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How to say ‘no’ to family and friends

Saying no is one of the most difficult things to do.

But in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, that one syllable might save your life – or the life of someone close to you.

We’re told to avoid large gatherings because they pose a greater risk for spreading the disease. So it’s wise to limit the size of your holiday gatherings, or maybe sit them out this year.

Getting together with one person, though, can be just as dangerous if one of you is carrying the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. So it’s not a bad idea to turn down that invitation to meet for dinner and drinks. That’s especially true if your meeting is indoors, or you can’t maintain at least six feet of physical distance. It can be true even if you are wearing masks.

But how do you say no to a close friend or loved one?

Take the initiative

Start by being proactive, said Kyle Boerke, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and director of Ambulatory Behavioral Health for OSF HealthCare.

“It’s always harder to say no in a reactive situation, because we’ve been put on the spot. We haven’t planned for it and aren’t prepared for what we need to say,” Dr. Boerke said. “If it’s my agenda, if it’s something I’ve already given thought to, I will do much better sticking to my guns than waiting for someone to call me and react.”

If an invitation catches you off guard, there’s nothing wrong with begging a little time to check your calendar. Then you can reply on your terms. Just don’t wait too long.

Tips for saying ‘no’

Kyle offers four tips that can help make “no” easier to say and hear:

  • Start positive. “Use a positive, shared experience. If I’m talking to an old swimming teammate, I can start with, ‘Remember when you won that race?’ It gets the other person involved, and I’m not throwing down the gauntlet,” Dr. Boerke said.
  • Keep it short. Get to the point. “The longer the conversation goes without getting the point out there, the more likely we are to acquiesce. If you ramble and avoid that short, definitive statement, it opens the door for them to make you feel guilty,” he said.
  • Be honest. “It really is the best policy. If you’re honest, they’ll know, and they’ll do a better job of respecting your answer.”
  • Suggest an alternative. “This reinforces your interest. If you can’t think of an alternative, ask if they have any ideas.’”

Practice what you’ll say

As with any difficult task, preparation can help make it easier to accomplish. Write out a short script or bullet points. Use positive key words, such as “so” and “but.”

“You can say, ‘We need to keep each other safe, SO let’s do something else.’ Or ‘We can’t do our normal thing, BUT this idea can help us still have fun,’” Dr. Boerke said.

Then practice!

“Role playing is a fantastic way to practice,” he said. “Have your spouse or a friend play the role of the person you’re trying to say ‘no’ to. And tell them to be realistic and difficult in that role.”

Talk, don’t text

One more piece of advice: Have an actual conversation.

“Talk to the person,” Dr. Boerke said. “It’s like with people dating. Don’t break up by text message.”

About Author: Kirk Wessler

Kirk Wessler started work as a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare in January 2019. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, he previously worked for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and most recently at the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, MaryFrances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. He’s on a quest to master playing guitar and golf. He also loves to travel, especially driving back roads.

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Categories: COVID-19