• Val Zaffos LMHC

Saying "No": A Double-Edged Sword


Earlier this week, I got a request that most anyone would dread: An old college roommate (with whom I have had only sporadic contact in the last 35 years) randomly texted to ask if I would listen to her college-freshman son’s sales presentation. He had just gotten a job with a cutlery company. “No obligation to buy! He gets credit and practice for making presentations. It’s okay to say no.” How considerate of her to give me an easy out! On second thought (and third thought, and fourth, and... tenth) not so easy after all.

Here is the thought chain:

  1. I really don’t want to use my time listening to a sales presentation

  2. I don’t need new knives. I’ve already got a chopping block chock full of high-end, specialized knives

  3. What kind of person am I if I turn down a chance to help a young man? A cold-hearted, selfish one

  4. I really don’t want to listen to a sales presentation

  5. How awkward to listen and then not buy anything. I will destroy the kid’s confidence

  6. My friend will hate me

  7. I hardly ever hear from her, and I don’t owe her anything

  8. She said I could say no

  9. I would never ask a friend I have only sporadic contact with to listen to my kid’s sales presentation

  10. I really, really Don’t. Want. To. Listen. To. A. Sales. Presentation. Period.

So I conveniently “forgot” to respond to the text. For three whole days. I was feeling guilty about ignoring it. I may be the type of cold-hearted, selfish person who doesn’t want to listen to a sales presentation by a kid I met once for 15 minutes five years ago, whose mom was my roommate 35 years ago. I’m also an honest one. And honestly, I really don’t want to listen to a sales presentation. But I really do want to listen to myself. And Self was telling me two things. One: It’s okay to not want to listen to a sales presentation. Two: Suck it up and answer my friend with the truth. This is what I typed in the reply bubble:

Hi (Friend Who Will Not Be Named). To be honest, I would rather not listen to the presentation. I think it’s great that your son is motivated - and based on the short time I got to spend with him a few years ago when I visited, he’s already a natural for sales. (Friend’s Son Who Will Not Be Named) is charismatic and genuine in nature. Hope you all are well" [punctuated with an emoji heart, to prove I am not heartless].

My pointer finger hovered over the SEND icon, twirling a few times before I surprised myself by tapping the screen. I heard the telltale “Whoo-OOP” sound indicating my words had launched into cyberspace, never to be taken back. Oh well, if she hates me, she hates me. My time, and my integrity, is worth something, right?

To my surprise, Sorority Friend responded immediately:

“No worries!! [punctuated with two explanation points! She really means it!] Thanks for responding. I’ve never been one for hitting friends up for sales. I hated to do it but he’s so determined. Hope all is well with you too”

Relief flooded through me - an infinitely better feeling than the cortisol that had been coursing through my veins for the last three days.

Of course I will never know if Sorority Friend's response was polite diplomacy, when underneath it all she was telepathically throwing daggers (or paring knives, or carving knives, or chef’s knives, or ...) in my direction. I would like to think that in taking the risk to be honest (first with myself, and then with her), I have engendered a deeper level of trust (first with myself, and then with her). I know I’d rather hear a truth that I don’t like, than a lie that the other person thinks I want to hear. Who among us has not danced that dance? We do it so we can avoid conflict. So we can make sure we are not rejected. What we end up doing, though, is stomping on the other person’s toes. Conflict has not been avoided. It’s just unspoken. Nor have we sidestepped rejection. The resentment is the strong, silent type.

Either way, each of us longs only to be known for who we are. If we cannot feel safe to know ourselves (“I really don’t want to listen to a presentation”), and to communicate that knowing, then we don’t stand a chance of genuinely being known.

I comfort myself with the notion that - maybe, just maybe - my actions will have given my friend permission to say “no” the next time she is asked to do something that doesn’t align with her truth. Not because of what I did. But because of how she felt when I was straight with her. Sorority Friend may not have gotten the answer she hoped for, but she did get confirmation that I can be trusted. And if this friend doesn’t hate me for it - maybe, just maybe - she will feel a little safer to be honest the next time she is the one who has been asked to dance, when what she truly wants is to sit this one out.


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