    * Forwarded a funny story, a virus warning, or a photo that you enjoyed
    * Sent email to lots of people using the “To:” line (instead of the “BCC:” line), thereby exposing your friend’s email address to strangers
    * CC’d your friend unnecessarily on something you had sent primarily to someone else

    In any case, you might want to go back and have another look at the email they’re replying to. They asked you to visit here because, while they love getting one-on-one, personal messages from you, they really don’t want to receive more messages like the one you just sent. Cool?

    You’re not a bad person, and no one hates you, but it would be valuable to learn the very personal preferences of your friends, family members, and co-workers before including them in unrequested email or choosing to expose their private address to people they don’t know.

    Thanks for understanding, and if this same thing ever happens to you, feel free to reply to an email you don’t want by pasting this in:

    Hi there, beloved friend of this email recipient:

    Please visit http://thanksno.com/

    Because this person likes getting personal messages from you, but doesn’t want any more email like this, please.

    Love,
    ThanksNo.com

    Like

    • this is absolutely fabulous and will be used frequently in the next few months…. should be quite the talking point at the next family reunion (because my family members seem to be the worst at cluttering my inbox with useless forwards that circle the web every 3-5 years)

      Like

  8. Hey Tim.

    I’d say this is what victory on a piece of paper looks like. That guy was doing the right thing because he knew that this information would be enough to repel people trying to use him for nothing. He uses the words to show that his time is valued by him, which then causes it to be valued by others.

    A decline letter like that could save loads of time today from requests that aren’t really fitting to a person’s value level. Some folks are bold enough to do things that are actually more healthy.

    I will keep this item created by Edmund Wilson in mind for if I make something like it, or use the concept from it in some way.

    Like

    • Extremely well said, Armen (and Edmund Wilson, for that matter.) The letter shows respect for the other person’s time by getting straight to the point too.

      He addressed a pet peeve of mine: people with whom I have no relationship expecting me to give them things without any type of reciprication, that they turn around and use to charge somebody else for.

      It’s not that I require compensation for everything I contribute to anyone, but why are you supposed to pretend it’s okay for someone to ask you for a favor while at the same time devaluing your input?

      Like

  9. Saying “No” is a critical skill. It is closely related to “de-cide” – Like homicide, suicide, pesticide….it literally means to “kill the alternatives.” I’ve found this to be THE essential key to productivity and dodging the “torpedoes” that life constantly serves up.

    With all the technology, we have access to unprecedented amounts of delicious interruptions. But alas we must “de-cide”; we must be committed enough to eliminate the alternatives. The best decline, is a gentle and quick “no.”

    Like

  10. Due to the irresponsible nature of some of his friends, Paul Romine regrets that it is impossible for him:

    Without compensation to:
    -Help you move in/out of your apartment
    -Give you a ride home from work because you lost your license
    -Give you a “hand” fixing your car
    -Drive you to an event that you invited me to
    -Be the designated driver

    Under any circumstances:
    -Watch your child
    -Do any school assignment for you
    -“hang out and play video games and maybe give me a ride to work later”

    Like

  11. I admire how Edmund Wilson is beyond the Bullshi*t and protects his time wisely.

    Heck yeah, it’s definitely time to craft a Wilson Letter. Indulge, peek at the curisosity of what can be improved than to see it as a selfish act.

    Like

  12. Ah, I’m looking forward to the day when my work will be in such high demand that I can no longer keep up with the requests without a checklist decline letter!

    The only decline letter I can think of right now that I’ve received was for a design job back in college. I was two years too inexperienced to even have interviewed, but I snuck my way through anyway. They checked my record and saw that I was too young and hadn’t had the correct level of traditional education, and told me so. I went back in 6 months later and got the job ;)

    Like

  13. Best professional rejection moments?
    One time during my web developer experiences, a client refused to pay certain fees claiming that the site was malfunctioning and then he instructed the Hosting company to deny me any further access. After talking with the Hosting company and finding everything was a lie, I really savored sending him a letter stating that the work I’ve done was going to be reverted and taken off the server and that the contract terminated. One thorn removed from my side.

    Like

  14. I think it is brilliant decline letter, and very much in the style of Edmond Wilson.
    A few years back, I was the president of a local trade organization, and until I learned how to say no, I was besieged with all kinds of requests for my time, (all for no compensation). I soon learned that I did a far better service to both myself and my organization by staying on mission and declining all these requests. The best part was that people actually respected me for my stance, and eventually only came to me to me with requests that I really wanted to handle. I could more politely decline, but one has to imagine the sheer abuse Mr. Wilson was subject to before he composed such a message. Don’t be afraid to say no.

