“’No,’ is a compete sentence.”
If nothing else, the past 13 or 14 months has taught us the power of thinking outside of the box and challenging what has “always” been expected of us.
My Stepfather, Charles, taught me something amazing about this when I was a young teenager. Let me explain:
Calling Fred Flintstone
Back in the Stone Age when I was a teenager, we had a “house phone” that was attached by a cord to a wall. As hard as it may be to fathom, we didn’t know who was calling when the phone rang. Caller ID did not yet exist. The clear expectation was always that when a phone rings, you answer it.
I mean, what if it was a loved one calling from the hospital to tell you that they need you? What if it was a dear friend you hadn’t heard from in ages and if you miss their call, you may not connect for many more months? And really, probably what was more compelling would be if the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes called to let you know you finally WON that “British Racing Green” Jaguar! ANSWER THE PHONE, MILDRED!!! IT MIGHT BE ED McMAHON!!!!
(Some of you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. Trust me. It was a thing. A BIG thing.)
Um duh? Voicemail?
Yah, voicemail didn’t exist yet either. (I TOLD you I was old!) Some of us were lucky enough to have answering machines. However, it was considered tacky to let the answering machine answer a call when you were sitting right there listening to the person leave their message after the tone. Only Jim Rockford did that, and we all knew he was a jerk.
When a phone rang, you answered it.
Unfortunately, more often than not, Ed McMahon was not calling, your friend was off doing more interesting things, and fortunately no one was calling you desperately from the hospital. More often than not, that call that you just had to answer… was a sales call.
Especially if you just sat down to dinner.
Somehow telephone sales people magically knew when the exact wrong time to call was, and BBBBBRRRRRIIINGGG!! BBBBBRRRRRIIINGGG!! Right on the dot, there they were trying to sell you a new roof or a timeshare or whatever else you really didn’t want.
People who are good at sales know how to line up what you need or want with what they have. People who aren’t so great at it capitalize on many people’s unwillingness to sound rude. To them. The people randomly calling you at exactly the wrong time, to sell you something you don’t want. You know… the people being rude.
Option A? Or Option B?
One common sales approach is to ask someone if they would rather have Option A, or Option B… with neither being anything the person ever wanted. Many of us have been taught all of our lives that not answering questions is rude and that being rude is unacceptable. It’s so deeply engrained that many of us start to scramble for an answer immediately after being asked. Even if the question was rude, we are programmed not to be rude in response.
This is the grownup version of the playground demand that we “play nice.” (Ask my daughter: I told her explicitly as a tiny person not to play nice. I encouraged her to be respectful, thoughtful, kind and honest, but never “nice.” Fight the patriarchy! TINY FISTS UP!)
The M Word
At its heart, this tactic is nothing but manipulation. This brings us full circle back to “The Charles Defense.” My Stepfather, Charles, is one of the most respectful, thoughtful and kind people I’ve ever known. He was raised with impeccably good Lancaster, PA, German-Lutheran manners. Even when pushed by rude, boorish and manipulative people, Charles is respectful, thoughtful and kind. Always.
So when the phone would bbbbbrrrrriiiiiiinnnngggg at exactly the wrong time and Charles would dutifully pick it up, his frustration and fury would come out in a brief grit of his teeth and quiet sigh. (Trust me… that’s what outrage looks like on Charles.)
Charles has a way of meeting even rude manipulative intrusions with impeccable Pennsylvania politeness. When a manipulative telemarketer would ask him, “Would you rather have Option A? Or Option B?” His mustache would ruffle just enough to respond with, “I’m not interested, but have a nice day,” and then he would smile. If telemarketers could get another word in they could guarantee that Charles would stay on the line a moment longer, because… Impeccable Pennsylvania Politeness. “So tell me why you don’t want this phenomenal, life changing amazing >place random product here!<.” And then he’d say it; That mystical, magical Option WHY:
“I don’t know why; I just don’t. Have a nice day.” Then he would smile, and hang up.
Those simple truths
I love Charles for many, many reasons, but one of them is that statement, delivered in perfectly Charles fashion. And no, this blog isn’t about telemarketers.
Many of my clients and former clients have had to work hard at disentangling themselves from exhausting webs of other people’s manipulations at various levels. Whether intentional or not, malicious or not, when someone comes at us with a social expectation, many of us automatically buy into the other person’s assumption. Sometimes the result is an unfortunate exchange where we find that we have said more than we intended to. Sometimes, however, we land in smack dab in the middle of a predator’s web.
It can feel rude not to go along: “So why is that you don’t have children yet?” How does one politely say, “Get out of my soup with no spoon! This is none of your business! What is WRONG with you!?”
“Give me one good reason why you shouldn’t go on a date with me!” What’s the “I’m-not-a-B” way to tell someone you think they are slimy and awful and don’t want to spend one more second in their company?
What Would Charles Do?
What would happen if we were less concerned with meeting someone’s social expectation of us, and more concerned with being healthy? This is Option WHY: The Charles Defense.
The Charles Defense changes the conversation altogether. A and B are not the only options. The smile is like taking the other person’s manipulation, spinning it into a ball and lobbing it right back: “Oh, that’s personal.” Smile.
End. Of. Conversation.
That response is polite. It’s loving, it’s thoughtful, it’s honest… It’s even kind because you are refusing to let someone’s bad behavior work. SCORE!
I dare you
I dare you to try it. Practice some of those answer/non-answers when you aren’t in a situation so they might come to you more easily when you need them. “Oh, that’s personal.” “Aw, thanks for caring.” “Oh thanks for asking, but, no that won’t work for me.” Your smile indicates that you are done with this line of conversation.
If the other person presses you for more, smile again. Say nothing. Or change the subject, walk away, hang up the phone. No excuses, no lies. Just, no. You’d be amazed at good it can feel.
Your time, your resources, your friendship, your thoughts, your experiences, your life, all belong to you. You get to choose. Don’t allow social expectations to push you to forget.
Thanks, Charles! Love you forever. XXXOOO
If “No” is not a complete sentence in your life, contact Tiffany here. Let’s talk.