Supporting Your Chamber Staff and Members Through the Raging Customer

There really is an art to saying no in a friendly tone. This article will show how you can navigate requests with confidence and professionalism, even when they’re coming from a VIP.

As a chamber of commerce pro, you're likely to encounter numerous requests and demands on your time and resources. There are never enough hours in the day! While it's important to be accommodating and helpful, saying yes to every request can quickly lead to your chamber taking on too many projects to do them all effectively. But there’s also a personal cost to saying yes—overwhelm and burnout. Learning how to say no assertively and without feeling guilty is a valuable skill that can help you maintain healthy boundaries, manage your workload effectively, and ultimately excel in your role with the chamber.

Excelling at the Art of Saying No as a Chamber Pro

Stop feeling guilty when you say no. To be a successful chamber pro, you not only must learn how to say no, but you must also do it with finesse. This safeguards the chamber and your role with it, not to mention it helps minimize your stress level.

Be Clear and Direct

When saying no, it's crucial to be clear and direct in your response. Avoid using vague or ambiguous language that could be misinterpreted. Instead, use assertive statements such as "I'm unable to accommodate this request at the moment" or "I need to prioritize other responsibilities right now." By being clear and direct, you communicate your boundaries respectfully and professionally.

If the person pushes back, remember that caving isn’t compromising and the next time a similar situation happens, they’ll expect you to give in again. You’re training them to wait you out.

Provide an Explanation (if appropriate and it’s not always appropriate)

While it's not always necessary to explain your no, in some situations, it can help to provide a brief explanation to clarify your decision. For example, you could say, "I already have a prior commitment during that time" or "My workload is currently at capacity."

However, be mindful not to over-explain or apologize excessively, as this can weaken your assertiveness and create an impression of guilt.

Offer an Alternative (if possible):

If you genuinely want to help but are unable to fulfill a request, consider offering an alternative solution. For instance, you could say, "I'm not available to attend your event, but I can help promote it on social media." Offering an alternative demonstrates your willingness to be supportive while still maintaining your boundaries.

10 ways to say no, how to be assertive.

Use Polite and Friendly Language

It's essential to convey your message in a polite and friendly tone. Avoid being abrupt, dismissive, or rude in your response, as it can create unnecessary conflict or strain relationships. Instead, use respectful and professional language, and convey your message with a genuine tone of friendliness and understanding.

Practice Self-Care and Self-Compassion

Saying no can sometimes trigger feelings of guilt or discomfort, especially if you're someone who tends to be a people-pleaser. Hey, we’ve been there. But it's crucial to practice self-care and self-compassion in these situations. Remember that it's okay to prioritize your well-being and workload, and saying no is not a selfish act but rather a healthy boundary-setting practice. You are looking out for yourself and the chamber when you do this. If you take on too much, neither of you will succeed.

Communicate Proactively

To avoid last-minute requests or being put on the spot, communicate proactively about your workload, availability, and priorities. Be transparent with your board, staff, members, or other stakeholders about your commitments and limitations. By setting clear expectations upfront, you can reduce the need to say no frequently and prevent misunderstandings.

What Happens When They’re a VIP?

As a Chamber pro, you are often tasked with engaging with various stakeholders, including important individuals or VIPs in your community. While it's essential to build positive relationships and support the local community, there may be times when you need to say no to a VIP's request (or demand). Whether it's due to limited resources, conflicting priorities, or other valid reasons, saying no can be challenging, especially when dealing with influential individuals. However, with tact and professionalism, you can navigate these situations effectively while maintaining the integrity of your role and the chamber’s.

Show Appreciation

When saying no to a VIP, it's crucial to begin the conversation by expressing gratitude for their interest or support. Acknowledge their importance and contributions to the community. For example, you could say, "Thank you so much for your dedication to our town and your ongoing support of the chamber. We truly appreciate your commitment."

Explain the Situation

While above we wrote that an explanation isn’t always necessary, when addressing a VIP, it is if for no other reason than the town gossip that will spread when you say no. Provide a clear and honest explanation for why you are unable to fulfill the VIP's request. It could be due to resource limitations or conflicting priorities.

Be concise and factual in your explanation and avoid making excuses or over-explaining. For example, you could say, "Unfortunately, the chamber has limited funds allocated for this fiscal year, and we are unable to accommodate the funding request at this time" or “We’ve seen a reduction in event interest over the past few years and revenue has dropped 20%. It’s no longer fiscally viable.”

