#1030: Politely walking away from sales & conversion attempts.

Hello Captain!

This is a weird position I have found myself in.

I go to a lot of events, and I’ve noticed the people I go with or see there try to convert me to their lifestyle which heavily feature said events. Examples:

1) I go to the gym once a week with a friend. They always suggest me going 1 or 2 times more per week and doing tiny exercises all day long.

2) I go to a rope-bondage-workshop. After the 90min-sessions the organizer keeps talking for 20-30 minutes about how we all can improve heavily if we have a rope on-hand all day and excercise with it all day long.

3) A few friend who is heavily into nutrition regularly suggest changing my diet to accomodate more protein/fibre/etc

I would like to do all of these things, but I do not have the time and/or energy! I am happy already I can manage 1 gym-trip per week, and adjusting my lifestyle to accomodate more is not feasible.

And when I have to listen to somene trying to convert me I do now know how to make them stop without seriously alienating them (as may have happened in the past)

I have mentioned this idea to a few friends, and that I feel the social contract in that situation is brokenby the other person. “I attend your workshop, learn something, have fun, pay you, but I will not listen to you trying to convert me completely to this idea for another period of time that is 1/3rd of the actual workshop itself”, and everyone disagrees saying I should just swallow and endure it.

What would be an appropriate way to deal with this?

Hello! Good news, this is all very solvable.

The script you’re looking for is “Thanks, I’m good” or “Thanks, I’ll think about it” or “Thanks, but no” or “Thanks but this is working for me” followed by action:

Either change the subject (in conversations with friends) or give yourself permission to leave (from workshops that go on too long).

Be terse. Don’t elaborate about why. Explaining to people you’d love to but you can’t right now because: reasons! is registering as a negotiation. Your reasons are good reasons and reasons would convince you to drop the subject, but people who don’t take no for an answer see “reasons you don’t want to do x” as “problems to be solved,” like if they could just helpfully fix your time/energy constraints you would be at the gym eating fiber-covered-protein with one hand while you skillfully manipulate ropes in the other all day every day.

You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do or with more intensity than you want to do it and you don’t have to be a conversational hostage here. “Thanks, but that doesn’t work for me” + “Are you excited for Riverdale coming back?” (or the subject change topic of your choice and interest) can get the job done. Someone who keeps pushing you when you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to talk about or do something is the one making it weird, not you. If people push more, follow up with “Hey, why are you still asking about this when I’ve said ‘no thanks?’“I love your enthusiasm, friend, but what I’m doing now is right for me.

With the workshop it might have felt like it was rude to leave, like, it officially ended but there was no pause to say thank you or ask questions and everyone was still sitting there politely listening. You can still leave, though! Get up quietly and go. If you want to thank the instructor later, send an email. The people who find the extra info valuable can stay.


125 thoughts on “#1030: Politely walking away from sales & conversion attempts.

  1. As a group fitness enthusiast, I just want to second the advice to leave any class or workshop at the exact time you need/want to go, and don’t stay a second longer. (I’m also a big fan of leaving social gatherings by simply getting up, saying I have to leave, hugging my favorite people, and LEAVING. My grace period after saying “time to go” is three minutes max.) If the instructor or anyone else looks at you funny, all you have to say is that you’re sorry, but you have to go! If pressed, just say you only budgeted for those 90 scheduled minutes of class time, and now you have another commitment.

    I regularly go to fitness classes where it’s common for one or two people to scurry out as soon as the high-exertion part is done, while the rest of the class cools down and stretches, because they need the 5 final minutes of class time to get cleaned up and set off for their next commitment. The instructor waves them off with a smile and thanks them for coming.

    1. In a workshop, I think you can also interrupt to ask, “Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, but are we done with the workshop? Have we covered everything that was on the lesson plan?” And then if the answer is NO, you can say, in a friendly tone, “Can we cover that right now? I have somewhere to be, but I don’t want to miss the actual lesson.”

      Or, if the answer is yes, the lesson/workshop is over, you can say, “Thanks, I appreciate it. Got to go!” and gather everything and leave.
      With a friendly smile on your face.

      One secret is that when you see your boundaries, and YOU take responsibility for holding them firm, you stop getting mad at people. You don’t hang around and get more and more resentful.

      With friends pushing diet/fitness stuff, you can say, “I’m sorry, this is stressing me out. I’m doing what works for me right now. Can we drop it?”
      And again–when you draw that boundary RIGHT AWAY, you can do it BEFORE you’re man, and before you end up losing control of your tone of voice and letting your annoyance seep through.

      1. This is an important point – setting the boundary before you’re mortified and resentful makes the whole thing much more painless. It’s one of the many downsides of being bad at setting boundaries – you tend to stew over things and be resentful and eventually blow up all over people making a much bigger deal of it than it needs to be. Also if you set them clearly right away you identify the people who don’t respect them right away rather than after you become best friends or business partners or lovers or something.

        1. Also, if you don’t set the boundaries, in the first place, and then stew over people who cross the un-set boundaries, you wind up confusing people who would have respected the boundaries, had you actually set them, and the people who would not, and being angry at people who don’t deserve it, while simultaneously setting yourself up to be abused by those who do deserve your anger.

      2. It can be extremely difficult to be the first one to leave, in a group setting. However, consider it (and the question TootsNYC suggests above, to determine if the session is over) to be a service you’re providing for the rest of the class. When I steel myself to be the first one to leave, it often enables others to follow suit.

        1. “However, consider it (and the question… to determine if the session is over) to be a service you’re providing for the rest of the class.”


          This is why I go first in the buffet line sometimes. Or ask the first question in a Q&A session.

          I believe that God put us on this earth to serve one another, and sometimes that is how I serve people.

      3. Theoretically, asking whether a workshop is actually over makes sense, but asking a workshop leader to pick up the pace so I can leave in front of the whole group is a level of aggressive communication that I honestly don’t see myself ever reaching, and I can imagine the same might be true for others who would have difficulty asserting boundaries.

