Repeating "No" Nicely
November 26, 2012 7:38 AM   Subscribe

How to say no over and over again?

I work part time in a secretarial position, and everyone else on staff is full-time. I am regularly invited out for lunches (a "lunch with the girls" event). I get invitations to these lunches every few weeks, but am not interested in attending any of these events. I don't have any interest in getting to know any of them outside of work, and won't need to for the purpose of references after I leave either. I'm not there long enough to have a lunch break in the first place, in fact, never mind an hour-long one. One of the people who attends these meetings is someone who has regularly taken some things I do and emails I send out of context, and assumed that I have been doing/saying things specifically to offend or push work onto them. I have at this point given up on altering this impression, and we mutually avoid each other now. It is a small enough group that this avoidance would be impossible here.

The first time I received an invitation, I made up an excuse. After I realized that it was going to be a routine thing I said that I don't feel comfortable taking so much time (an hour) for lunch when I am only here part time to begin with. The response was that I can always work extra time to avoid having to take time off just for lunch, and that I should come out and be social. My last response was more or less "Eh, maybe next time."

Is there something I can say that will be easily re-usable each time I get another invitation, without feeling like I'm just blowing them off? I've received one today and have been putting off answering it. Can I just say, over and over again, that I don't feel comfortable taking an hour lunch? Is school a good excuse (I'm a double-majoring undergrad), and if so, how could that excuse carry through the holidays or the summer? I don't want to be so harsh about it that they don't invite me at all, not because I want to go in the future but because not receiving an invite would be an ejection from the little "group," and I do want to remain friendly with them... Just at work only.
posted by Urban Winter to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey, I really appreciate you thinking of me, but taking an hour lunch and working overtime to compensate just isn't possible for me due to school and other responsibilities. Thanks though! Have a great time!"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:43 AM on November 26, 2012 [18 favorites]

You can't dangle a response that solicits them to continually invite you when you know you are going to continually say no. That's manipulative and rude.

If you want the social hall pass for this group, suck it up with the person you don't like and go to lunch once. Your professional life will be filled with colleagues who are assholes.

Otherwise, be clear and take the social hit: "I'm sorry, I'd love to hang out with you guys but my class schedule is super-tight this year. I'm not going to be able to make lunches but thanks so much for inviting me!"

One or the other.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 AM on November 26, 2012 [23 favorites]

Well, they have to keep inviting you or it would look like they are excluding you or being rude, so I wouldn't be stressed that they keep inviting you. Just say you have too much work to do today but you appreciate the invite. Just keep saying that. There is no need to embellish or enhance the reason because that is what will get you into a discussion about if your reason is "good" enough. Also, don't say "maybe next time" because it creates a false impression. Just say no with appreciation.

"Hey Urban Winter, we're going to X for lunch today...can you come?
"Oh, thanks so much for the invite. I can't go because I've got a ton of stuff to finish today but thanks again for thinking of me."
posted by victoriab at 7:50 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

"No thanks, but have fun!" Repeat as necessary. Eventually they'll stop asking - well I would anyway - but when you do want to go again (in the fall? that's a long time off to be worried about lunch invites) just say "hey, can I go to lunch with you guys?"
posted by lyssabee at 7:52 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Depending on where I was working, I have been disinclined to socialize with co-workers as well so I feel you. One thing I've learned throughout my professional life however, is that it is important to do it occasionally for a variety of reasons--including just making nice and treating the people you work with like normal human beings. It's easier to give and receive the benefit of the doubt in situations like the one you described above when people take the time to get to know each other.

My advice is to go to lunch with them every once in a while and use one of the techniques mentioned above to refuse the rest. If that is something you just can't bring yourself to do, maybe offer to go on a quick coffee break every once in a while instead.
posted by Kimberly at 8:00 AM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'd recommend you accept their invitations from time to time - maybe half the time if you get invited to a only couple a month, less often if you get more invitations. If you do occasionally accept, you won't look like you're avoiding them, they'll be more likely to accept the "no" answers, and the tension between you and the group will eventually soften. It'll be awkward at first, but it gets better.