If you know the VIP in question and have insights into their hot buttons, you can shape your explanation around something you know they will appreciate such as fiscal conservatism or sustainability. If the VIP is friends with one of your board members, the message may be more effective coming from them.

Offer Alternatives

While you may be saying no to the VIP's specific request, consider offering alternative solutions or opportunities for collaboration. If the VIP is over your workload or resources, ask that individual to prioritize things (or resources) and explain what would give or be in jeopardy for you to meet their request. They may be willing to forgo something else. Pointing out alternatives shows your willingness to find a middle ground and maintain a positive relationship.

Maintain Professionalism

Remain professional and composed throughout the conversation, regardless of the VIP's reaction or response. Avoid being defensive or confrontational, and instead, focus on maintaining a respectful and courteous tone. Remember that you represent the chamber, and your professionalism reflects the organization's values and reputation.

Be Polite but Firm:

It's possible to say no assertively without being rude or dismissive. Use polite and diplomatic language to convey your message, but also be firm and clear in your decision. Avoid using ambiguous or wishy-washy language that may leave room for misinterpretation. For example, you could say, "I understand the importance of your request, but unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate it at this time due to our current commitments."

Follow up with Gratitude:

After saying no, it's essential to follow up with a message of appreciation and gratitude for the VIP's understanding and continued support. Reiterate your appreciation for their involvement and express your willingness to collaborate in the future if possible. For example, you could say, "We value your support of our chamber, and we look forward to exploring other opportunities for collaboration in the future."

Be Prepared for Pushback

Saying no in your personal life is hard enough. But when you must do so professionally as a chamber of commerce exec, it’s important to avoid these “don’ts” to help you handle the situation professionally and assertively.


Delaying the message: Procrastinating or avoiding the situation can lead to misunderstandings and further complications. It's best to address the request or demand promptly rather than putting it off.

Over-Explaining: While it's important to provide a clear and honest explanation for your decision, avoid over-explaining or making up excuses. Stick to the facts and be concise in your response to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.

Being Rude or Confrontational: It's crucial to maintain a professional and courteous tone when saying no. Avoid being rude, dismissive, or confrontational in your communication. Remain calm, composed, and respectful, even if the other person becomes upset or frustrated.

Saying "Maybe" or "I'll Think About It": Using ambiguous language or leaving room for interpretation may lead to false expectations or further follow-ups. Be clear and firm in your response to avoid confusion and set realistic expectations. Only offer to reconsider in the future if that’s a possibility. Don’t say that just to soften their disappointment.

Blaming Others: It's important to take ownership of your decision and avoid blaming others or external factors. Use "I" statements to express your decision and avoid pointing fingers at others or shifting responsibility. If the decision truly is that of the board, the explanation might be best coming from the chair.

Compromising Your Boundaries: It's crucial to set and maintain healthy boundaries in the workplace. Avoid compromising your values, workload, or well-being to fulfill unreasonable requests or demands. Be assertive in expressing your limitations and prioritize your well-being.

Apologizing Excessively: While it's polite to express regret for not being able to fulfill a request, avoid excessive apologies that may convey guilt or weakness. Be confident and assertive in your response without apologizing excessively. Only apologize for something you are truly sorry for. Don’t apologize for not having enough money. That’s a regret and doesn’t require an apology.
Gossiping or Discussing with Others: It's important to maintain confidentiality and professionalism. Avoid discussing the situation with others or engaging in gossip about the request or the person making it. Keep the conversation private and handle it with integrity.

Ignoring the Request: Ignoring a request or not responding to it can lead to misunderstandings and further complications. It's important to acknowledge and address the request, even if the answer is no, rather than ignoring it or leaving it unanswered.

Changing Your Decision Under Pressure: It's possible that the person making the request may try to pressure you into changing your decision. Avoid succumbing to pressure or changing your decision solely based on external factors. Stick to your original decision and communicate it clearly. To change your mind under pressure will simply mark you as someone who yields under duress, and they will keep this in mind the next time you say no.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, the art of saying no is an essential skill for chamber pros to maintain healthy boundaries, manage their workload effectively, and prevent burnout. By being clear and direct, providing explanations when appropriate, offering alternatives, and using a polite but firm approach you can protect your most valuable resources—your time and relationships.


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