While it is not a bad idea for people to just say no to things like drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; that is not what I will be discussing with you today. I want to talk about the lame excuses that people offer up to us instead of simply saying the magical two letter word.
Example: Liz calls up her friend Kathy and asks if she wants to go see a particular movie the next day. Kathy doesn’t want to see the movie with Liz even though she and Liz are friends. Perhaps, Kathy just wants to spend the evening at home, or she doesn’t think she will enjoy that particular film. It could be that she doesn’t like watching movies with Liz because Liz chats throughout the movie, something that both Kathy and other movie goers doesn’t like. There are a zillion reasons why Kathy may not want to go to the movie on that particular day or with Liz, yet if Kathy is like most people she won’t simply say no. Unless she already has a commitment for the following evening the odds are that she will make an excuse.
Why do so many of us struggle so much with that simple little word? I only know one person that has refined this skill into an art form. A friend, that I won’t call by name, (you know who you are) will simply, yet politely, decline an invitation by honestly saying, “I don’t want to do that.” I don’t get my feelings hurt, in part because I am an adult, also because I know I can be just as frank with her when I turn down an invitation. It is so much simpler this way.
Another reason most of us struggle with saying no is that we don’t want to hurt a person’s feelings. If Kathy tells Liz she doesn’t like how she chats nonstop during movies it is possible that Kathy will get angry. It could damage or even end the friendship. Perhaps, Liz has never had anyone tell her this before and if made aware of the issue she might change her ways. Tough Call.
Another reason could be that while Kathy doesn’t want to go to the movies the next day she hesitates to say no because she fears that Liz will not ask again in the future. Fear of rejection is the number one reason that lots of people struggle to say no.
In recent years I have noticed a trend where instead of saying no, people just avoid giving any response at all. I am dubbing a new name for this, let’s call it selective ghosting. Almost everyone has experienced this a time or two, or 200. You send out an email asking people on your team to let you know if they can attend and assist with an upcoming event that your mutual organization is sponsoring. Some will say yes, a few may tell you why they must decline and the rest will make less noise than crickets. They know that it would be easier for you to proceed if they would just act as an adult and say no, but they won’t do it. Do they fear you will hound them or try to change their minds? I can only speak for myself; I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to hound someone about volunteering. I take their no as a no. But I need them to cough it up.
The same kind of thing happens with text messages and voice mail. I know there are exceptions, everyone forgets once in awhile. But I suspect about 90% of the time it is selective ghosting and it is, at best, highly frustrating.
There are also people that prefer to make you regret contacting them at all. I know a few of these and I admit their tactics work. It goes something like this: After you send out the email or text the person asks you to call. You do as asked but you get voicemail or worse you hear this, “The party you have dialed has a voice-mail-box that has not been set up. Goodbye.” If you are one of those folks just realize that you are not fooling anyone. You;re screening your calls. There is nothing inherently bad about screening calls unless you use it because you are not adult enough to say no. Later, you reach out again to the person or they call you back and they start in telling you about their third cousin’s new baby and how they have been busy with helping decorate the nursery and that they have been working long hours and their cat just got neutered and shouldn’t be left alone. They are waiting for the cable company to call, while they bake cupcakes for P.T.A and their fibromyalgia is acting up. They pepper the conversation with little comments about how they are interested in whatever it is you are suggesting as to string you along. Eventually, you get so tired of listening to them going on about Aunt Ethel’s gallbladder surgery that you just say no for them. They make you so sorry that you asked them and waste so much of your time that you promise yourself to never ask them again.
A couple of years ago I was doing some freelance work for a magazine. The editor called me and was interested in an article about The March of Dimes. He was hoping I knew a local person that was involved with this charity so that the interview would have a personal flare. I informed him that I did know such a person and that I could take the assignment.
The lady I had in mind had been a pretty good friend in years past when we were both involved in a social group. She was always very active in raising money for March of Dimes and I had always contributed as generously as I could when I received her annual appeal in the mail. The social group we had both been involved in had dismantled a few years prior and while our paths seldom crossed, I still considered her to be at least a good acquaintance.
I called her office and left a message with her secretary asking that she return my call. Two days later when I had not heard from her I sent a message via Facebook messenger. No Luck.
I few more days went by and my deadline was inching closer. I again called her office and again had to leave a message to which she didn’t reply.
The next day I saw her husband while working out at the gym. I told him about the magazine article and asked if he would relay the message to her. I also added that if she was just to busy to grant me a twenty minute interview then I understood but my deadline was approaching and I really hoped to hear from her, even if it was just for her to say no. Nothing. Not so much as a cricket chirp. I had to call my editor and apologize that I couldn’t write the story because my “friend” was ghosting me. I didn’t count on the pay from my freelance work to make ends meet but it was a missed opportunity and payment.
About a year later I started seeing campaign signs for this lady. She was running for office. As the election day drew closer I would sometimes see her, her husband or even her teenage kids out knocking on doors asking for votes. What was I going to say if one of them approached me?
I decided an appropriate response would go something like. “Yes, I have seen Betty’s (not her real name) campaign signs. By the way, you (she) never got back with me about that article I was trying to write about how she always worked so hard supporting March of Dimes. I would have thought she would welcome positive press.” I would wait for whatever excuse she or one of her family members would conjure up while sitting on the hot seat. If they continued to pursue having me verbally commit my vote to her I would tell them that her not returning my call to even say no made me concerned that she would not be a voice for the people she would represent in office. I would not vote for her.
That scenario was only slightly nerve-racking when it played out in my imagination. It was different when two days later someone rang my doorbell. It wasn’t her or her husband, but some relative that I didn’t know. He quickly handed me a campaign card and said she would appreciate my vote. He didn’t ask if I would vote for her and I simply took the card.
Later that same week I showed up at a small community event. I spotted Betty’s husband who was milling around asking people to vote for his wife. I tried to casually stay out of his radar, but after awhile I turned around and there he was. He was more direct and after a few pleasantries he abruptly asked if he and Betty could count on my support.
I didn’t say yes, but I totally wimped out. I tried asking about their triplets, if he was still going to the same gym, blah, blah. I talked around the question and lost my nerve.
I admit it. I am a chicken and at times have difficulty saying no. I didn’t promise my vote but I also didn’t actually say, “No, I will not vote for her.” I didn’t vote for her, end of story.
How do you handle being selectively ghosted? Can you say no regardless of the circumstances? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Happy Labor Day, especially to all of you that will clock in at your work place without a day off. I appreciate you and hope that you at least earn time and a half for your loyalty.
Photo Credit to the following; Max Kleinen, Andy Tootell, Element 5, Gemma Evens and Patrick Tomasso and Heiko Haller