I'm an introvert who prefers to keep a twelve-foot fence between work life and personal life, and I've been in similar situations before. I've found that it's an immense benefit to both my professional life and my sanity to occasionally accept invitations and cultivate casual friendships with coworkers. You don't have to let them know your innermost thoughts, get swept up in office gossip, or hang out with them after hours, and I wouldn't advise that anyway. Just being able to chat about the latest movie/trendy accessory/sports game is enough.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:06 AM on November 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Even though you're only PT, you have to see people as being worth spending time with because they are doors to opportunities you don't even know about, whether it's friendship, other jobs, other people, or whatever you might need in the future that you might not yet be aware that you'll need.
posted by discopolo at 8:07 AM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pack your lunch and say "Sorry, peanut butter for me -- I'm a poor college student!" in a pleasant voice. They'd be churlish to press the issue, but if they offer to pay, accept graciously.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:17 AM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd say go out with them at least half of the time. Saying no all the time will not help you socially at work and in the world of work, who you know and who you are friendly with means a lot. If you continue to say no, you will look like someone not interested in others, maybe a little snobby or aloof.
posted by eq21 at 8:18 AM on November 26, 2012

You don't have to go to lunch, especially if you're looking for NOTHING from this group. Just keep saying no pleasantly. No one should push it, and I don't think anyone is making a note of it. You're part-time, you don't get paid for lunch, and I'm sure they're inviting you to be polite.

"Not today I'm afraid, thanks for asking though."

That's it, that's all.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:20 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you feel like lying, most people will not argue if you say you have food allergies that make dining out difficult, and you don't want to impose on them. There's really no reason to suck it up and force yourself to socialize when it will force you to work overtime.
posted by elizardbits at 8:23 AM on November 26, 2012

Come on. This is the prime example of when Miss Manners' "Thanks, I'm afraid that wont be possible" is PERFECT. If that feels too formal, scuff it up a bit with a casual "Oh thanks, I just can't."

It isn't possible for you. It acknowledges their invitation and graciously thanks them for the thought, and lets them know that the reasons are your own and immutable.

Your personal spat with the coworker involved in these outings is a red-herring. Would you go out to lunch with these people even if that person wasn't involved? I didn't think so. It seems like you might be cultivating a little bit of a guilty conscience (mixed with a healthy dose of defiance), and I think you need to just let both of those go. Office politics are never helped by either.
posted by jph at 8:25 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get invitations to these lunches every few weeks

Hm. Honestly, I think you need to learn to "play nice" here by going out with them occasionally, especially since these outings only occur "every few weeks."

Don't think of it as important for this job. Think of it as practice for future jobs, or practice for building social bonds in general.

There's something that comes across as vaguely hostile in your AskMe, as though you resent your coworkers for imposing on you like this.
posted by deanc at 8:27 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to note that these aren't "hey we're going out today" invitations, but rather, "can everyone do lunch on Xday?" events, wherein if I say I can't go on that day they will try to reschedule specifically for me. Feeling silly for not specifying that before.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:49 AM on November 26, 2012

You could probably budget going out once a quarter. Or go and bail early, show your face, eat and leave some money.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:52 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If these occur every three weeks, say, do you think you could make up your mind to attend every fourth one? That's enough to create the impression that you participate, and surely it's not too onerous to blow the hour and $10 lunch money if it only happens four times a year. If you plan ahead of time which lunches you're attending, then you can use your future attendance to soften the blow of the preceding three negatives-- "Ugh, you know I can't make many of these because of schoolwork, but my semester should be over in December, so I'm totally going to come celebrate with you guys then."

deanc is right that you sound a little annoyed with your co-workers for expecting you to attend these. Goodness knows I share the hate for stupid forced workplace socialization, but I think this really is one of those situations where a functional human being just sucks it up and puts in the minimal effort required to play nice with others.
posted by Bardolph at 9:13 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you just not respond to the emails? I organize a similar thing and when people don't respond I just assume they're not interested. I keep emailing them to be inclusive though. If you've already explained you can't go out to lunch, they're not going to be surprised when you don't respond.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:32 AM on November 26, 2012

these aren't "hey we're going out today" invitations, but rather, "can everyone do lunch on Xday?" events, wherein if I say I can't go on that day they will try to reschedule specifically for me

"My workload is just too unpredictable- you go ahead and pick a time that works for the rest of you, and I'll go if I can make it work that day."

Then, on the day of: "Sorry, I'm swamped! Enjoy your lunch!"

Repeat as needed. I do agree that you should consider attending a couple of these throughout the year.
posted by castlebravo at 9:58 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is there one person who does most of the organizing? If so, go to her (why is it always a her?) and say, "Joanne, it's so nice of you to include me in the office lunches, I appreciate being asked, but due to my schedule here and at school, it's usually not possible for me to attend, no matter what date is decided. So plan without me and if I can attend, I will."

Leave it at that.

If you work at the outpost for Party City, and it's all different people putting this nonsense on you, just don't respond to the email, or keep saying no.

As for everyone here telling you you have to do it, you don't.

A part-time gig, where you're taking a financial hit for doing the lunch

When you get a full-time job, in a company you care about, different story. This. Oh, HELLS no.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:27 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try this:

Co-worker emails you.
Email back saying that you're swamped with work but that you hope they have a great time.
Co-worker emails back to reschedule.
Email back saying that you're still swamped with work, but that you hope they have a great time. Say the same thing using different words.
Co-worker emails to say that you could work late.
Email back to say that you have "other plans". Keep it nice and vague so that they can't argue that you can reschedule them.

