Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Polite But Firm Refusal

You do not have to feel guilty about not giving beyond what is your obligation.

Everyone has the right to give or to not give at a level they feel comfortable with. Friends and strangers get used to habitually guilting you into giving, which just puts you into a position of feeling bad no matter what you do: bad if you say no, bad if you overextend yourself. They have no right to do that, but it is not they who must set your boundaries. You have to set them.

They may mean well; they have simply learned to keep asking until you say no. So you have to say it, firmly, politely and without guilt. These askers are always ready to try to overcome your explanations. They will tell you why should should want to, why it's great, why it's important, why it's your obligation, why it won't take much time, etc. All of these conversations are stopped in their tracks if you refuse to have the conversation.

"Can you?"

"I'm afraid I can't."

"But why not."

"I simply can't, I'm sorry."

"But it's for a great cause, surely it won't take much time ..."

"I'm afraid I simply cant."


"No. I simply can't."

Eventually they will give up.

This power is not just limited to getting out of externally set fictitious obligations. It is also useful for standing down salespeople. I once had an internet plan with a company that I wanted to cancel. Every time I tried to cancel, I was transferred to Retention who argued with me and gifted me until I gave in. Finally I decided to invoke the "no explanation" strategy. The conversation went something like this (I'm not making this up):

"But why do you want to cancel?"

"I just want to cancel."

"I need to know the reason."

"I just want to cancel."

"I can't cancel you unless you give me a reason."

"Yes you can. I just want to cancel."

"You HAVE to give me a reason."

"I want to cancel because I want to cancel. There is no reason."

"Is it cost? We can offer you 3 months free, blah blah blah."

"No, I want to cancel."

"Is there some other problem?"

"No, I just want to cancel."

This went on for another 30 backs and forths until finally:

"Look, if you don't tell me why you want to cancel, then there is nothing I can offer to you that will help your problem."


He then said he has to transfer me to his boss. The back and forth happened only 4 more times with the boss, and then I was canceled.

(Inspired by Miss Manners)


Chris Bateman said...

This is a great piece! I'll just add one thing: when you are on the phone to a call centre, a useful tactic you can bring to bear is "if you can't help me, please escalate me to your manager". That can sometimes accelerate matters. ;)

All the best!

Lisa said...

err, this only works when one dose not care about the topic or people. In cases when either are important to you , you may want to hear if there are reasons or concerns about your actions you have not thought about, you might even want to change the outcome.