        1. “but asking a workshop leader to pick up the pace so I can leave

          I think OP was not asking to pick up the pace, but how to be the first to leave when, after workshop is over, workshop-leader continues to talk (and talk and talk) about the marvelous wonder of workshop-topic, and the 90 minute workshop suddenly became 2 hours.

    2. “I’m also a big fan of leaving social gatherings by simply getting up, saying I have to leave, hugging my favorite people, and LEAVING. My grace period after saying “time to go” is three minutes max”

      SAME. And yet I’m regularly accused doing a French exit. I didn’t do a French exit, I just couldn’t be bothered to wander round the party finding YOU specifically before my cab arrived. The people who tease me about that are also the same people who, if I do say goodbye, are most likely to be like ‘Oh no! Stay for one more!’ and try and cajole me into staying, but they don’t seem to get the connection.

      1. “French exit” is hilarious to me because in French, we call it “filer à l’anglaise” = Fleeing english style

        1. I’ve also heard it referred to as “The Irish Goodbye.”

          I’m a fan of “It’s okay to leave a party without saying an individual lengthy goodbye to every single person you saw there.” I try to make sure to hit the hosts and then I’m out. My husband was raised…differently. :-p

          1. My husband’s family insists on individual greetings, complete w/ kisses on the cheek, for EVERYone. And goodbyes as well.

            And if you try to just say “goodbye” to the cluster of them from a distance, they get offended and complain at you. And about you later.

            I always wonder, “at what point do MY preferences and MY style start to matter?”

          2. I will say goodbye to whatever group I’m chilling with when it’s time to go, then I find the host to say “hey I’m heading out, thanks for inviting me, I had a great time.” *Maybe* I’ll find someone else to say goodbye to for some reason, but it’s not always the case. This is after dating a guy who took hours to leave a party, because he’d start making the rounds, make sure he had contact information of everyone he spoke to, say “we should grab drinks sometime,” but then get caught up in someone’s insistence of one more drink and/or one more dance, end up staying for a while longer and feel compelled to start the process all over again (“oookay I’m really leaving this time”) when he realizes oh yeah, we were trying to leave . . .

          3. My family is terrible (for me) on the extended goodbye count. Not only do we get a whole bunch of involved individual goodbyes, but people decide that it’s time for a bunch of photos with different combinations of people that they couldn’t be bothered to take before the people were trying to leave. It’s not unusual for my departures to be delayed by half an hour to an hour. My sister actually started crying the one time I decided to enforce a boundary and refused to pose in groups for photos (I wasn’t even against being photographed, I just wouldn’t stand around in one spot with a fake smile while thirteen people needed their own photos because apparently taking one and sending it to everyone wasn’t an option).

            I share TootsNYC‘s frustration that my desire to not be imposed upon is generally less important than others’ desires to impose upon me.

        2. I didn’t know that! It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a country has a term like ‘the [nationality] thing’ then in the country they’re insulting it will be phrased vice versa. Like syphilis being referred to as the French/English/Spanish/Italian disease, delete as appropriate.

          1. @Claire, true, but also – Shakespeare nerd fact – “it was Greek to me” is from Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene 2). As an idiom it has had its variations since then, of course, but afaik it did start out as a quote.

          2. From what I’ve read (I looked it up once after seeing Julius Caesar), while Shakespeare popularized it, the phrase was used prior to that, originating with monk scribes who wrote, in Latin, “This is Greek, so it can’t be read.” So it may have become common from that. Honestly, it seems odd why Shakespeare would use such a phrase if it wasn’t intended as a joke. (Since it was literal in the play.) That’s what I can get from Wikipedia, anyway. I’ll need to lose the question to a couple of the language blogs I follow.

          3. I’ve only seen a few stagings of Julius Caesar, but each time that line was definitely played as a joke!

          4. @Tattie: From Wikipedia: “The name ‘French horn’ is found only in English, first coming into use in the late 17th century. At that time, French makers were preeminent in the manufacture of hunting horns, and were credited with creating the now-familiar, circular ‘hoop’ shape of the instrument. As a result, these instruments were often called, even in English, by their French names: trompe de chasse or cor de chasse (the clear modern distinction between trompes, trumpets, and cors, horns, did not exist at that time). German makers first devised crooks to make such horns playable in different keys—so musicians came to use ‘French’ and ‘German’ to distinguish the simple hunting horn from the newer horn with crooks, which in England was also called by the Italian name corno cromatico (chromatic horn). More recently, ‘French horn’ is often used colloquially, though the adjective has normally been avoided when referring to the European orchestral horn, ever since the German horn began replacing the French-style instrument in British orchestras around 1930. The International Horn Society has recommended since 1971 that the instrument be simply called the horn.”

            The English Horn has an even more convoluted etymological background.

          5. t seems odd why Shakespeare would use such a phrase if it wasn’t intended as a joke. (Since it was literal in the play.)

            In my operations research class in grad school, the professor, who was really quiet and shy and almost always stuck to the topic at hand – and from Greece – wrote a long formula (the inventory-balancing one) on the board. He looked at it carefully, then, after a long silence, said, “I would say, ‘It’s all Greek to me, but…..'”

            I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

  2. My go-to script is, “Well, that’s something to think about.” It’s final, but noncommittal, and it works in situations where saying a blunt “no” might invite a round of “but whyyyyy?” Another useful phrase for lifestyle evangelists (where you don’t want to sound like you’re endorsing their annoying, possibly wrong health advice): “Sounds like it really worked for you!”

    1. Do you ever encounter folks circling back to ask if you’ve thought about it, though? For the “Lifestyle evangelists” (and I love that term, BTW) they can be relentless!!!!!!