    Like

  15. “So see every opportunity as golden, and keep your eyes on the prize – yours, not anybody else’s.” -Roberta Flack

    Hey Tim,

    If you’re selfish, you accomplish your goal sooner and get your value out to the world faster.

    Have your eye on the prize and ruthlessly deny any offers that will delineate you from your path. People will appreciate and get more use out of your unique value that you put your all into rather than a bunch of half-hearted projects.

    Here’s what I say to people who ask me to work with them:
    “Appreciate the offer but decline. I have my eye on my prize and don’t do anything that deviates me from it. Nothing personal. I know you have your own goals, and I hope you understand.”

    Thanks for sharing the smile-inducing Edmund Wilson decline letter,
    Oleg

    PS. This is my first comment on your site. Thank you SO much for the 4-Hour Workweek. The first personal development book I consumed, and it changed my life last year.

    Your introduction to the 80-20 Rule, automation, and location-independent living and mini-retirements turned my world on its side… and I loved it. I’ve started doing location-independent living (love having the “office” be laptop + wifi) and recently did my first mini-retirement. I now passionately recommend your book to everyone. Thanks again Tim, and all the best finishing up your new book.

    Like

  16. Kind of a funny story, but when I was applying to grad schools, I got a few rejections letters.

    Just for fun I wrote rejection letters back to the universities saying something to the effect of:

    “I am sorry to inform you that I am unable to accept your rejection of my application for admission to your school. Please understand that I have received several rejection offers from other universities and can only accept a limited number. I will be attending your school this autumn, but you are more than welcome to submit a rejection offer again next year.”

    Believe it or not one school wrote back. By the tone of the letter, they weren’t really sure if I was joking or if I was just insane. They didn’t let me in, but at least I got a personal response…

    Like

    • In my youth I sent out a form rejection letter to various publications politely declining to submit poems for their consideration. I believe it ended with “Your publication does not at this time meet my needs.”

      Yes, a few replied; one even published the rejection.

      Like

      • I love the seeming timelessness of the internetz — that one can easily reply to a comment posted four years ago. Hello, yesterday.

        Yes, I am often considered ”strange.”

        Like

  17. I can understand wanting to protect your time if you are in such high demand, but on the other hand being gracious is a better way of getting attention from people, getting your name out there, building your reputation, build good will (to call in favors later), etc.

    If I was in such high demand that even sending rejection notes would mean I could not get anything productive done, then I would consider a form rejection letter, but probably not until then.

    Paul

    Like

  18. David, I don’t see a strong parallel between being in support of this practice and being against spec work. It’s a matter of economics: Edmund Wilson clearly had his time in high demand. High enough that he determined it to be more efficient for him to decline requests to work without compensations.

    Many designers stay busy enough to not do spec work. If one is not one of these designers, then economically, it may make sense for one to do spec work.

    Like

  19. No one is that important or should think as much. Better to just send no response at all then something that makes you come across as a jackass, no matter how popular he might be.

    Really Tim? You think this is a good idea?

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  20. Great advice for people who are really, really busy and have already made it. Problem is, like anything, it’s not for everyone. People who aren’t important, but think they are… These people are going to do this kind of thing. They already do. It’s annoying.

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  21. Well known (at least in my circles) theologian and historian Martin Marty has a similar note on his webpage. I would imagine that, given his writing and teaching schedule, he can’t respond to all need.

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  22. I hope to be in a position one daywhere I will need a solid Wilson letter(king of prussia!) . Even my mini-retirements are peppered with email OCD when wi-fi is available.

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  23. I would say that is a highly effective way to get your message across and in very clear terms. With that kind of response it is no doubt 95% of the people that didn’t want to pay gave up. Cutting through that much BS is priceless in terms of productivity. Of course he had the brand equity at that point to be able to accomplish something like that, without that he would have probably been seen as pompous.

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  24. I’d love to see a hot chick in a bar, dressed up to impress, handing out to guys letters like this… That would be so priceless. lol

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  25. Learning to say no is critical, even before you are in demand (if ever). And while I might not say no in the manner above, you do everyone a favor by saying no and it also increases the value of your brand. When you think you have something valuable to offer and demonstrate such with you actions people will think the same. If you don’t think your time is valuable as shown by your actions, people will think the same by asking you to do things for no compensation.

