Allowing Others the Freedom to decline.

My mother used to tell me that when inviting others to attend an event, it is important to allow them an opportunity to decline politely.

Back then our telephone was in the living room, so our conversations were public. Sometimes I would ring a friend to invite them over. If my first words to the friend were, “What are you doing on Saturday?” followed,if they were not busy, by, “Do you want to go out and see a movie?” my mother would later reprimand me. She would explain that asking if they were busy before inviting them was unfair – it would put them in a position where they had to accept even if they didn’t want to, because they would not have any legitimate excuse to decline. As a teenager, I thought my mother was being unnecessarily uptight, but now I’ve realised the truth in what she said.

The other week a friend asked me what I was doing on the weekend. I told her that I had no plans, and I was so grateful. I explained that I’d been so busy lately I was looking forward to a quiet weekend at home, catching up on housework, reading etc. She immediately replied, “Oh good, seeing as you’re free…” and followed up with an invitation to some event.

 I’d been telling the truth when said I was looking forward to a weekend catching up at home. I was craving that time and I had absolutely no desire to fill it with other activities. However, because she knew I had no commitments, I found myself in an awkward position. Either take the time that I needed for myself and risk offending my friend, or keep my friend happy while ignoring my own needs. Really, I would have preferred it if she had just invited me out without first establishing if I was “free” – it meant I had to be quite blunt when turning her down – I just really didn’t want to go out that weekend.

Last year another friend tried to rope me into a girls night out. As she described her plans, I started to cringe – it really wasn’t my sort of thing at all. I explained that and it made no difference. She kept trying to set a date – I kept being saying I was busy. Finally she requested that I bring my diary along and together we could work out all the dates I was available in the coming 3 months which corresponded with hers – we could plan the night from there. In the end, I had to tell her quite stridently that I really did not want to go on this evening and to please stop asking me.

It was an awful position to put someone in.  Her feelings were hurt and I felt uncomfortable, but she really brought it all on herself by being so pushy with the invitation.

My point is, I think my mother was right. If we care about our friends we should give them room to decline gracefully rather than forcing them into a situation where they are almost manipulated into going along just to avoid causing offence. Rather than asking about availability prior to an invitation, I think we should just invite people out – if they have the time, and want to come along, they’ll accept. If they are busy, or seem a little vague about dates, try leaving it at that instead of insisting on getting out the diaries and locking them in. If they want to go, they’ll let us know,

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7 thoughts on “Allowing Others the Freedom to decline.

  1. Phew! Luckily my invite had several out clauses (any party invite with the term ‘hawaiian theme’ is clearly begging to be turned down). I agree though, we shouldn’t expect that our friends don’t have other possible options, or just simply want time to themselves.

  2. great post and excellent tip, corisel.

    you are so very nice – when a friend tried to pull the same thing on me, inviting me out when i planned time alone, i said “sorry, as i said, i have a lot of plans already, i’m not available.” yes, a little too blunt.

    more people should take this great advice.

  3. I could not agree more, although I know I can be careless sometimes with my invitations. particularly in my current circumstances where P and I are apart during the week the time we get to spend together is really precious. I was chatting to a friend last night who has recently moved into the area and she is very keen for me to see her house and I was trying to be polite – until I had to say, actually I don’t really want to walk 10 mins to your house from the station on my way home from work during the week (and 10 mins back to the station) and I am not committing to anything on the weekend without discussing it with P first.

    Nice to feel wanted, but per your more extreme example it’s awful when someone completely fails to read the message in the conventional phrases and forces you to be impolite by their insistence.

    • I know what you mean when you say ‘it’s nice to be wanted’. Sometimes I worry that I’m too ungrateful for the fact there are actually people in this world who want to spend time with me. That said, time is precious and we need to spend it wisely, so if you need to prioritise some time with your significant other, or just for your self, other people need to respect that need.

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