      1. I have – this guy I used to work with would push various ideas/opinions about things onto me, and at first I would wave him off with a “I’ll think about that, gotta get back to work!” and then he would come back a few days later and ask if I had thought about whatever thing it was. I just had to shut him down bluntly after that, as he did some other boundary-violating things and it was obvious the “Thanks, I’ll think about it” wasn’t going to work with him.

    2. “Well, that’s something to think about.” YES. This is also great because you’re not even saying you will think about. Like, it’s something that someone could think about (but that someone is not me).

  3. This is also something that is possible to keep in mind when you’re the one asking people to do things/join things. Like, I recently had a friend go through a rough event, and while I was sitting there agonizing over whether or not to give advice and so on, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to agonize. I simply asked, “Would you like advice right now?” And had she said no (she didn’t), I would have said, “Ok, sorry you’re going through this, it sucks, but I love you, etc..”

    What I guess I’m saying is that, ideally, we can help make space for people to say no so that we don’t trigger anxieties or shame over saying no (which I suspect is even more of an issue for women cuz of crappy socialization). Like, instead of saying, “You should come with me to the gym!” we can say, “Would you be interested in coming to the gym with me?” It’s small, but I think it can really help give permission (so to speak) for people to turn you down and know that you aren’t going to be mad about it.

    1. I’ve started to do this myself…I want to convey my enthusiasm for seeing the other person, or having them do something with me, without the pressure. I wish more people did this! I get when people want me to do things with them, but continuing after the first ask makes me anxious and like they’re not hearing my no.

    2. I agree!

      Or, “If you decide you want to come to the gym more often, I’ll come with you! It would be fun to go to the gym with you.”

    3. I’m sure I wouldn’t miss it if I never heard a sentence starting “You should” ever directed at me again, and I try never to utter those words either. I can’t think of a situation where another phrasing isn’t better, even if it’s to an employee or my child.

      1. “I’m sure I wouldn’t miss it if I never heard a sentence starting “You should” ever directed at me again.”

        Yup x 1000.

      2. I’ve been saying for years that the proper way to answer any “advice” that starts with, “You know what you should do?”, is say, “Stop you from finishing that sentence before we stop being friends,” in a really nice tone of voice.
        It usually gets a mumbled answer, which I cheerfully ignore, and continue on doing what I was doing.

      3. I think that any and every sentence that has the word “should” in it would be more powerfully phrased some other way.

        1. In fact, one really fast change is to switch modals: Use “could” instead. It’s amazing–especially in self-talk.

          There’s such a powerful difference between:
          “I should clean my room” versus “I could clean my room”

          1. Love this! I sometimes “should” myself to the point of tears. I am a perfectionist with unreasonably high expectations for myself. I think this is going to be really helpful in the future, thank you!

          2. Out of nesting, responding to Kate2.
            I will sometimes use the following phrase:
            Just because I should doesn’t mean I can.

            It finally occurred to me a few years ago that all of the things I am told I should do, things that are good, things that are laudable, things that will improve my life… are too many things for me to do. I don’t have time to go to the gym three times a week, cook everything from scratch, take up piano again, volunteer at the food cupboard once a month, get involved in local theater, finish my diploma program, and spend more time with my aging parents. Neither do I have money enough to top up my RRSPs, go for weekly massage therapy, get the landscaping finished, and donate to hurricane relief, starving children in South Sudan, homeless shelters, … you get the drift, right? I can’t do every good thing out there, even if someone thinks I should. Even if that someone is me.

      4. OK, with the caveat that sometimes the alternate phrasing should be “I would like you to do X” or “this is the correct way to do X”. My boss drives me mad saying “have you considered doing X” when what he actually means is one of the two previously mentioned phrasings!

        1. Yess this i hate it when my bosses are ambiguous or phrase a directive as a suggestion or question If you want me to do something a particular way as my supervisor please phrase it as such rather than phrasing it like it is an option I require direct communication sometimes i can be obtuse with indirect communication

        2. I use the, “Have you considered X?” with people over whom I have no authority.

          With my intern this summer, if I wanted her to do something specific, I asked her directly. “Please do X.”

    4. YES, I love this approach! I try to do this, and have had friends both say “yes” and “no” depending on how they are feeling about the situation, and it’s great because it both helps them get what they need (advice versus just hugs/support) and helps me not feel like a boor rattling on about X and Y that it turns out the person has zero interest in. I’ve also really appreciated being on the opposite side of this lately because I’m pregnant — I have some friends who have been really awesome about saying “We can talk about pregnancy stuff it you want, or if you’d rather focus 100% on other things I totally get it!” or (among parents) “Hey, I have some advice about thing X, but maybe you’re getting too much advice so let me know if you want to hear it.” Mostly I do want to talk about this stuff, but sometimes I am feeling overloaded with EVERYONE wanting to comment on the size of my stomach, and it is awesome to be able to have those people who I know can be okay with a 100% non-pregnancy conversation (since, you know, the rest of my life is still happening!).

    5. Swing dancer here – there’s a general rule in our culture not to give unsolicited feedback during class, unless someone is hurting you or making you uncomfortable (and it’s a huge no-no at social dances!) so people, when they have some piece of feedback they’re burning to dole out, will say “can I give you some feedback?” Personally, it makes me much more open to hear what someone has to say if they first acknowledge that I may not want to hear it.

    6. Would instead of should is so true! I similarly prefer to ask people if they would like advice, because I love giving it but don’t want to step on toes. My preferred phrasing is “Would it be helpful if I gave you some advice?” but I like yours, too.

  4. I have many friends who want to be more boundary conscience (yay!) and sometimes I remind them that they’re not respecting my a previously expressed no when they push a thing that would be “good for me” that I have already said doesn’t work for me.

    I also sometimes use “That’s not the choice I’m making” language with a friend who thinks I say no way too often. It works to let them know that my no is intentional.