    By the way, although I would never ask someone to do something for free, I do appreciate a “no” response rather than silence when I am submitting work for publication, as one example.

    Michael

    Like

  26. I think it would be very difficult to get away using a decline letter like this in today’s society where information and correspondence is exchanged so easily. It’s rather impersonal and insulting. I too would rather a no response.

    The modern decline letter of this type is a fill-in-the-blank template that at least gives the recipient a sense of carrying.

    Like

  27. Question of the day (QOD): What is the best wording you’ve ever received or written in a decline letter?

    At a previous position I held, my then boss asked me to follow up with a snail mail plea to a well-known community figure who had previously rejected our solicitation for an endorsement in person. He figured that if I put my name on the letter instead of his, the community figure would be more inclined to relent. I did it even though I had reservations about his reaction.

    Four days later I received a response on his organization’s letterhead. One word in big letters:

    “NO!” directly in the center and then his signature.

    I could only laugh because it was the response I would have liked to have given my boss for asking me to send the letter in the first place.

    Paul

    Like

  28. Having a rejection letter is a good thing to have, however the content is altered coming from my desk.

    I feel that no matter what, it is good measure to thank someone for their interest before declining/accepting/whatever. Its just good manners.

    I give Edmund a D for his form, especially given his position of influence. In my opinion, people held in high regard have an additional responsibility to set a good example.

    Take Sergey Brin, this guy is busy. Real busy. Yet, he finds it necessary to thank those that wish to comment on his blog, in addition to explaining that he may never post said comments.

    The take away: Decline folks. Say no. Reject proposals. But have some manners and say thank you.

    After all, had someone not been interested in your jazz at some point, you’d never have an opportunity to decline someone else…

    Like

  29. Sergey Brin’s quasi rejection…

    “While I would like to receive and post many insightful comments, realistically I am unlikely to be able to read through all of them and may accept very few or none at all. Thank you for your understanding.”

    This is classy. It is completely understandable and an easy let down.

    Like

  30. I’m going to put something like this on my contact page. Once I have a contact page. And only after I’m getting enough emails for the communication to actually lose it’s fun-ness. Right now I get so few it’s nice being able to personally respond to everyone who sends me a message.

    But I love how direct Edmunds decline letter is. There’s no wishy-washyness. It’s sort of like “here are the facts, deal with it.” And that’d probably turn plenty of people off, but I guess there not the people right for him anyways though. :)

    Like

  31. It has been said, “The enemy of great is good.” It is easy to get caught up and bogged down doing a lot of good things. But they may not be the best usage of your time. Even though this comes off as arrogant it was his way of trimming the demands on his time so he could focus on what he thought was the best.

    This is a good reminder to all of us.

    Thanks Tim.

    Doug

    Like

  32. Neil, not a problem. :-)

    This must have been a response to someone that asked for something that wasn’t covered in his letter.

    My favorite personal response to someone is to simply say “Sure, this is my fee for service. You can pay half upfront and the remainder when its over. I don’t take credit cards so cash, check, or money order will be fine.”

    Michael

    Like

  33. It’s better than simply ignoring requests. Where I come from, people just do that — ignore requests.

    Latest rejection I received was for a request for a link to my website. The guy said:

    “Sorry, i won’t do that at this time.”

    I asked why, but he ignored me :(

    Hehehe!

    Like

  34. I have often fantasized about creating a quarterly portfolio review day where I charge students 6 at a time $25 each for one hour of joint portfolio review. So, rather than one at a time for free, I could look at all of their portfolios and give them the exact same feedback regarding their work and the exact same career advice regarding getting a job in the design industry.

    I am working very hard on not pleasing everyone. It’s not easy, but I am getting better at it. My employees made me a sign that says “Say No to ProBono.” I look at it every day. The more free work you do, the more free work you get.

    By the way, had lunch with your Uncle Carl today. He speaks very highly of you. Just was recommended your book yesterday by someone else. So, I decided to check out your blog. Book has been ordered on Amazon. Thanks in advance. Very small world!

    Like

  35. Busy or not, famous or not, some times our success is based on what we don’t do. In my experience, the less famous you are the more inane the requests are. That can be more hampering than anything. Heck, most people would love to write a book intro, media interview, or give out an autograph. Same goes with spec work.