I think you're going to fall flat, though, by wanting them to keep emailing you and wanting to keep refusing. I totally get the refusing part - I'm friendly with my co-workers because I'm paid to rub and wear, but I don't want anything to do with them when I'm not being paid to have anything to do with them. However, you can't be part of the group if you're not actually going to turn up to group activities. You're either in the group, or your not. You can't really stand on the sidelines.

If it's any comfort, I've never understood with attitude of being friendly with one's co-workers. I don't mind a little greasing of the wheel to get through the day, but the fact that I know these people doesn't mean that I'd choose them as friends. Maybe spend more time on the company time with them, getting to know them then, if you're interested in pursuing friendships with these people. If you only want to be work-friends, then that's pretty much the only time you'll be able to do that.
posted by Solomon at 11:28 AM on November 26, 2012

I'm kind of an introvert, and I don't enjoy doing a lot of lunches with my coworkers. So I basically make sure I am really friendly and warm to them around the office in general, and when it comes to lunch with the group I say "I can't make it, sorry, I'm swamped, but you guys go on without me!" No hard feelings, and nobody thinks I'm uninterested in them as people.

That said, I don't turn them down every single time. Even if these people aren't going to be references for you and can't further your career right now, you never know what may happen in the future -- where they might be, or where you might be.

Knowing the admin/secretary of the person you've just gotten an interview with can be extremely valuable, especially if that admin/secretary remembers you as a decent person who's good to work with. The person you're turning down for lunch today could be your foot in the door with their boss somewhere down the line.
posted by kythuen at 11:56 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to note that these aren't "hey we're going out today" invitations, but rather, "can everyone do lunch on Xday?" events,

What kind of answers would you get if your AskMe was, "every few weeks, there's an 'optional' off-site work event for about an hour that I don't ever want to go to. How do I avoid it?" Lunchtime with your colleagues every 6-9 weeks doesn't seem like an undue burden if it's a basic workplace expectation. My group does this every couple of months or so: it's not what I would do on my own because I bring my own lunch almost every day or just get a $3 salad at the cafeteria. I consider only one of my coworkers a friend. But it's useful for me to spend lunch time with my coworkers occasionally.

If this isn't pleasant for you, and you're not making your presence at work pleasant for everyone else, then maybe another workplace culture would be a better fit. But you sound like you want to be a member of the "group", so...

The only other option I can think of is that since you're part time, you could just organize your schedule around not being present during lunch. You have two contradictory impulses. On one hand, you want to be part of the "group", on the other hand, you don't like a workplace where coworkers get lunch together off-site about once a month. You can't satisfy both those impulses simultaneously.
posted by deanc at 12:57 PM on November 26, 2012

Urban Winter: "One of the people who attends these meetings is someone who has regularly taken some things I do and emails I send out of context, and assumed that I have been doing/saying things specifically to offend or push work onto them. I have at this point given up on altering this impression, and we mutually avoid each other now. It is a small enough group that this avoidance would be impossible here."

It seems like you buried the lede here. Is the issue your desire to avoid this person? Because if not, in my experience there really is no way to avoid all work-related social events without seeming, well, anti-social.

Speaking as someone who is profoundly introverted: If you want to be friendly, you have to act friendly. And consistently and repeatedly sending the message "no, I don't want to spend time around you unless I'm getting paid to" is not friendly.

If you want to be friendly, some combination of "I appreciate the invitation, although my schedule won't let me attend many of these" with going to every fourth one or so would be a good idea. If you're not willing to go that far, you can't expect the others to keep extending invitations.
posted by Lexica at 8:28 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly, this whole thing is totally easier if you suck it up and go every once in awhile. Bonus, it will benefit you by spreading the word that "Urban Winter is a nice enough human, I know 'cause of lunch that one time."

This is not to say that 9/10 of the time you can't politely demur.
posted by desuetude at 11:55 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see a little bit of a contradiction in your last few lines where you say you might want to go to group lunches in the future, but that you want to be friends with that same group at work only.

I don't think you do have to go if you don't want to. But, even if you regularly make polite excuses for not going, people are eventually going to realise you don't ever attend, so they'll either leave you off the list entirely or start hassling you to show up. I'm puzzled as to why you think you might want to go in the future if you don't want to go now?

I would be inclined towards politely saying you would rather not be included on the lunch list, and then taking responsiblity for finding a way to re-include yourself later on if you change your mind.
posted by EatMyHat at 6:08 AM on November 28, 2012

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