    And, frankly if the pushing came toward the latter portion of a workshop and my brain had already absorbed most of the information available, I’d leave.

    1. o.O How can you say no TOO OFTEN even in theory though
      As far as your personal life is concerned, anyway.

      (I can see “you say NO too often” as a valid criticism of a manager holding purse strings too tight or something like that, but that’s a completely different sphere of existence)

      1. “You say ‘No’ too often” means “you aren’t doing what I want you to do.” Not nice, IMO.

      2. I say no “too often” because there may opportunities right in front of me that I don’t choose to do. I make fairly conservative (small/safe) choices for myself within the context of a very liberal (loose/many) cohort. Some people find that puzzling.

      3. Looking for the positive interpretation here, maybe it’s someone who thinks she is saying “no” reflexively to things that she might want to do if she thought about them.

        If I was the person who thought that, I’d either leave it alone or say something like “OK. If you change your mind, let me know by Tuesday” (if they were turning down something like an invitation to dim sum or a movie) or “cool. If you ever decide you’re interested in underwater basket weaving, drop me a line.” So, I’m open to them changing their mind, but am not going to ask again.

        Conversely, if I am turning things down because I’m busy or low on spoons, I might say “I’m swamped right now, but please keep me on your list for future theatre groups” (that was a real example) or “I wish I could, can I get in touch when I have more energy.” Because part of respecting soft noes, and expecting other people to respect mine, is that I want to make it clear if I would actively like to be asked to similar events in the future. “That sounds fun, but I’m busy” might be a soft no; “I love dim sum and haven’t seen you in too long, but I have a doctor’s appointment then” is encouragement to invite the person next time.

  5. The organizer of the workshop and the friends sound like 2 different things to me. For the organizer, someone you’ve paid for a 90 minute workshop and who keeps you for 20 minutes afterwards for a sales pitch, the script is “I have to go now” followed by physically leaving. For the “friends” (and I refuse to think of people who nag me about my diet and exercise habits as true friends), my script would be “please don’t bring up the diet or exercise subject with me ever again.” Then if they do it again, revert back to “I have to go now” followed by physically leaving. I may be particularly impatient on those 2 particular subjects, and your friends may have other positive qualities that make you want to hang out with them despite the nagging, I’m just giving how I would handle it.

      1. I have very little patience for sales pitches that come in the middle of the class I paid for either. I don’t mind a one minute announcement about the schedule for other classes. I think of that as informational. After that, it would really depend on the pricing structure for the class. If it happened once, I’d probably sit through it and afterwards tell the instructor that I didn’t care for it and would be leaving on time in the future. If it happened again where the teacher either didn’t start on time because of the sales pitch or if s/he stopped the class for a sales pitch in the middle, I’d leave on time like I said and wouldn’t return.

        This isn’t the same thing, but it is something of a success story. I went to a jazzercise class that was scheduled from 10-llam. The teacher and I both showed up on time. The others either came a few minutes late, or they came on time and then spent several minutes situating their children with the babysitter. I didn’t mind starting a few minutes late, but the problem started to compound itself in that the folks without children (except me) came a little later and later each day so they weren’t wasting as much time waiting for the folks with children. The folks with the children came a little later and later so they didn’t have to wait for class to start. I didn’t blame anyone since I know that there’s nothing like small children to set schedules off, but my 1 hour class was starting to take an hour and a half or longer. The others seem to think of the class as a social time where they got together afterwards, and I had nothing against that either except that I wanted to go in, get a good dance exercise class, and then do other things.

        I chatted with the instructor about how maybe she could start at 10 with a long exercise warm-up time. That way I’d be getting an hour and a half of exercise and everyone else could join in when they got there. She said that no, corporate was very strict that every class had to be comprised of the same sets of dance routines in the same order. (There was some variation, but that was basically it.) So the next time, I was there at 10a, she started the class at 10:30, and I left right at 11 right in the middle of vigorous exercise without any of the corporately mandated warm down part.

        Without a word of explanation, the next class started promptly at 10.

      2. I don’t know about the middle… but if they start a workshop with 20 minutes of telling you to do more than the workshop, then you got sucked into a Trump University-style upsell con, and getting up and leaving is the right response. Possibly demand your money back, if you feel up to it.

      3. If the “workshop” was free or suspiciously close to free, you have just stumbled into their actual revenue source. Capitalism ruins everything.

        If it’s a recurring event, maybe you can plan around it? Deliberately arrive later, linger in dressing rooms, something like that?

      4. Leave and make a mental note never to attend a class with that presenter again, and if it’s organized by a group, provide that feedback to the person who booked the presentation.

        1. YES. Feedback. Specific feedback. Think of it as warning future attendees, if the organizers aren’t likely to change. Every person who sees it and thinks “OK, so it’s a weird pitch disguised as a class, never mind” = less money for the bad presenters.

          You’re under no obligation, of course. I just like the idea.

    1. A friend of mine is married to a man who is very conservative in his political beliefs and likes to try to engage me in conversations about why I should do his things. I tried to be nice, but nice was leading him to believe that I was open to negotiation. I started saying “I’m done discussing this with you. My answer is no.” I see my friend a bit less than before, but I’m okay with it if it means the sales pitch stops!

  6. When people try to upsell me, I smile and say, “Thanks, but I currently have exactly the right amount of ___________ in my life.” With the right delivery, it’s an endearingly quirky statement of the facts, and it’s pretty hard to argue with.

    If they press on, I adopt a cooler tone, put up my hand, and say, “I’m really not in the market. Please don’t press me further.” Delivered with a tight smile, this usually kills the sales pitch.

    1. That’s a great script! I don’t know how a person could possibly argue with “Thanks, but I currently have exactly the right amount of ___________ in my life.” without being a total jerk, in which case you’re totally in the right to walk away from them without another word.

      1. I’m about as friendly and personable as people get and it’s for this exact reason that I have still always been terrible at the sales portion of my various jobs.