    If you are too busy to do it, then don’t, but some times when the opportunity arises, like the chance to get your work on the cover of a book that is guaranteed to hit the best seller lists, then the opportunity to do more work flows from there. You know what the competition will be going into it, so inferring that your chances are slim isn’t hard at all.

    I do like the idea better than an impersonal email responder though.

    Like

  36. Tim,

    Good idea for a post and a very important skill. I’ve noticed there is a very fine line between making someone feel like you are a complete jackass or very busy and can’t quite accommodate them.

    I was having issues because I say “yes” way too often. It has led to being a bit of an issue in terms of requests (and people wanting to be on my show) but I also enjoy trying to help as many people as possible.

    I’m still working on better ways of saying “no.”

    A friend of mine has a pre-made email which basically says the same things in the letter you provided, but in a bit of a nicer way and offers alternatives.

    For example: “I won’t be able to do (insert request here: marry your daughter, eat a bug, give you a hug) but let me point to someone who can or an article I’ve written or some other type of resource.

    Like

  37. I’d rather get a brief note declining to get involved, than simpy being ignored.

    I sent blurb requests and a copy of my 2007 book to 15 experts on the Mediterranean diet. Only ONE bothered to respond at all thank you, Eve Adamson, co-author of “The Mediterranean Diet”!]

    -Steve

    Like

  38. I find it interesting that so many people say “if / when I have that kind of demand.” Really the point here is you won’t ever have the demand to warrant a letter like this if you don’t take a similar stance early on. The people who use it will be the ones that need it.

    I like Noam Chomsky’s more preemptive approach http://www.chomsky.info/about.htm

    “Please read the following before sending any e-mail:

    Please do not e-mail any correspondence for Noam Chomsky to the addresses below. You will not receive a reply and the message will not be forwarded.

    All requests, invitations, questions, and general correspondence should be directed to Professor Chomsky’s MIT email address, available at: http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/chomsky.home.html. Since Professor Chomsky receives literally hundreds of e-mails per day, however, we ask that correspondents exercise responsibility and discretion before writing him.”

    Like

  39. When my novel and screenplay about Cecil B. DeMille win critical acclaim and bring me untold wealth and fame, then I would love to send such a letter to all the agents, publishers, and producers who rejected me “back in the day.”

    Like

  40. Very cool, thanks for sharing as always.

    I wonder how this fits in with Never Eat Alone. I want to be focused like Wilson but more proactive in helping others. I guess it makes you more helpful to those you decide to help. Just musing…

    Like

  41. I can understand declining most of those activities there, but I was dismayed to see the this guy would under no circumstances autograph a book for a fan.

    C’mon – really? He refuses to spend 10 seconds to scribble his name on a book and say ‘Hi’ and connect with someone? Is this guy some sort of sociopath?

    I was thinking ‘this is great’ right up until I saw that line, then I thought ‘this guy is a jerk!’. That is no way to treat the people who were responsible for the financial gains that he enjoyed.

    Like

  42. The response I often get from editors is silence, so this letter was a nice surprise: “Thanks again for the Bali pitch. I’m afraid we don’t have room for the story right now, but the pitch was fun and well-written. Please try me again, and best of luck in placing it.” This was from a mag that’s pretty hard to get into, so if the editor says to try him again, I believe him. Particularly, since he gave me his direct email address. Who says good manners are dead and busy editors have no time to respond kindly to writers?

    Like

  43. This letter is very funny. However, I can’t forsee any time where I would feel the need to be soo rude and arrogant – I would be very offended if I received this letter – no response at all would be better. I often decline requests for my time if they don’t fit with my family and work schedule, my husband does the same and his time is in hot demand, we would never sacrifice personal integrity and good manners for the sake of expediency. The guy is a wanker!

    Like

  44. On re-reading my response – above – I realise that my feelings are truly reflective of the fact I live in a small country and a small community and can’t afford – either in business or personally – to ‘burn people off’. Maybe if you have an audience of many millions you can? Maybe you can be excessively rude to millions and still have millions that admire you?

    Like

  45. Reminds me of my high school debate coach. He had a stamp he used on all the students’ yearbooks:

    YOU ARE A CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND. GOOD LUCK IN THE FUTURE. P. SEIDL.

    Like

  46. Great stuff.

    I’m a teacher in Thailand and about 2/3 of that list applies to me.
    I’m going to have it translated into Thai.

    Anyone out there want a job?!

    Sorry, I should know better.

