How To Cancel Plans Without Looking Like A Total Flake

slide1Illustrated by Tania Lili.
Armed with a smartphone, anyone can pass up plans at a moment’s notice. Emails and texts sent into cyberspace have become buffers for delivering rejection, which is often so awkward and uncomfortable to do in person.
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“Oftentimes, we feel ambivalence and discomfort choosing not to do a thing with a friend,” says Greg Eells, Ph.D., director of psychological services at Cornell University. Rather than voice a decision upfront, we let plans slide in unconscious ways, Dr. Eells says. We’ll slack on responding, and then send a quick message saying that we don’t feel like going. But, flaking comes with a social cost and can damage your relationships over time.
“The goal of having a relationship with anyone is intimacy, in the sense of, you’re trying to get to know another person,” points out Eells. How you respond to plans — whether you want to continue that relationship or walk away — matters. To help you navigate this tricky territory, try these expert tips on how to communicate more clearly so you can either hold onto the relationships you care about — or gracefully let go of the ones you don’t.
How To Say No To People You’d Like To See Again
We’re all busy, which means at one point or another most of us have to say no to social plans we’d actually like to be a part of. Here’s how to tactfully turn someone down while still letting them know you want to reschedule.
Be Direct
If you need to decline plans with a friend or romantic interest you’d like to keep around, be straightforward, such as: "I’m slammed with work so I can’t make it. When are you free next?” By immediately making new plans when you cancel, it reinforces that you’re committed to the relationship, says YouBeauty psychology advisor Art Markman, Ph.D., and shows you really do want to see them again.
Decline Up Front Rather Than Stalling If It’s A Co-worker Or Your Boss
Your best friend will understand if you flake once in a while — although, even that’s not particularly cool — but it looks especially bad when you cancel plans on a co-worker or worse, your boss. The problem with backing out of work plans is that the whole point of them is to build an environment where you feel like you can rely on each other and are part of a team. “You’re eroding that by flaking out,” Markman says.
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If there’s any doubt about your ability to make work plans when you’re first asked, address it stat. “In many ways it's better to say ‘I can't do it’ at the beginning,” Markman says. He suggests saying: “I’m not sure I can do this. I can give a tentative yes, but it's really tentative. There are several things that have to fall into place to do this.”
Markman points out that agreeable people tend to have a hard time saying no. However, declining upfront if there’s a solid chance you can’t — or don’t want to — go is better than backing out last-minute.
Think About Why You’re Cancelling
Are you feeling overwhelmed and need a night to yourself? That’s completely legit. But, if the answer is you just don’t feel like it, think about why. “Before you worry about how to say no, figure out what you’re saying no to,” Markman says. “You have to remind yourself, ‘Why did I say yes in the beginning — can I get myself reenergized about the plans?’ ” If not, let them know right away.
Evaluate The Relationship
If you keep letting plans with a friend or romantic prospect fall by the wayside, ask yourself if you want to keep the relationship going. If the answer is yes, rearrange your priorities so you can make a concrete plan and reinforce your dedication. If the answer is not really, it’s better to be honest with yourself that your friendship is drifting or that you’re not interested in the person romantically and let it go, rather than guiltily canceling plans each time you’re asked to meet up.
slide2Illustrated by Tania Lili.
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How To Say No To People You Don’t Want To See Anymore
Whether it’s a guy you went on one so-so date with who keeps asking you out or a friendship that has run its course, here’s how to firmly decline plans when you’re OK with parting ways.
Don’t Pull A Disappearing Act
“It’s actually going to create more pain if you hide," notes Eells, "and aren’t honest with yourself”— and the other person. “If you want to be nice, let them know — don't just stop answering texts,” says sex researcher Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., founder of The Casual Sex Project, particularly if you’ve hooked up. “The whole ignoring-people-after-a-hookup thing doesn't create a nice, friendly environment.”
Be Crystal Clear
“If you’re not interested, the kindest thing to do is to communicate as directly and quickly as possible,” says Eells. “I’m busy” isn’t a clear decline since it leaves room for your being available when you’re not busy. Saying you’re not interested is hard, but it’s a better and faster route than having to deflect the person repeatedly.
Foster Good Karma
Vrangalova says you can find a kind way to acknowledge the person, the time you spent together and say “take care.” There’s no right way to respond for closure, but she suggests something such as, "I'm glad we met. That was fun, but I'm not interested in continuing.’ "
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