Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at [email protected]

Dear Thea:
I hear the same questions—or should I say statements—repeatedly from sales reps and sometimes from our president or CFO. I swear they are the exact same question, just worded different. Do they think I won’t figure it out and my answer will be different? How many ways are there to say no?
Signed, Wanna Say No in Nogales

Dear Wanna,How do I negate thee? Let me count the ways.

Actually there is an unlimited number of ways to say no. They can be witty, humor-filled, outraged, sarcastic, or sincere. Usually I try to entertain myself, staying just this side of HR correctness. (It’s a drag to know some people are sensitive, have a limited sense of humor, and are tattle tales.)

Without further adieu, here are my top 10 ways to say no, nicely:

1. Let me think about that. 2. Here’s what will work for me.
3. Can I get back to you?
4. That doesn’t work for me.
5. I appreciate you asking, but I can’t.
6. I know this is important to you, but I can’t.
7. Thanks for asking (again) but this isn’t going to work.
8. That isn’t doable at this time.
9. Oh I wish I could!
10. What your asking isn’t possible, but will you work with me to find a solution?

Personally, No. 1 is my favorite. Once you say it, half the time the lil’ punkin’ leaves and forgets coming by. And you don't hear about about the issue again.

The objective, besides getting this person out of your office or off your phone without ending up in HR, is to make person-asking part of the solution. Turn the question around when you can. Turning what could have been a no-no session into a discussion can often solve the issue. Folks just need some clarity, bless their hearts.

Someone has to be the devil on the company’s should, and that someone is the credit manager. Our job is to look up at the blue sky and search for clouds. Trade credit people live in a world that expects their operation to act like a bank, but without the respect and reverence (or collateral) of a banking relationship. We often have to base our decision on limited information, gut feeling and intuition (which for the record, is just a way to say “I know something but don’t want to tell you how I know”). Trust is part of the equation, and once it is tested or broken it’s almost impossible to replace.

As a credit manager, we really do want to find a way to say yes—we want the sale as much as the sales rep. Everyone in the company, from the person who delivers the product to the person who sells it, knows that without sales, we all starve. But bad debt doesn't lie and not every sale is a good sale. Thus, not every answer can be “Sure, give them unlimited credit and have them take as much time as they need to pay-we’ll wait”.

So, Wanna, use these 10 ways to say no so that you can keep your composure and possibly solve the crisis.

P.S.: I have another list, but it is more of a collection of sarcastic internal quotes to keep from losing my stuffing all over the repeat offender. I would like to remind HR that people who use a lot of swear words tend to be more honest and trustworthy, according to human behavioral studies. Just sayin’.