    Like

  47. I think a lot of people here are missing the point. The premise of the decline letter is not to revel in snobbery or extreme popularity, but rather, be daring in shutting out certain distractions that most people will indulge in because it provides them with at least some sort of satisfaction.

    It’s all relative. Surely everyone has at least a few things they know aren’t ultimately rewarding enough to constitute a minor but constant drain on their time and productivity.

    Like

  48. This is for Lynda.

    Your response is very typical of someone who spends a lot of time in their life pleasing other people. As a recovering “Over Pleaser” I wish I had the juevos early on to create and distribute something like Edmund’s letter. I would have got a lot more done (Tim’s point btw).

    There are two emotional responses to the letter that one can have.
    1. “He must be extremely busy and that people ask for a lot of freebies from him”. This response is sympathetic and usually by someone who has had some success and knows what it took to get there, understanding the problems (and pressure) success (and perhaps fame) has.This was my initial response.

    2. “How rude! I would never do something like that”. This is usually the response from of someone who is more interested in being liked then being successful. This was your response (was mine too 5 years ago).

    Food for thought….

    Like

  49. @Devan: It’s not the time it takes to autograph something, it’s the interruption. Paul Newman adopted a no-autographs policy the day he was asked for one in the men’s room when standing at the urinal. Anxious autograph hunters can be extremely obnoxious, and possibly dangerous.

    Like

  50. Rejection is very hard for me to deal with. Ido not understand why someone would want to reject me in any way. I get angry and scared when I am turned down.

    Like

  51. Writing this out was cathartic. It was hard to stop once I got started, and the deeply-rooted sick little people-pleaser in me is scared to put it out there at all, but what a thrill:

    As I am joining the exodus from Brooklyn to a quiet, productive, groovy life upstate, I would be remiss not to inform you that I will no longer be able to:

    Respond to any email including the words “pick your brain” or “would love to get coffee sometime.”

    Continue using any glitchy online service that demands more than 5 minutes to take care of a minor account change or basic function

    Have the same conversations again & again at the same next party

    Read or listen to ANYTHING about any guy you heard from on match.com

    Wait lugubriously for the F train on the weekend. HAHAHAHA! See ya!

    “Catch up” with you on your sketchy cell phone when you are also filling up your gas tank/in line at the deli/talking in thinly veiled code while driving home with the guy you want to break up with

    Read ANYTHING you want to publish, under any circumstances, unless the entire thing makes me nearly pee my pants laughing

    Cheerily & spontaneously offer a fully formed, bulletproof, and complimentary once I realize it’s come out of my mouth :( PR plan for you when I bump into you outside the Tea Lounge mid-afternoon & we get to chatting about your projects

    Chat about your projects

    Listen to job complaints and either bite my tongue or get my head bitten off for suggesting a change might be possible

    Listen to any sentence regarding how many calories breast feeding/your new cardio plan burns

    Somehow mysteriously spend 60 dollars the minute I walk out my door every day, sort of like I exhaled it without even knowing

    Sincerely and with love,
    Maggie

    PS: To the lady in the apartment above me, you know, you who stripped your floors to the bone when you moved in? I will no longer be able to stay up with you until 4am nightly while you play that SAME Wilco album six times on repeat at a volume that makes it hard to hear my tv. Good luck with the bartending job! xxooM

    Like

  52. It’s so refreshing when people know what they do and don’t want — and express it clearly. It gives us a great starting point for negotiation.

    I receive a ton of emails seeking free dating advice, and more and more often I find myself saying no. I already give so much free information through my writings that if I’m going to provide a personal response, I’d like to receive some compensation.

    Anyway, I enjoy the humorous tone of it. Thank you.

    – Erika Awakening

    Like

  53. @ Max Royale,

    Aahh, yes, I smiled as I read your perceptive comments which certainly hold a grain of truth for me. As a gregarious extrovert it is important to me that people like me – however, suffering from burn out as I tried to please demanding boss and clients in a stressful ad agency job while running my husband’s business and raising 2 small boys made me reassess this. So, I still live according to my values – and I do value kindness and generosity of spirit among other things, and I have learned to avoid people who are a drain. However, I don’t think being kind/generous spirited and successful are mutually exclusive. By most measures I am very successful – I have a happy, long-term marriage, 2 beautiful kids, live by the sea in a beautiful part of the world, have 2 successful businesses, have heaps of hobbies that I have time for, have about 12 weeks holiday a year – at least one of those an overseas trip, and enjoy a household income that would be in the top 1% of income earners in this country. I think being a kind and nice person actually attracts people to you – people want to know you and do business with you and have something to do with you. I often turn down requests for my time and have got used to the idea that I can’t please everyone! Smiles and thanks for your thoughts!

