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Rejection: A Trick Under Project Manager’s Sleeve

Rejection in a project

Today’s article is about how to refuse or reject someone in the process of project management. In real life, we always have to face various people and matters. Which could be positive or negative, or we are happy about or not happy.  Sometimes we agree with it or sometimes we don’t. Some of these matters we would be happy to accept and others we would have no choice but to refuse. How to deal with all these people and matters becomes the main part of life, affecting every aspect of it.

In a project, when someone proposes something that is not realistic, as project managers, how can we reject him/her without either hurting ourselves or hurting the other person? Mastering the technique of appropriate rejection has a positive meaning to most people. Project management is also the same. As a project manager, learn how to appropriately reject or refuse some unreasonable requirements. It would make a positive contribution to the success of the project.

Rejecting a client is possible

Normally, our client would raise business requirements we would expect those to be clear and intact. But in reality, the client always changes or add new requirements during project execution. Which makes our project falls into circulation or even stand still. Under these circumstances, sometimes we should learn how to say no to our clients.

Uncertainty of requirements can cause a negative impact on the project’s quality and progress. It even could cause unexpected circumstances. Although we could adopt an iterative life cycle for requirement management, communication with clients. But during iterations, it could cause new management problems.

Some clients even consider themselves Gods. Which means what they said should be followed and executed unhesitatingly. If not, they would reach our leaders. Sometimes they even request us to do the thing that does not belong to the scope of the project. This kind of action is not a reasonable request either for the project or for the overall interest of our company. If we said yes to all the unreasonable requests, then it would certainly hurt the cost and the overall controllability of our project.

Then, how to say no to our clients and let them fully understand our intention without hurting the interests of both sides? The first thing we should know is to be kind to the client while letting them know our reasons why we reject their requests. Sometimes the requests of our clients could be endless, whether they are functional or of business, finding the appropriate solution which would fit the interests of both sides is essential.

On the other hand, we could add some reasonable restrictions to the contract during the contractual negotiation. Such as, we could require that the client’s requirements must be clear. If not, the client should bear the additional cost if they want to change the requirements in the middle of the project. Of course, sometimes the client’s requests are not totally unreasonable. So, at the time of communication, accept what we should accept, and reject what we should reject.

Rejecting a leader is also possible

Except for our clients, our leader is the one we mostly communicate with. Maybe some project managers would consider rejecting their boss as a negative action. Since it would possibly leave a bad impression on their leaders. But in reality, these kinds of worries are not necessary.

Everybody has his own specialty. Most of the time our leader’s specialty and top focus is not on project management. Therefore, one of the project manager’s responsibilities and power is to express his own opinion and idea of project management to the upper level and gain recognition from the company’s senior management. If under some circumstances our leaders could not fully understand the job of project manager due to multiple factors of the project itself, we could consider following some of these suggestions:

1. Make a neat and simple summary of the project’s overall requirements. The summary does not have to be very detailed, but it has to be very powerful.

2. As project managers, our main focus should be on project planning, since the leaders care the most about what we are going to do and what we are going to achieve.

3. The changes of the project are also what our leaders care about because some changes could lead to some unforeseeable risks which could affect the progress and cost of the project, or even affect the company’s profit achieved by this project. In a word, we should present the whole situation clearly and propose a solution to our leaders.


Reject someone and being rejected are very common when we communicating with others. The mentioned rejections to our clients and our leaders are the two kinds of most common rejections that project managers should learn for some special scenarios. Except for the rejections in this article, there are other rejections such as rejecting our colleagues, rejecting other project managers, or rejecting some third party, and so forth. But please remember, only reject the unreasonable request, standing for the overall interests of both sides.

Rejecting someone is permissible, but as professional project managers, we have to master the key of reasonable rejection. That being said, learn how to reject, whether rejection or acceptance. The final purpose is to serve the project and make the project successful.

In summary, this article presents the reason and methods of two kinds of most common rejection in project managers: rejecting our clients and rejecting our leaders.

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