The COVID Chat
Whether you want to draw boundaries, are feeling tempted to push others out of their comfort zone, or just need some ways to figure out if an upcoming event meets your standards for safety, here’s some help.
How to Respectfully Say “No”
Saying no to people you love is never easy. And as the pandemic drags on, it’s probably feeling harder than ever to pass up the opportunity to gather with family or friends and get a little taste of normal. But knowing how – and when – to say no is the first step to protecting your health and the health of the people you care about. Here are a few tools to help with these situations:
Saying no effectively starts with just that – saying no. A simple, direct no, is the best way to make yourself understood and closes the door for negotiations.
Ask if there is another way to connect with the person who invites you to gathering. Acknowledge you really want to see them but want to keep everyone safe. “I wish we could get together, but I don’t want to do anything to risk you or my family/myself getting sick.”
Excuses are tempting, but they can easily backfire when your convenient excuse is met with an equally convenient solution. For example, telling someone you can’t go to an event because you don’t have anyone to watch your children leaves the door open for them to invite your kids as well.
Don’t feel pressured to keep the conversation going
Your “no” is enough. If you get pushed for more reasons or are accused of being unkind or selfish, you aren’t obligated to reply. It’s ok to say something like “I’m sorry you’re upset, but this is my decision and I need you to respect it” – and leave it at that.
Hearing “no” from family and friends can be hard – especially in a time as difficult as this.
It’s easy to be frustrated with other people’s boundaries and respond in ways that make people feel guilty for their decisions. Before you respond to someone who has said “no” to your invitation, remember:
They feel bad too
No one is enjoying being away from the people they care about, and turning down invitations or traditions is difficult for everyone. If someone tells you they aren’t comfortable gathering right now, it’s important to understand they are making a decision they feel is important to protect their health, or your health, or the health of others.
Show you care too
Other’s decisions to skip gatherings right now aren’t about not wanting to see you. In fact, they are a signal of how much they care. Even if you don’t agree, try to let them know they are loved and that you look forward to seeing them when they are ready.
Learn where they are coming from
When others tell you ‘no’ to coming to a group gathering that doesn’t mean forever and always. Ask if there is another way to see each other that would be more comfortable for them. And be sure to listen without pushing them to change their point of view.
Gathering Ground Rules
Of course, not every decision about getting together is a simple “yes” or “no.” You might get an invitation and have a lot of questions about the details: is it outdoors? How many people will be there? Will everyone be wearing masks? See safer gatherings checklist.
To avoid surprises, hurt feelings, or situations where you feel unsafe, be sure to set expectations in advance. Here’s how:
Be clear about your boundaries
It can feel uncomfortable to ask a lot of specific questions about an event. Instead, you can simply give an explanation of what you would feel safe doing. For example, “I’d love to come, but I want to be sure I’ll feel safe. If everyone will be outside, wearing masks and spread out, I’ll be there.”
Gather your thoughts
With so many factors to consider right now, it can be hard to respond in the moment. It’s ok to take time to think. To buy yourself a little time to consider, try something like: “thank you for the invite! It’s tempting. Let me get back to you tomorrow with what would work for me.”
It’s okay to offer alternatives
You can always suggest another way to get together that feels more comfortable. Just be sure to set expectations up front by saying something like, “I’m really not comfortable with large gatherings right now, but I’d love to see you another time. Would you be up for meeting me for a walk? lf we wear masks and can stay 6 feet apart; I’d love to get together.”
There’s no need to negotiate
If it’s clear that a certain gathering isn’t going to work for you, it’s ok to say no. If someone pushes back, don’t feel obligated to have a debate. You can keep your response as simple as “I’m sorry, but I’m just not comfortable with that right now. I love you and miss you too and I look forward to seeing you another time!”