How To Tell Someone You Don't Like Them (Without Being An Arsehole)

It would be fantastic if we could all just get along, but if you've met a handful of people in your life you know that's not a very realistic expectation. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you simply have to tell someone you don't like them. Whether you're breaking up with a lover, letting go of a friend, or just trying to get rid of someone annoying, here's how to get the awkward job done.

First of all, there's always more than one way to handle an awkward social situation. No suggestion is going to work every time. You need to survey the atmosphere, consider the person you're dealing with, and remember your ultimate goal or reason why you're breaking this bad news. I've been in this situation far too often and I'm still a far cry from an expert, so I asked people who are as well as a handful of regular people on the internet. Here's what I learned.

Be Sure You're Making the Right Decision

Rejection is unpleasant for everyone involved, and telling someone you don't like them is probably one of the worst types. For that reason, you don't want to make the decision lightly. You should be certain you don't want this person in your life in a certain capacity or at all before you figure out how to tell them. Doctoral Clinical Psychology student and intern therapist Brian Newton suggests you first consider your goals:

If say a client asked me, "How do I tell X that I don't like them?" my first question would be why they wanted to tell the person that; what their objective is. There are plenty of people in our lives that we don't like, but it's not always effective to tell them that, it doesn't further our goals. If someone doesn't like their boss and they need their job, telling them that is probably not effective toward what they actually want. So, in fact, I'd say the more useful question is, "What do I want from this person?"

If you want this person out of your life, you have to consider the situation as well. As Brian notes, telling your boss you don't like them isn't going to be terribly helpful. When your goal is to remove your boss from your life, it's probably a lot easier to just find another job. If you have an annoying co-worker, you'll probably want to consult with your human resources department before taking any action yourself. Personal relationships offer a little more freedom, but you don't necessarily want to burn a bridge if unnecessary. Be sure to weigh your options and consider possible outcomes. Sometimes it makes more sense to simply put little effort into a personal relationship than to end it. If you feel ending it is in your best interest, however, read on.

Don't Be a Douche Bag

You shouldn't be mean when you're telling someone you don't like them. After all, the interaction is already unpleasant and even if they feel the same way about you, it still something that hurts to hear. That said, I've known people to be insensitive simply because it's easier and I've known myself to be mean unintentionally. Sometimes you just screw it up, but you can at least try to be kind. As marriage and family therapist Roger Gil points out, it's not only the right thing to do but it's actually in your best interest in the log run:

It's always important to respect another person's feelings (as long as they aren't disrespecting yours or crossing boundaries). Besides, being mean to your "rejectee" might get back to someone you do want to date and give you a "douche bag" reputation.

I've probably acquired the "douche bag" label with a few people unintentionally. Sometimes I've attempted to be nice, but nice can often come across as misleading. If I've learned anything from my mistakes, it's important to find the line between being firm and being respectful. Being firm is often necessary for clarity and can sound harsh, but it's generally better than providing people with uncertainty. The confusion ultimately hurts more in the long run.

Prepare Ahead of Time and Plan for Awkward

As humans, we like to try and remove awkwardness and conflict from every situation but it's often inevitable. It's better to understand that some situations will be unpleasant, accept that reality, and believe that a little discomfort now will save a lot of discomfort down the road. There will also be times when you'll be surprised by someone's interest, so it can help to have a few responses at the ready to avoid creating additional problems. Robert Gil elaborates:

In preparing canned responses, it's important to be honest. "I have a boyfriend/girlfriend" or "I'm not looking to date anyone right now" aren't good responses if they aren't the truth because if your rejectee sees you behaving very single-like or sees your online dating profile, you just created the awkward situation you wanted to avoid. I would say something like, "I'm really flattered. You seem like a nice person but I just don't see you that way. I admire your assertiveness, though." The idea is to state the truth while communicating respect for the other person. If they are relatively "normal", they'll take this as a cue to walk away with their pride intact. If they become insistent, don't respect your wishes, or make a scene, then rest assured that it's their issue and stick up for yourself in an appropriate way.

When ending a non-romantic relationship, you won't be able to give a response. You're going to have to bring up the bad news, and this is always uncomfortable. Of course you want to be as kind and gentle as possible, but when you're telling you don't want to be friends it's important to remember two things: be clear and definitive. When you're coming up with a prepared response, avoid statements like this:

"I don't think we can be friends anymore."

The problem words here are "I don't think." This leaves room for interpretation and additional questions that will be uncomfortable to answer. The person you're rejecting may ask why you don't think so, then try to provide counterarguments. What works better is a statement like this:

"I don't want to be friends anymore."