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  54. I nearly wrote a selfishness manifesto today. Here’s the thing. You do indeed have to be selfish to get anywhere in life. Two reasons: 1. Helping others uses up time you need. Period. YOU NEED THE TIME. 2. Helping others fills your mind with their baloney and gets you entangled. YOU DO NOT HAVE TIME.

    Most people probably spend 100% of their spare time dicking around doing something pointless. Don’t get sucked in.

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  55. Lynda
    Developing the art of saying no and meaning it is far more important to me than being liked because I come across as a ‘nice guy’.
    I know lots of ‘nice guys and gals’ who are anything but but they like to be seen to be something they aren’t!

    I too live in a small country, though one that has a bigger population than Kiwi land, and the bane of my life is people who simply don’t reply. That’s the height of ignorance. If there is no reply then you have no idea if your letter/e-mail/voice message got through so you will try a second and possibly a third time which is counter productive for both parties.

    Most people waste their own finite time and worse other peoples finite time by trying to be something they ain’t. This chap far from being a wanker was doing the people who read his decline letter the greatest service he could in my book.

    Then again I was brought up to call a ‘spade a spade’ and if the spade didn’t like it that’s their problem.
    You choose to be offended by a decline letter like this, choose to accept it or choose to ignore it. It’s great being a human with ‘freedom of choice’ don’t you think?

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  56. I have to agree with Allen’s comment above.

    A few people have said that they would like to be in so much demand that they can have a response like this.
    The reality is that demand is a percieved thing. How do you know that Tim Ferriss is in demand? if you didn’t see all these comments you wouldn’t know if anyone read his blog.

    In Wilson’s time this sort of response would have sent the same message. And for those that think this is brusque or rude need to remember that it is pretty old. You shouldn’t do something the same as this today.

    But you should find a way to use the concept in a way that doesn’t alienate people but moulds their perception. It could be funny, witty, heart-felt, or elegant.

    I recall Dan Kennedy talking about how he ‘created’ scarcity when he first started as a consultant and had no customers. He said that took a lot of self-confidence, and was not easy to do, but believes it made the difference to the speed of his business growth.

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  57. An application rejection letter I received from Colby College read, in part, “…despite the fact that both your father and brother attended our school, we regret to inform you that we cannot continue the legacy…”. I laughed aloud.

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  58. @ Derek and @ Chris,

    I must say, there are some really interesting and thoughtful people that comment on this blog.
    I agree with what you say, Derek, and Chris you have expressed it eloquently.
    What I mean is that you can send a form letter that says ‘no’ with no more time and effort that is courteous, rather than disdainful in tone. Some people think being arrogant is cool – or maybe he is trying for irony?
    But for most people, their success in many facets of life depends on them being liked by others. I bet you wouldn’t get a letter like this out of say, president Obama’s office,(it is most likely to be a form letter, but I bet it’s pleasant) though there is no question that he is both liked and successful and his success depends on him being liked. Maybe it’s all about context?

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  59. I think that Edmund Wilson’s letter sounds a bit rude and impersonal. It’s just like calling a number (expecting to get a tone of humanity) and hearing one of those computerized voices telling you that your call can’t be processed right now. But with a “Please don’t call again” message in the end.

    The best decline letter is a personal one, expressing regret and an essential interest of one’s name. Even though it’s time consuming to create such a reply, it makes a great impression, as much as that’s possible through refusal.

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  60. I like the concept, I have four of these, but using the magic of computers you can just type a slightly personable beginning clear rejection and fill in the request so you look like you half thought about it for emails. 2 english ones, one on computer one on my cellphone and two Japanese ones. I found now that when I do accept since Ive done this for a while I almost always get overcompensated for minimal work.

    I am still just a student but its pretty easy to discern when people are trying to get you to do things with unclear motives and are literally stealing your time. When Im stuck on campus and dont have anything to prepare for or to research I will help(because that time is basically lost anyway) but other times I dont give more than a quick sorry and short reason.

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  61. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for the post, I get the jist of it, and I think it’s a great idea (molded to the individual, obviously).

    @ Lynda,

    I actually recieved an email from President Obama, you be the judge. Form letter or personally written?

