I once had a male friend who wanted to be more than friends. So he took that brave step and asked me out.
I said no and then gave him an explanation — I valued our friendship but did not see him as more than friends. I thought that was the end of it.
Over the following years, he asked me out over a dozen times. My answer never changed. But my reasons got more and more creative.
“Oh, I just started dating someone. I am in loooove!” (Unlikely)
“I would love to but . . . book deadline. Gotta make those deadlines.” (Impossible)
“Oh, gosh. I can’t tonight. It’s laundry night, and I am determined to match all my socks by the end of the night.” (Inconceivable)
We have all been there. We say that magical word “No,” and it doesn’t transport us into a place of serenity. Instead, it stirs up a hornet’s nest, and we end up swatting away someone trying to turn our no into a yes. They give their reasons, and suddenly you have been persuaded to do exactly the thing you didn’t want to do.
Women especially suffer through the sins of saying no. We are conditioned to play nice from the moment pink ribbons doll up our no shaking skulls. When a woman says no, men (not all, but too many) are accustomed to debating her reasons. “Don’t take no for an answer” is the battle cry of strong men.
Women have been conditioned to repeat a different mantra—”No means no.”
And we are so tired of saying no and then having to give a reason.
Most people can’t help wanting to hear a reason. Humans like to have explanations for behaviors. “Because” is a comforting word. When we hear “because” our brains go into autopilot and we are more likely to be compliant.
This is why the word “because” is so sneaky and manipulative. And one of my favorite psychology experiments can prove it.
This study revealed why “because” is so problematic — it manipulates people into lowering their boundaries.
How “because” weakens boundaries.
Known as the infamous “Copy Machine Study,” in 1977, researchers would spot someone waiting in line at the library to use the copy machine. Then they would have an actor approach the person in line and ask to cut it.
The cutter asked to cut the line in three different ways:
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”
Obviously, the last one was nonsensical. Clearly, a Xerox machine makes copies.
Here was the success rate for skipping the line:
- 60 percent were allowed to skip the line.
- 94 percent were allowed to skip the line.
- 93 percent were allowed to skip the line.
Naturally, researchers were surprised number three was so effective. Whether spoken or heard, the word “because” made people more likely to acquiesce. This study revealed why “because” is so problematic — it manipulates people into lowering their boundaries.
Behavioral investigator Vanessa van Edwards has also found that giving reasons impairs your ability to say no because it allows the requester to modify their request to get you to say yes.
For example, you tell someone you can’t go to a party because you have your kids. The inviter responds by saying, bring your kids.
According to van Edwards’ research, “By simply thanking people for their request and telling them that you can’t agree to it, you prevent them from arguing with you.”
“No,” closes the door. “Because” leaves it open a crack and lets the vermin inside.
What if more people said no and then didn’t give a reason?
For example, an annoying friend who always makes time demands asks you for another ridiculous favor. Don’t say, “I am sorry. I can’t because I have a work deadline that day.”
Just say no without a because.
Or maybe you put a guy firmly in the friend zone. When he asks you out for the third time, don’t give the same speech you gave him the first time. Don’t say you can’t go out with him because you value your friendship and do not feel any chemistry.
Just say no without a because.
As soon as you give a boundary-pusher a reason, it gives them a chance to debate and negate your reason. If more people just said no and then nothing, we would have fewer frustrated people-pleasers in the world.
Of course, there are times when you need to clearly communicate the reason behind your no. But you only need to do that once. Boundary-pushers are often given a reason, but they choose not to accept that reason. So the boundary maker is then forced to continue to remind the boundary-pusher why there is a boundary. This gets exhausting.
Small lies weaken your No.
Sometimes when we say no to someone, we follow it with small lies to strengthen our boundaries.
Let’s get clear about one thing — emotionally mature people don’t need to lie to communicate their boundaries.
Yet, we are all sometimes guilty of lying to make saying no easier. When we reject someone or say no to a request of our time, we often lie to protect their feelings or protect our self-interests. We don’t want to tell the person the real reason why we are saying no — we simply don’t want to.
Saying no is so hard because we fear someone won’t like us if we put our needs first. But saying no is not always selfish. Often, it is a sign of self-love.
When a woman says no, men expect a “because” to follow.
The song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It’s culturally known as “that rapey song” about a woman trying to leave a man’s company, but he keeps giving her reasons to stay. But the one reason he keeps coming back to is — “it’s cold outside.”
She gives him the following reasons why she can’t stay:
“My mother will start to worry.”
“My father will be pacing the floor.”
“The neighbors might think.”
“My sister will be suspicious.”
“My brother will be there at the door.”
What do all of these reasons have in common? They are all focused on what society will think of her. But what if she had just said no to her gentleman seducer without excuses? Or better yet, what if she said yes, stayed the night, and had mad, passionate, hot sex without any guilt?
In both cases, there wouldn’t be much of a song then.
There is a power in the word no. And it’s ugly stepsister — because — weakens that power.
So next time you have to say no to someone, try this little exercise — after you say no, don’t give an explanation.
This article was originally published on PS I Love You. Relationships Now.