        I used to work for a winery where we were expected to get people to sign up for the wine club. Beyond letting people know it existed the bare minimum of what it entailed if they didn’t seem interested I always let it drop. My more successful coworkers would persevere.

        A common theme among wine club members was their origin story of how they became members: “You know, I didn’t know about the club and wasn’t planning on signing up but somehow I left half-drunk and a member! Haha… I should cancel…”

        1. “Haha many of our members were coerced into signing up while inebriated”
          ICK. What a gross sales model.

          I hope those memberships aren’t too expensive ><

        2. Those wineries are sneaky, they give you juuust enough to inhibit your decision making ability during the tasting, so you’ll buy wine you wouldn’t normally spend so much money on.

          1. Also I too have been terrible at sales. When I go to a store, or to a fast food place, or the movies, I don’t want people trying pushing product on me. I hate sales people who follow me around or insist on helping me, I hate upselling, just let me get pick out what I want and buy it so I can go somewhere else. So naturally, any job that’s required upselling, or had a quota, was not a job I lasted long in.

  7. My go-to for salespeople and randos is a very smiley upbeat “Not today, thank you!” followed by a subject change or just walking away. Obviously it wouldn’t work for friends or anyone else you willl see again, but it feels kind while still being final.

    1. Oh, this is slightly off topic but…. I use the same phrase. One day I was walking down the street and the dude walking towards me was saying something, well practiced, to everyone in front of me. I got my rejection phrase ready and he said his thing, in a heavy accent, so fast that it took me second or for to figure out what he’d said.

      He’d said, ‘Jesus loves you.’ To which I’d responded, ‘not today, thanks!’

  8. “I’m going to stop you right there, thanks.”

    The “thanks” is so they can, if they care to, save face. The rest is so they know you mean it.

  9. I really identify with this problem, both because I used to have it and because it’s no longer a big deal for me any more. I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older that part of my problem with being trapped in conversations or really stressed about people who offer things I don’t want is that I have a problem with saying “no” or walking away from people. I was brought up to never do those things. So if people push at all I’d be mortified, and actually saying no was a huge big deal and I’d be really upset that they’d made me do it.

    These days (largely thanks to Captain Awkward actually) I’ve worked out that “no” isn’t actually the end of the world and there are easy, polite, quick ways to say it that most people will respect. It actually gets easier and easier with practice – at first saying “oh that doesn’t work for me, catch you next time!” or whatever seems nightmarishly hard. But it gets less and less hard. And eventually people who put you in this position become minor irritations rather than things that are so upsetting you write to an advice comment about it (I say this as someone who wrote to this very advice column about being trapped in conversations).

    Having scripts ready is great, and at first you’ll not be in the habit and will forget to use them or use them awkwardly, but again it gets easier with practice. It truly is OK to refuse things, or excuse yourself and leave early when people are still talking. Other people do it all the time and it’s totally cool – you can even do it in a friendly and polite manner, with a smile.

    1. Speaking as someone who is constantly recruiting for progressive activist things. I would 100x rather have someone tell me (nicely!) “no thanks” than endlessly dither, “oh, I have to check with my husband.” “Oh, not this month, but maybe after.” “I’m on my way out, but check back later?” If you just say no, I can mark you down as a no and move on. If you keep saying maybe, later, check back, I have to keep following up.

      I mean, at some point no answer is an answer. But it is a lot more work to keep following up with people who aren’t interested but can’t say no. I really think we could bring the Klan to its knees by implying we might be interested in joining, so they have to keep following up and checking back.

      1. Yes I’ve also realised that over the years – delivering a clear no can save everyone a lot of bother. It’s up there with actually expressing an opinion when asked things like “where shall we get lunch”. 🙂

        Also now I’m imagining an entertaining new way to do activism where we all just endlessly waste the time and energy of recruiters for nasty causes. Sort of like those people who troll email scammers to divert their efforts from actual marks.

        As you say, a clear “no thanks” is often more of a kindness than trying to simultaneously say yes to the thing while also definitely not doing the thing. :-/

        1. in fact, you can SAY that: “I’m sorry–I don’t want you to waste your time and energy on trying to get me do more.”

  10. Does this change if it’s a friend vs. a service provider? I would be pissed if I went to a 90 minute workshop and a third of it was a lecture about how we’d get better if we spent all day doing something (yeah, thanks, duh). And if I paid for that workshop I might give that feedback. Whereas I’d never give that feedback to a friend who had done something obnoxious like that a single time.

    1. I think the Captain’s advice is spot on for friends: “Thanks, I’m good” + “How about those grizzlies?” is a thing I would say to a friend if I had to reinforce a boundary.

    2. Yes and no.

      If I don’t want to stick around for a sales pitch, I’ll just leave. So that’s the same.

      If a friend ran the demo I might well tell them why I left. Or not. People who run over (often) understand why people leave at the scheduled time.

    3. If someone wants to test their pitch on me, depending on the person, I’ll say yes but that I won’t buy anything. If they start trying to push an agenda without warning then I’d probably say “sounds like you’re really excited about that” and subject change or “look I want to hang out with you not hear about the latest new thing I need” and change the subject. If a friend continues to push xyz then I might just cut the visit short.

  11. For one-time things like the workshop,you could plan to do something else shortly afterwards,if that would make it psychologically easier to walk out. You aren’t snubbing the rope evangelist, you’re getting in your regular workout, or picking up your reserved library books before the hold expires. Depending on the size of the event, you might say “sorry, I can’t stay” on your way out the door, or just leave quietly if you want to minimize disruption. (If it was me, I’d make the next plan something that I do need or want to do, but not something where I’d be standing someone else up if I did want to stay late this time: e.g., working out on my own rather than with a partner or paid trainer.

    N.B.: As the Captain notes, you don’t owe them an explanation. But it sounds like having something in mind might make it easier for you to leave, whether or not you state the reason.

