Many times you can say NO by saying YES. “I would love to spend a few minutes talking about your project, however I am in the middle of something, can we meet at 2pm?”
Other ways of saying NO but not shutting the door are:
Let’s look at this together. This gives both you and the requester time to review and evaluate all the elements of what is being asked before giving a definitive YES or NO.
Can you give me another suggestion? There are times when what is being asked for just doesn’t work. “Let’s plan the company picnic for August 22.” This is when your family is coming to visit, so rather than giving a definitive NO, ask for some other option.
Do you have another idea? There are times when you know that the request just won’t work either because of circumstances or economics. Ask the requester to give so thought for other ideas that will achieve the same goal.
How can we make this work? You know that the request is not achievable, so ask the requester to make some suggestions relative what can you and they do to make it work.
May I think about that? There are times when an immediate YES or NO is inappropriate and might generate a different response if both parties give it some more thought.
When you are convinced that an appropriate response is YES from the outset, then you might consider: I cannot wait, I’m so excited about this, What a great idea and I love your thinking. You have just hit a home run with your staffer that have been creatively thinking and has shared their idea and enthusiasm.