This sounds harsh to read, and you can certainly preface the statement with a some softer language to make it easier to swallow (e.g. "I need to tell you something difficult and I apologise for saying it like this because I don't want to hurt you, but I want to be as clear as possible"). Chances are you will be asked to explain why regardless of how you say it, so be prepared to offer an explanation that has more to do with you than it does with them. You don't want to fall into "it's not you it's me" territory, but you also don't want to leave room for endless questions and argument. Simply stating that you don't enjoy spending time with them should be more than enough. This is a harsh thing to say, but the alternative can be much worse. You don't want to spend the next hour explaining every reason why, and they don't want to hear it. When a person asks a lot of questions it's generally because they want to try to change your mind. If you're sure you do not want this person in your life, it's better to withhold most of the details. Just because you don't like one (or several) aspects of their personality doesn't mean somebody else won't, and there's no sense in making them think who they are is bad. Unless they exhibit universally terrible behaviour and telling them would benefit everyone they ever meet, it's really not your place to judge another for who they are. The only judgment you want to make is whether or not they are compatible with you.

Learn How People Like to Receive Bad News

When I asked Lifehacker readers and other people on the web how they would prefer to receive the bad news themselves, the answers varied quite a bit. For the most part, people fell into two camps: either they preferred to hear the bad news quickly and rip the bandage off, or they simply wanted no confrontation whatsoever and wanted to get the tacit message through a lack of contact. So how do you tell what a specific person prefers? You ask.

As awkward as this may sound, it's actually easy to do in almost any context. When you're getting to know a person, you simply bring up a situation where you had to break this bad news to someone in the past. All you have to say is that you weren't sure how to handle it, as that is essentially a request for advice. Whoever you're talking to will tell you how they'd want to be told, and should you ever need to tell them you don't like them you'll know exactly how to go about it. Knowing won't remove the discomfort from the situation, but at least you can rest-assured you're not approaching the conversation blindly.

You can prepare as much as you want, but ultimately you don't know what's going to happen. Your best efforts could result in a problem. Sometimes you'll make mistakes and it will be your fault, and sometimes you'll find the person you're dealing with is emotionally volatile. It's a rough situation and it's OK to feel badly for a little while. If you do, it means you actually give a crap about other people and that's a good thing. Just don't dwell on the bad feelings too long. At some point you'll probably meet somebody who will have to tell you the same thing. They may make mistakes, too, so be forgiving. Nobody's pefect.

A big thanks goes out to Roger S. Gil, M.A.M.F.T. and Brian Newton, MA, for their contributions to this post. You can follow Roger on Twitter and check out his podcast. If you're looking for more information on interpersonal skills, Brian recommends reading the Interpersonal Effectiveness section of the book Dialectical behaviour Therapy. You can learn more about it here.


Comments

    Given the bunch of idiots that have their panties in a bunch about my comments, they might take a leaf out of this book! I don't comment on any more than 10 or 15% of article in fact I'd bet it was even less than that, but I speak my mind and if baited I bite back! However these people whom I suspect are for the most part Apple Fanboys, not all but most, and usually with a different nick name for security, have decided that treating me with contempt is a great idea! It's not just me either, if some poor bugger makes a mistake or heaven forbid a grammar error, they descend like locusts to beat the poor bastard to a pulp! Never mind the fact that you can't edit or erase your comments in the first place! I hang around here because being retired medically from the Military and partially incapacitated, everything still works, just not well! These sites keep my mind active and sate my desire for all things Gadget, science and pseudo science! I'm not saying that I don't do anything else, I just like to catch the breaking stories, and comment on what interests me the most! Unfortunately because people can hide behind their nick name, manners, respect and a sense of decorum go out the window. I have never opened a comment with vitriol and venom, I only return what's given! What the hell happened to treating people with respect? Just because my comments clash with yours is no excuse for the shit that gets slung here and at Giz! I'm not going anywhere any time soon, so I'd like to say, if you disagree, good! Tell me why and if needed I will amend or apologise, I've done it before! If you think I've gone too far, don't bait just say so! It's not that hard to conduct ourselves within social norms! Ok I'll stop preaching now, no doubt those who bother to read all this will ignore it anyway!

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

      Haha, this is definitely the wrong place for that.

      Without hiding behind a nickname (click my name to find out all about me), I would like to say: STFU.

      In a more civilised manner: You've gone too far. Whilst I can see the connection between your comment and this post, it's not really on topic. Lifehacker is a great community with some great people running it / participating in it, so pigeon holing everyone (as is want on the internet) isn't going to win you any more friends. If anything, you're turning people against you who previously could have been on the fence (myself included).

        This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

      "I have never opened a comment with vitriol and venom"

      uh...

      You know why I'm not reading all of that. Not because of what you said.

      But because it has no layout. It's all in one text block and in all honesty if you have that much to say on one topic. Take it to a blog or forum.

        Don't care if you are too much of a grammar teacher not to want to read it! The Grammar issue is one of the things mentioned! If I want a grammar lesson I'll go back to school!