    Dear Friend:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I have heard
    from countless Americans struggling to afford health insurance and
    health professionals striving to provide care. I appreciate your
    perspective.

    There is broad consensus among the American people on
    the need for affordable, high-quality health care. The rising cost of
    health care is the most pressing financial challenge for families and
    for our Nation, and controlling this cost is essential to bringing
    down the Federal deficits we inherited. We must end unfair
    insurance practices that leave millions of Americans without
    coverage, denying them access to care, and exposing them to
    extraordinary burdens. And we should ensure that all small
    business employees have access to affordable, high-quality health
    plans so that we can make our economy–and our small businesses-
    -more competitive. Now is the time to move forward, and I am
    working to get health insurance reform done this year.

    Since I took office, we have done more to improve health
    care than we have in the previous decade. In February, I signed
    H.R. 2 to provide coverage for millions of children through the
    Children’s Health Insurance Program, and I signed the American
    Recovery and Reinvestment Act to make key investments in
    computerized medical records and preventive services.

    Still, more must be done to lower costs, expand coverage,
    and improve the quality of health care. My 2010 Budget makes a
    major down payment on health insurance reform by implementing
    efficiencies in government health care spending while improving
    the quality of care. To help fulfill the debt we owe to our service
    men and women, it includes the largest proposed single-year
    increase in veterans funding in 30 years. It expands health care
    coverage to an additional 500,000 veterans by 2013, implements
    technology that eases the transition from military care to veterans’
    care, and enhances screening and treatment services for those
    suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic
    Brain Injury.

    Looking forward, there are tough choices to be made, and I
    will seek to bring employers and workers, health care providers
    and patients, and Democrats and Republicans together to create a
    system that delivers better care and puts the Nation on a
    sustainable, long-term fiscal path. To learn more about my agenda
    or to share a personal story, please join me online at:
    http://www.healthreform.gov. For further information on health care and
    assistance that may be available to you, you may call 1-800-
    FEDINFO or visit: http://www.usa.gov.

    I share the sense of urgency that millions of Americans have
    voiced. I watched as my ailing mother struggled with stacks of
    insurance forms in the last moments of her life. This is not who
    we are as a Nation; together, we will fix it.

    Sincerely,

    Barack Obama

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  62. I’m guessing form letter. :) and it took roughly one month to receive this back after writing him, therefore, it could really have some sort of input from him, but probably not directly to me, notice that he (or the staff member who most likely wrote/copied and pasted this) didn’t even address it to my first name (only to “friend”). I do not blame him or his staff for not personally answering emails from citizens. Hell, he probably gets THOUSANDS of them daily.

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  63. Being able to say ‘no’ is not so much about being rude vs. nice, but about establishing priorities and/or setting boundaries and direction in your life.

    Some have said that they wish they could be so in demand that they would need to say ‘no’ just to get through the day. Others have said that you need to say ‘no’ sometimes so that you at least appear to be busy to improve your public image. But what about simply deciding what to be busy about and then saying ‘no’ to the things that don’t measure up?

    If I don’t say ‘no’ to some things, I won’t have time for the things I need to say ‘yes’ to – whether those things are for me or for someone I love, or a perfect stranger.

    (nobody’s perfect, not even a perfect stranger)

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  64. As a lawyer, sometimes I use the following “no” technique: “Sure, I’ll take your case. I just need a $10,000 retainer.”

    Yep, nothing like charging an outrageous price as a way of saying “no”. Works like a charm. :-)

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  65. No one will ever respect our time as much as we need to.

    This letter says that this person values his time and the value he gives.

    When people ask for and expect something for nothing, they don’t appreciate it… when they pay for it, they recognize it and perceive it’s true value.

    By outright asking for compensation and accepting nothing less, he acknowledges his own value, and ensures that the recipient benefits fully from the value he has to offer.

    That’s a win/win and doesn’t necessarily haveto be construed as selfish.

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  66. I once told a client who wanted the complete opposite of my style of work (minimalist, simple, to the point)

    “I think you’re looking for Versace in a Chanel store, it’s just not going to happen”.

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  67. It’s so much easier to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ than the other way around.

    When you lead with a ‘No’ your ‘Yes’s become more meaningful.

    My business took off once I put my foot down and started saying ‘No’. I found it the most powerful change I made in my business life.

