U.S. States are opening back up again in spite of numerous warnings by experts that it still isn’t safe to do so. Meanwhile, you might be getting cabin fever—understandably so—which means that in the coming weeks and months, it’s likely you’re going to need to weigh your personal safety against the wishes of others who want to socialise with you and your family.
Maybe it’s the friend who wants to meet at a restaurant, or the family members who want to host a reunion, or the grandparents who really, really want to see their grandkids.
When it comes to these kinds of requests, it’s important to be aware of the risks—which includes being aware of what the local situation is in terms of guidelines and case numbers—but it’s also really important to trust your gut and to be able to say no if the suggestion doesn’t feel safe to you.
Many are going to be put in uncomfortable situations soon. Invite to dinner, group outing, etc.
I encourage you to follow your local guidelines & your gut.
These times are hard. We miss family & friends. But if you feel it's not right, it's ok to say 'Thanks but not today' ????
— Julie M. Petersen (@JulieMOPetersen) May 18, 2020
Although saying no is uncomfortable, especially when you’re delivering the bad news to people who love, being able to do so is a really valuable skill—and not just during a pandemic. If you find yourself in a position where you need to give a difficult but necessary “no” to friends or family, here are a few strategies to employ.
Give a prompt answer
It can be really hard to say no, especially if you are saying no to someone you care about, and especially if you don’t want to say no but you feel you need to because you aren’t comfortable with risks that you perceive but which others might not recognise. For that reason, you may find yourself procrastinating on giving your answer, whether it’s RSVPing to a birthday party, agreeing to attend that friend’s dinner dinner party, or travelling to that family reunion. No one wants to skip an important event, but in these times, you might have to in order to stay (or feel) safe.
Rather than pushing off the discussion to a later date, it’s best to give your answer promptly so you don’t spend hours and hours worrying about the reaction you’re going to receive.
You don’t strictly owe anyone an answer for why you don’t feel comfortable doing something, but if you are saying no to someone you care about, it’s good to give a brief reason. “I don’t feel comfortable doing this,” “I’m worried there are still too many cases,” “I’m worried because I’m high risk,” or “I’m worried because I live with a high risk person,” are all good reasons and should be ones your friends and family will respect.
Propose an alternative
Chances are, your friends and family are proposing these get-togethers because the past few months have been hard and they miss you. Isolation is no joke, especially for people who live alone or who are struggling emotionally. We all miss being in the same room with the people we care about. It’s human to want to hug people again.
If that is the case, then proposing an alternative is a good idea. For example, you could meet at a park, each bringing your own food and chairs, for a physical distancing meet up. Or you could do a physical distancing meal share: you each can prepare a dish, safely drop it off at one another’s homes and eat together over Zoom. You could find another creative way to celebrate a birthday or honour a family reunion.
Although this may not be the same as an in-person gathering, it’s still a way to show that you care and that you want to stay connected, even in the toughest of times.
No means no
You need to make it clear that no means no. If, even after a conversation about your reasons for not participating in a gathering, you are still being pressured, it’s ok to simply say no again and end the conversation there. Ideally, your friends and family will respect your decision, even if they don’t see agree with you. If things gets heated, it might be a good idea to revisit the conversation later, when everyone is less emotional, in order to have a talk about what limits and boundaries in that relationship need to look like.
Ultimately, in the months ahead, you need to trust your own instincts and learn to say no in the event something you’re asked to do doesn’t feel safe. Hopefully, with a little practice, and the right approach, it will get easier with time.