    ^^^ Issues?

    Anywayz, I thought these days all you had to do was click 'unfriend'?

    lols at op being uber paranoid and subconsciously thinking this article is about them

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

      mmmmmm, how do you spot an internet narcissist? Is it the guy who constantly posts conceited crap and then acts as though it's the rest of the world with a problem. This was an interesting article and you've removed any chance of useful comments and made it all about yourself. I'm pretty sure you need to wake up to yourself mate. Unless your going to positively contribute, please don't bother. None of us really need to constantly hear from a pretentious fool with an inflated sense of self-importance. Get a girlfriend who doesn't pander to your crap or mistake your issues for passion or intelligence and there might be some hope for you yet.

        +1

        It needed to be said.
        Plus i aggressively disagree with the whole 10-15% of all posts thing. He's always spouting his self important crap everywhere he can.

        Wow, Thanks for illustrating my point so succinctly, Though I hadn't realised that I had affected you so deeply, clearly you had to use three or four brain cells to arrange this much vitriol! Oh and I think your little mate below, chooky or whatever the poor fellow calls himself may have his nose a little too deeply up your ass, you may want to get that fixed! Having never seen your nick name before I'm thinking you are one of those of little spine! You should see a doctor about that too! Sad, sad, little man!

          What point?? Keep talking EckyThump, all your doing is proving to the Lifehacker community that my observations are correct. You clearly have issues. You accuse me of being deeply affected by your comments but I'm not the one resorting to name calling and immature insults.

          Your rage posts are not interesting and nobody values or appreciates your input (if you can call it that). I've never really commented regularly before but I did in this instance as I - like so many others on this site - am extremely sick of reading your negative rubbish.

          You claim that having a link to your website is indicative of 'having a spine', yet your blog doesn't reveal any personal details about yourself other than having the same drivel ridden opinions as every other narcissistic 16-25 year old out there. Some self-important crap about reincarnation and anti-religion because you probably honestly believe that your too important to die and rot in the ground like everyone else.

          So do you really have a spine? If so, please provide a link to something that actually personally identifies yourself otherwise please stop talking tough and seek help.

    you're all jerks. all of you.

      Now that's funny! #]

    You must not mind Ecky. He struts around Lifehacker and Gizmodo like some mad rooster chasing away anyone with an alternative viewpoint to his own - which is pretty much anyone who is legally sane. He also likes to, every now and then, write a comment bemoaning the apparent lack of civility being demonstrated by others before actually going on to abuse other people himself. It's got to the stage now where I'm visiting these pages just to see what Ecky has said as much as I am to read the article. Of course, I have attracted the enmity of Ecky myself because I've had the temerity to disagree with him. This resulted in a week long flame war where I had started to bully the bully. I have since stopped doing this because I was actually turning into the very monster I was trying to slay.

    Ecky, here's the thing. You ARE a bully and one of the worst commenters I have ever seen outside of You Tube. You make hypocritical pronouncements to the world about the lack of civility in the comments section, but of all people it's you who is the most consistently belligerent. I've lost count the number of times I've seen you call people 'idiots' simply because they offered an alternative opinion. Abuse is a strong sign of being unable to maintain a strong argument, so I don't know what you see in relying upon this as a strategy to make your point. All I can say is you might want to have a long deep think about the sort of person you want to present yourself as. At this time, you're only coming across as a sad, lonely, insecure and hysterical man. In real life, you might not be this person, but if that's how you're presenting, you may as well be. So do yourself a favour and think about that.

      Speaking of very few brain cells! I can't help wondering if you are around ten years old, your comments certainly reflect the immaturity of a child! You are in fact one of the reasons I posted the OP, run along now before your mum catches you playing on the internet again. Oh, and no doubt you will post another rambling pile of crap questioning everything from my sex life to my education, just let it go now, it's time to go out side and play!

      +1
      Well said and don't worry, I have encountered people like this before and I am aware of the fact that continuing this 'discussion' much longer is an exercise in futility. I've just watched this fool systematically railroad the comment sections of these sites for far too long now to not at least speak my mind.

        Oh and because I know how inflated your sense of self-importance is Ecky, I just thought I'd point out that that +1 was for Allegoryator and not you. Please mate, seek help

    Pictures supposedly speak 1,000 words;
    http://i56.tinypic.com/241uxxt.gif

    Love, love, love.

    Sticking on topic, i was the recipient of "Being told they don't like me" just over a month ago. And this came from a close friend, so this came out of nowhere and probably the most hurtful thing anyone has ever done to me.

    There's more to it, but i think i'll just leave it here and say that you really have to understand what you are about to do, because for many, you can't take it back, and to really understand if the person was the problem, rather than taking the easiest option out.

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