    Back in college, I had an instructor whose class always ran late. After a few sessions, I got up at the official ending time, said “sorry, I have a 2:30 class,” and walked across campus to my next class. Doing so was stressful, but the instructor didn’t criticize or penalize me, and most of the remaining sessions ended on time. The pushy, enthusiastic leader of a one-session workshop might not learn better, but on the other hand, you don’t need their approval as much.

    1. And if you happen to *be* the person whose events always run late, when the end time hits and you’re not done, it’s a kindness to officially release the people who want/need to go then, and invite anyone who’d like to remain to do so. (This is a lot harder if it’s a demonstration process which isn’t done, but if it’s something truly optional, it lifts a burden of awkwardness from the attendees.)

  12. For good friends: Next time they try this, be blunt that it’s a problem, and ask them to stop doing it. “Friend, I like ____ing with you, but lately every time we hang out, you’re pushing me to _____ more often. I don’t like that. From now on, can you not push me to ____ anymore? I’ll let you know if I want to do more of it, but otherwise I’d rather spend our time together talking about fun things like (favorite TV show).”

    For casual acquaintances: Stick to “I’ll think about it. Hey, how about that (subject of your choice)?” You will indeed think about it, for just long enough to decide that no you don’t want to do it, so this is not a lie. It’s also harder for people to push back on than an outright ‘no’, for whatever reason. Most people will let the subject change at this point; if this person doesn’t, maybe consider whether your already-casual relationship is really worth their nonsense.

    For people leading classes, workshops, and other things you’ve paid to attend: Accept that there will probably be a little advertising for their future classes/workshops/etc. involved, because while they have a group of people-who-they-know-are-interested-in-their-stuff handy, of course they’re going to let them know about other stuff they’re doing. However, key words here are “a little”. If it’s taking up a bunch of class time, it’s OK to give feedback that you’re disappointed so much of the time slot was spent on advertising rather than the actual class–I’m betting many other participants felt the same way. If it’s after class and dragging on, feel free to leave rather than listen.

    1. (For the friends script: I should add, I wouldn’t use this the first time a friend did this. I would start with the acquaintances script. The friend script I wrote is for friends who are doing this regularly, or who are refusing to let the subject change.)

  13. Something to keep in mind: some people know that people find it hard to refuse pitches and recommendations and use that to their advantage to push their views on people. These people realize that they’re causing anxiety and awkwardness and they weaponize it (whether consciously or not) to assert their agenda on people, whether it’s selling a car or converting people to the One Dietary Way of Truth and Purity or getting a donation for their favourite cause.

    If you say no in a firm but polite way and it doesn’t work, or it gets more awkward, you have not failed. It is simply that the other person cares more about getting their way than they do about your comfort or social propriety.

    Some people are just well meaning and enthusiastic about things they love, and a bit clueless. The Captain’s advice should work with those people. But if the Captain’s advice does not work, if the people continue to push, it’s a sign that they do not adequately value other people’s autonomy and right to be different from them. I would keep such people at an arm’s length at least.

    1. So much this. I have a rule: I should disengage with a person if if that person s trying to convince me to do something using any tactic that could also be found in the Trump University sales playbook (i.e., convince me to do something on the spot, convince me I risk [reason I am reluctant to do what they want] by not doing what they want, convince me a thing doesn’t have [negative quality I have critiqued] when I compare it to [the amount of same negative quality the thing will eliminate from other areas of my life], convince me I am not competent to do a thing without that person’s expertise, convince me [thing] will fix [unrelated problem that just happens to be the only thing they know about me]).

      If the person is subconsciously and not habitually using manipulation tactics, they’ll back off and probably be more pleasant next time I talk to them. If the person is doing it on purpose or habitually, they’ll keep pushing to continue the interaction or launch back in with another creepy tactic in the next interaction, and I will treat them the way anyone using the Donald Trump Sales Playbook should be treated–like someone whose empathy circuit is connected to their mouth by way of their self-interest breaker.

  14. I don’t know if this is the best response, but when I’m trying to think of something polite to say, I end up staring and blinking at people. It really seems to shut down conversations quickly.

    1. I’m a big fan of that one! Sometimes my brain just kinda locks up when someone is being rude (and being pushy is rude as hell) and I end up staring at them blankly while I try to translate my actual feelings into civil words. The blank stare and the Eyebrow Raise of Profound Disapproval work really well for me.

  15. Yes it’s trying to work out that theynar pushing you vs a conversation where r both sets of opinions are respected.
    I fell into that trap when a friend noted my lease was up and said I should move somewhere cheaper. I love everything about where I live so want to stay. I started saying this including reasons to be told it’s not a good reason then pointed out the travel cost and inconvenience of travelling back to see my community do my activities far outweighed the cheaper rent (and would not be cheaper after those cosrts) Thankfully before she could tell me I could meetmpeople and do activities in a cheaper area I woke up to what was happening and closed thenc

  16. I think with 1) and 3), if LW is comfortable, they can move straight to “Please stop asking” or “You’ve brought this up a lot – can you please stop raising it”.

    It sounds like the friends have brought up these issues many times and aren’t responding to the LW’s verbal or behavioural cues.

    I want to say – I balance a busy job with a demanding sport with chronic mental health issues. There is always pressure to do more in the office and on the track, because people don’t see what I’m struggling with. I choose to be proud of myself for being able to hold down a job and play sport, and I won’t let anyone else’s perceptions of what I ‘should’ interfere with that. Which is to say: LW, good for you, be proud of what you’re doing and of making the right choices for you. Keep on being your rockin’ self.

  17. I think I agree with others here about the whole “friends vs. professionals” thing. For friends who want you to spend more time doing The Thing with them, it’s pretty easy to go “nah, my schedule now works for me,” and maybe “hey, can you drop it?” if they really push it. For friends that just talk a lot about their Thing, I tend to treat it like they’re going on about their favorite hobby rather actually trying to convert me – that helps.

