Letting Them Down Easy: How to Decline Training Requests

how to decline training requests

Rejecting training requests can be a little awkward. It’s especially so when the request is from a senior manager or if it’s not the first time this particular request has come through. Setting up meetings to explain each and every training request decision is a drag on time and resources, particularly for those L&D teams with a high volume of requests. However, you don’t want to run the risk of disengaging employees from training opportunities simply because your rejection was too blunt or forceful. But many L&D professionals have not even thought about how to decline training requests or the impact it can have.

So how can you be firm but gracious in your rejection? How can you strike that balance of making sure they get the message but also feel supported in their efforts to improve performance?

Let us count the ways.

1. Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Whatever the reason for not moving a request for training forward, choose the language for your rejection carefully. If an employee or manager is seeking training, they’re seeking improvement, and that’s not something that should ever be discouraged. 

Try not to use words with negative connotations, such as “rejected.” Phrasing like “declined” or “not approved at this time” can help to soften the blow. Don’t forget that, no matter the reason for refusing the request, the requestor will also feel like it is a rejection of them or their ideas. With training becoming a central element in talent development and employee retention, the last thing you want to do is make anyone feel demotivated by refusing a training request.

Try this sample text:

Subject: Your training request has been declined

Hi [Requestor],

Thank you for submitting a training request for [Topic of Training Request]. 

Unfortunately, the training request has not been approved at this time. This is due to [competing priorities for the corporate training team/the fact that there is existing training for the requested topic].

However, we would like to make you aware of the vast amount of existing resources available for [requested topic] in the hopes that this might help you to achieve the desired improvements: [links to content/courses]

We have filed your training request so that we can revisit it when more resources become available here in the training department. 

2. It’s not you; it’s L&D

As an internal service department within the organization, a lot of your success as an L&D team depends on your relationship with other business functions. So, it’s not a good look to simply stonewall training requests. You should think carefully about how to decline training requests and the impact it can have on your team’s internal reputation.

Make sure the employee knows that you care about their development. Try to help them find success with their request, even if training is not the answer. Ensure managers feel supported in their desire for performance improvement. Try to frame the rejection as a “can’t” rather than a “won’t.” 

Always thank the employee for their request and their interest in furthering their skills or knowledge. It’s crucial to let them know that, while this particular request cannot be fulfilled, they should not be discouraged from actively seeking training. 

Time permitting, try to give as detailed a reason as possible for why the request cannot be fulfilled. Not only will this soften the rejection, but you’ll be educating requesters on the considerations that are taken into account when approving or rejecting training requests. It can help them to consider these factors the next time a perceived need for training arises, or to evaluate whether it’s a training issue in the first place. For example, they might be more inclined to double-check if resources already exist before submitting training requests in the future if you include this type of feedback.

Try this sample text:

Hi [Requestor],

Thank you for submitting a training request for [Topic of Training Request]. 

We always strive to fulfill all training requests where possible. However, at this time, we cannot proceed with the course development as requested due to competing priorities within the training department. 

If you’re interested in furthering your knowledge of [Topic of Training Request], there are lots of useful resources available on [external resource]. We also have existing elearning courses available on [internal training portal] such as [link to training course].

Struggling to collect the information you need in training requests?
Try this free downloadable training request form!

3. There’s plenty more training in the sea

The rejection of a training request should always provide a follow-up action to the employee. You may be rejecting the training request within the boundaries provided, but you should never entirely reject the request to learn.

For example, there are lots of reasons to reject training requests. Chief among them is the fact that training or resources already exist for that topic or skill. Make sure to adequately communicate this to the requestor. Provide detailed feedback and links to the existing resources or training courses. 

Perhaps L&D does not have the time or resources to develop the training requested. Still, an internal training budget in their department might be available to engage an external facilitator or off-the-shelf elearning course instead.

Lastly, there are occasions where the request simply does not have enough “meat” to warrant new course development. Another solution is to seek out a Subject Matter Expert within the department. They can conduct peer-to-peer on-the-job training with the requestor. 

Instead of thinking about “how to decline training requests”, start thinking “what can I provide instead of training for this request?”

Try this sample text:

Hi [Requestor],

Thank you for submitting a training request for [Topic of Training Request]. 

At this time, we will not be proceeding with new course development for this topic. The good news is, a course already exists for the training you have requested! 

You’ll find the course [“Name of course”] available on our training portal: link to the training course

Let us know how you find the training. We would love to hear your feedback on the existing course. If it does not meet your needs, we may be able to source an external course to help fulfill your training requirements.

4. Flying solo

For the time-starved L&D team, it can be frustrating to reject training requests due to a lack of resources. In that instance, why not encourage the department to develop training themselves?

Providing course templates and remaining available as learning consultants to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who are creating the training means no training request goes completely unanswered. Plus, there is technology available to ensure close, efficient collaboration with SMEs over training development. This level of collaboration helps L&D to ensure consistent quality for training projects.

It’s a win-win for L&D and the requestor because if you don’t offer any guidance, chances are the requestor or their department will create subpar training themselves. So L&D should try to stay involved in the conversation even if they do not directly create the training needed.

Try this sample text:

Hi [Requestor],

Thank you for submitting a training request for [Topic of Training Request]. 

At this time, we will not be proceeding with new course development for this topic due to competing priorities in the training department.

If this is a pressing need for your team, we suggest that a Subject Matter Expert in your department create the training you require. The training department has developed several templates that Subject Matter Experts can leverage to create PowerPoints, workshop activities, and assessments to help them build impactful training for their peers. Please feel free to put us in touch with the relevant SME. We would be happy to point them in the right direction.

When considering how to decline training requests, letting requestors down gently is key. Putting some thought into how you decline a training request can go a long way toward ensuring employee engagement or motivation is not affected, and L&D maintains an impeccable internal service record.

Interested in learning more about the strategic value of
overhauling your training intake processes? Check out this free ebook!

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