It can be a fun surprise when you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while — for about five minutes. Then it veers into “let’s meet for coffee” territory, which reminds you of why you haven’t really been in touch with this person in the first place. Here’s how to turn down the idea of a catch-up coffee without turning an old acquaintance into an enemy.
First of all, I want to say that we’ve all done this to another person — someone you like a lot and wish you knew better, but there’s a reason you don’t. They’re too cool! Too busy! Too uninterested in expanding their inner circle! So, we all get the brush off occasionally, and it’s not a horrendous crime against politeness. There are only so many hours in the day and you don’t always have the time or emotional bandwidth to connect with yet another person.
But navigating the “no” is hard, even for experts. Well and Good interviewed professional life coach Mandy Morris, who also wrote the bestseller Love…It’s How I Manifest. Morris provided a script for when you want to refuse to hang out with someone you bumped into on the street who you haven’t seen in ages:
Script 1: “It’s wonderful to see you! I won’t be able to lock in a catch-up date with you for the time being, but I’d love to swap information so when I’m more able I can reach out.”
Script 2: “At the moment, it’s been a bit difficult keeping plans. Regardless, I loved seeing you and I hope life is fantastic for you.”
Script 3: “I’m not able to put too much more on my plate right now, I apologise! But I loved running into you and seeing how wonderful you are.”
Script 4: “That would be fun, but even if we don’t make it happen, it was fantastic seeing you!”
Script 5: “I bet we both have really full schedules, but I look forward to meeting up when the time’s right.”
The idea is to suggest that you’re really busy and it’s not personal even if it is. People are busy and sometimes schedules are too full for casual meet ups. If you’re hesitant about refusing someone’s friendly overture so firmly, there are a few more tricks.
Offer your email
Often, if you’re not that close or haven’t seen one another in a while, the other person may ask for your number. Morris says to offer your email instead:
“I usually say something like, ‘let me give you my email’ because normally, if someone really wants to see you and it is genuine, giving out an email instead of a phone number will make them more apt to think through the process of really reaching out,” she tells me. If they do indeed slide into your inbox, you’ll know that they’re really, really invested in making that one-on-one time a reality. Then, you can decide whether you want to say yes or no with cyberspace between the two of you.
I’d add that offering your email will make more sense if you explain that’s how you keep track of your appointments; it also lays the groundwork for how busy you are if you decide ultimately to say no.
Be slightly vulnerable
This isn’t something Morris suggests and it isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s worked for me: Be emotionally vulnerable. I’ve had people reach out to me who I couldn’t handle seeing, and told them that directly. For example:
“I’m so touched you ask, but lately I’ve been too stressed out to really spend time with people. If I feel like I can stop being a hermit, I’ll reach out.”
More people understand how anxiety, stress, or depression make it hard to be social, especially with folks they don’t know well. I’m not lying when I say I can’t deal with a coffee date with a virtual stranger. And if someone is weirded out by your honesty, who cares? They’ll still leave you alone.
Let go of guilt
Bailing on a true friend who has loved and supported you sucks; bailing on someone you barely know is not really the same thing—yet, most of us have been socialised to feel pretty bad about both. Morris says that feeling guilty about saying no to casual hangs is normal, and also, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong:
“It’s about coming to it consciously, asking yourself, ‘Am I operating out of guilt? Is that truly going to serve this person? Is that going to serve me? Is that the type of relationship that I want?,’” she says.
If the only reason you want to see someone is to alleviate guilt, you’re not really being their friend anyway. Just skip it. Politely.