    For professionals, a firmer “no thank you” policy works better – but for classes and stuff, I’d just leave after the class was done, or find another class that doesn’t lifestyle lecture as much.

  18. As the great Ron Swanson said: “I can’t. Because I don’t want to.”
    As the great Phoebe Buffay said: “I’d love to but I don’t want to.”

    Those are my go-to responses.
    That or “I can’t afford it.” That always takes the wind out of ppl’s sails. I can afford 1 gym session per week but any more is too much (either financially/emotionally/in terms of energy but they don’t have to know that). For the workshop that goes on and on for another half an hour, sorry, I have to go now. But WHyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? Because I have to go now. (If you want to make it jokey, how about I must save my planet). Explanations don’t need to be explanations, which I struggle with as a people pleaser I over-explain EVERYTHING. I am working on modelling myself on Ron Swanson because he says what he needs to and then stops talking. I admire the ability to do that. (This rambly comment? Case in point).

    Good luck, OP!

    1. Yes to all of this. I recently used the Ron Swanson line for one of those “parties” that your “friends” invite you to for the purpose of buying crap you don’t want/need. It turns out the person inviting me didn’t want to go either, but didn’t know how to say no, at which point I explained that you say no in the same way I had just done so ten seconds earlier 🙂

      1. Way to be a good example!

        Sometimes, those “parties” have good stuff, so I will ask for a catalog, from time to time. Once I know who sells what, I can even approach them and say, “Anything new in the catalog?” or “Having a party soon? I could add my order to it.” But only if I know that I like the stuff they are selling, already. And really, I’d MUCH rather order it from a catalog than drag myself to a fake party.

    2. I would have to say that “I can’t afford it” shouldn’t be used when the answer really is “No, I don’t want to.” I’ve been offered financing plans, payment options, and even financial assistance to things that I didn’t want to do because I said I couldn’t afford it when I wasn’t interested in to begin with.

      It’s weird… at some point in our lives we were honest about things. I know this because I see it in my kids. I’ll ask my son if he wants to do a really cool thing and sometimes he’s all over it and other times he says “No, I don’t want to”. When I ask him why he just says “because I don’t want to do it.” My daughter is the same way, though as she gets older I see her offering more and more explanations as to why she wants to say no. I think we all need to be like Ron Swanson and/or our childhood selves and just say “No, I don’t want to to that.”

      1. A few years back I was working to eliminate my student debt and I was on a really strict budget, and I got quite comfortable with saying, “That’s not in my budget.” That reads a bit differently than “I can’t afford it,” because a budget is intentional.

        I still fall back on that one when I’m asked to do something that I could afford if I considered it a priority, but I don’t.

      2. Depending on the thing, there’s always, “I don’t have time.” Which has the advantage of being true, in the sense that I could always use more hours in the day to read graphic novels in the bathtub.

  19. Actually, “I can’t do that because reasons” can work just fine, provided you actually say, “Because reasons.”

    How can anyone argue with “because reasons”?

    Now, if you start listing specific reasons, they’ll come back with specific arguments. But “Because reasons,” pretty much gets the point across that your reasons are personal and not up for discussion.

    Alternately, “Because bacon!” Because bacon is a good enough reason for annoying, in my opinion.

    1. I’m totally going to start replying to things with “because bacon!”. That’s fabulous.

      I used to give telemarketers reasons I couldn’t contribute. That ended the day someone called to ask for money for some cause or other and I explained that I couldn’t because I just got married – which made perfect sense to me, because weddings are expensive, combining households has a cost, and my husband was now on my insurance since he didn’t have his own, thereby lowering my paycheck. They replied “well then you should have twice the money!”. After that, if people didn’t accept my first firm “no thank you”, I just hung up. Of course, that doesn’t really work for friends, but it’s so true that many people see any specific reasons as an invitation to negotiate.

  20. I have a couple of thoughts, but not very fully formed. One is, sometimes people are enthusiastic but still care about not being rude and if you offer a soft no or don’t seem interested, won’t press. Sometimes, it’s not like that, they’re clueless or deliberately predatory, and anything other than a vehement no is ignored, and if you don’t seem interested they’ll just go on talking about it. In which case, the situation is ALREADY awkward. THEY made it awkward. Just because something went wrong, doesn’t mean YOU failed to send out “don’t pressure me into things I don’t want” social signals. Not doing that is THEIR job. You fixing it back to “not awkward” is advanced social skill and not always possible. But standing there getting harangued doesn’t help either. “Not awkward” isn’t an option. You can *minimise* the awkwardness by extricating yourself smoothly without shouting. Or if they’re still not getting it, say “please stop talking about this” or whatever and if they’re clueless they’ll be embarrassed but grateful and if they’re malicious they’ll PRETEND to be aggrieved but hopefully back off.

    *How* to do that isn’t always easy, the captain gives advice. But the preliminary advice is, don’t feel bad, don’t feel like there’s some magic non-awkward way of defusing the problem you’re not finding. Sometimes people are rude and you smooth things over a bit and get out as best you can and don’t worry that it might have been your fault.

    The other thought is, some people seem to exude subliminal “don’t pester me, I won’t stand for it” signals and other people don’t (which by omission can be interpreted as “bother me about your obsession of the day, I won’t tell you to back off”). This really sucks and it’s not your responsibility to figure it out, it’s their responsibility not to bother *anyone* with repeated unwanted offers whether they subconsciously think they can get away with it or not. Like, people who walk confidently and declaim declarative sentences etc, people press them to sign up for things much less, because when they say “not interested” is sounds very final. And it’s not your job to ape that behaviour! But if you’re looking to avoid the problem and wanted to put in extra work to do so, it might be something you could do.