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  68. I find this letter and a lot of people’s posts a bit depressing. Everyone had help on their way up, so I feel the further up the ladder one gets, the more one has a responsibility to help others. That doesn’t necessarily mean going out of one’s way, but surely at the very least a courteous (and hopefully kind!) response is what we should hope for.

    My sister was very sick in hospital and had driven for Richard Branson (of the Virgin brand) twice at a ski resort where she worked before getting ill. Her friend is a stewardess at Virgin Atlantic. She called Richard’s office and the next thing you know, he phoned her in hospital to find out how she was and to say how sorry he was to hear she was sick and wished her a speedy recovery.

    This is a man who’s worth $2.5 billion. He’s probably a little busy (!) but he obviously understands what it means to care about things (from the small to the great).

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  69. Although I love magnanimity on occasion, and I love the spirit of Eliza’s story, I must at this point agree with Robert, Ebi, and Cameron.

    Sometimes we need to say no to what we don’t want in order to open up space for what we do want to manifest.

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  70. @Eliza.
    Great sentiments and story. And if you read Richard Bransons’ book, ‘Losing my Virginity’, this certainly rings true. He sounds like a fantastically nice guy, who has said ‘no’ to people and regretted hurting people when he has had to make the tough calls but that never seems to stop him from being courteous and pleasant. A great role model for the ‘nice guys’ – proving you don’t have to be an a**hole to make it to the top! And he generally seems to be very well liked and that certainly would have helped define his business and his brand. Surely not many of us want to buy into “Brand A**hole”.

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  71. @ Lynda, I wonder if my comment was triggering for you to pick it out like that.

    I took Eliza’s comment as a “say yes more often” comment, and I was expressing the value of “say no more often.” I have also found that sometimes saying no abruptly has value, rather than being too “nicey nice.” I suppose, to be honest, I feel a bit triggered by your comment, as I do not feel particularly seen or understood.

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  72. @Lynda and Erika Awakening

    Its not necessarily about saying yes or no, its about making yourself clear about your intentions in a clean and courteous manner. It is essential to be able to say both and increase the value of your own work to the level it deserves. If your friend wants you to go halfway around the city you live in with no compensation for a cause you have no interest in its better to make yourself busy then to put this on your own shoulders, but you may be free, and a free meal might be enough to make up for the work, so then you would except on those grounds. In that way you need to make your own levels clear and this will make it so you get asked reasonable requests, people that expect something for nothing generally do not take rejection well, therefore it might be best to say no. Sometimes you get lucky and get a good offer with no compensation(One time I was asked to go to the next city and collect money for victims of the Burma Cyclone. I got nothing out of going but I had free time, and very much enjoyed doing the good deed with nothing in return.) However for those good times you will also to do completely unreasonable things, be asked to edit papers on a subject you know not nearly enough about and barely get a proper thank you. These are the times that these letters are important for, to respond quickly, clearly, and to not offend while declining.

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  73. See, Win, from my perspective it’s the worrying about offending people that is part of the problem.

    We might just be using different words to express the same idea, but for me there is a big difference between the energy of compassion versus the energy of adjusting what one does for fear of offending someone else.

    I’m in the radical honesty camp. If I’m annoyed by someone’s request, I say so. I’ve had a lot of miraculous shifts toward more harmonious relationships arise out of my willingness to speak my truth regardless of whether someone else gets their feathers ruffled.

    I’ve also found, for myself at least, that diplomacy can quickly turn into anger suppression and inauthenticity, which doesn’t help me or the other person. I value peace, but I only want the kind of deep and stable peace that I’ve experienced AFTER both people vent their negative feelings. The other kind of peace (truce or compromise), in my experience, is not stable because people are hiding their true feelings.

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  74. Win, from my perspective it’s the worrying about offending people that is part of the problem.

    We might just be using different words to express the same idea, but for me there is a big difference between the energy of compassion versus the energy of adjusting what one does for fear of offending someone else.

    I’m in the radical honesty camp. If I’m annoyed by someone’s request, I say so. I’ve had a lot of miraculous shifts toward more harmonious relationships arise out of my willingness to speak my truth regardless of whether someone else gets their feathers ruffled.

    I’ve also found, for myself at least, that diplomacy can quickly turn into anger suppression and inauthenticity, which doesn’t help me or the other person. I value peace, but I only want the kind of deep and stable peace that I’ve experienced AFTER both people vent their negative feelings. The other kind of peace (truce or compromise), in my experience, is not stable because people are hiding their true feelings.

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