    Now I think about it, some of the awkwardness is when someone subconsciously reads a person as more willing to put up with bullshit but get rebuffed when they start in on a long well-meaning unhelpful spiel. The mismatch in expectations means someone had to actually SAY no rather than have it magically intuited in advance. Which is a reason for everyone to NOT assume things based on secret cues, NOT to feel bad you exude them wrong — but possibly understanding one reason WHY people might keep doing this might make you feel better about shutting them down.

  21. Having had 2 children less than a year apart and being a working parent has really been an eye opener. My job and kids eat up so much of my time and energy that I’ve learned just how precious and rare my “me” time is. I have only a finite amount of time to do anything these days so I guard my spare time just as carefully as I guard my finances. Don’t feel guilty about leaving or speaking up and being firm about it.

    For salespeople and the like:
    “I don’t care for a meat-free diet, thanks”
    “I’m quite happy with my church and I don’t care to switch”
    “That simply won’t do.”
    “this is not what I came here for. I’ll be leaving now.”

    And my personal favorite – which is such a stunning thought for many people in the social media age –
    “I consider that a private matter and I’ll thank you not to interfere.”

    With friends/family, you soften it a bit for the sake of the relationship:
    “I’ve thought about what you said, and I just don’t care for a meat free diet.”
    “I appreciate the invite to attend services, but I feel really fulfilled at my own church.”
    “Thanks for your suggestions in the past, but I’ve made up my mind and I trust you’ll understand.” Any “friend” that keeps on pushing after these gentle but firm answers….maybe really isn’t so much of a friend.

  22. I’m so much loving this discussion.

    As a child I was taught, explicitly, that saying ‘No’ was rude — it was important to give an unbreakable reason so as to allow the other to save face. [yikes]. As an adult in a personal growth workshop, I learned that it was much more important to ‘say what I mean and mean what I say’ in terms of giving MYSELF the message that my stated intentions can be relied on and therefor become more likely to be carried out. I also learned, in talking to their upsales-people at the end of the workshop, that the useful answer is, ‘No, but thanks for the offer.’

    As pointed out above, any ‘reason’ can be seen as a gambit in a negotiation. And in fact, people taught negotiation (or brought up in cultures where barter and bargaining are prominent) are taught to recognize and classify these ‘reasons’ explicitly as ‘objections to be overcome.’

    It can be useful, in fact, to recognize and classify them in everyday life. “I’ll have to ask my [boss, spouse, parent]” is an Appeal to Higher Authority — and it’s a great delaying tactic when I want time to consider, say, overnight. And so on.

    It turns out that a direct No is much more effective.

    A special case is the one where someone I truly love is asking me to commit to some Large Project that will eat up time and spoons that I just plain don’t have. The very best ‘No’ I ever received — and one I now use — went like this:

    “Thanks so MUCH for thinking of me! I’m flattered that you think I could do this. For a variety of reasons, it’s not something I will be participating in, but I know you’ll find just the right person.”

    The first time I heard it, it took me nearly a minute to realize my invitation had been rejected. And the side-order of feeling ‘personally rejected’ just plain didn’t arrive.

    1. I was taught the same thing. I am an adult now and firmly believe that not liking corn is a perfectly valid reason to not want a serving of corn.

  23. In some cases with fitness and/or nutrition evangelists, I find it effective to point out that I’m already doing more than I want to, using language that sounds humorously exaggerated but is actually completely true.

    For example: “Oh, I’m not in the market for any more exercise tips. I’m already working out so much that I hate the world and everyone in it.” or “I’ve already cut back on carbs so much that I spend every single moment of every single day thinking lustful thoughts about pastry.”

  24. I wish any of these worked in regards to health problems vs weight/exercise. I have a host of interconnected health problems that often make me unable to function, but every time I go to a doctor (any doctor) I get harped on about my weight. Yes, thanks, I would LOVE to be able to do regular exercise and lose some weight, but I’m 3 months into an unknown cause nausea and vomiting where I’m gettting just over 1000 calories a day (and STILL not losing weight). When I can eat normally and do the laundry and stay awake more than 4 hours at a time I’ll get right on that treadmill.

    1. I know the option is not open to everyone, but cruddy medical professionals should be ditched and replaced. As the joke goes, what do you call the person who graduated dead last in their medical school? Doctor. But addressing them by their (barely) earned title doesn’t mean we gotta patronize their mediocre services. It’s SO EASY to let inertia keep us with that bad doctor or bad dentist but this is the only body we get issued, it’s worth trading up to better caregivers if it’s at all possible.

  25. I encountered this with a workout friend. She wanted to keep escalating our workouts because she was really driven to improve, but for me it was a once or twice a week thing that I enjoyed, that kept me reasonably active, and that didn’t need to become a new source of stress/competition/mental energy. She would send texts a few times a week asking if we could fit in another workout that day (always last minute, which made it even worse), and each one turned into a series of texts with her pressing for reasons and me making things up. “Not in the mood” or “don’t have time” was met with “Okay how about tomorrow then?” “I’d rather just do our usual routine” elicited passive-aggressive bummed-out responses that I didn’t know what to do with. This back and forth got so exhausting, and it got to be so stressful to have to turn her down all the time, that I eventually found a reason to stop working out with her entirely. This hurt both of us because we haven’t found good alternate workout partners and we don’t get to see each other as often – but I can’t go back to how things were because I tried to set boundaries and she continually pushed at them.

  26. The only thing I’d add here is maybe stay away from asking about Riverdale, ’cause you might hit someone like me and end up in a conversation about its queerbaiting and that might not be want you’re wanting to do, lol!! Maybe another show would work better XD

  27. My usual answer (to all the MANY people who think a mild interest means you will necessarily step up your commitment to letting it take over your life like it has theirs) is “I’m happy just dabbling in this, but if I ever get serious about it, you’re certainly someone I’ll ask about it!”

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