hearing no



after a recent serious incident in my social circle I’ve gotten more proactive abt calling out minor consent issues b4 they escalate. I’ve noticed treating it like something rly obvious is quite effective - ppl take “u broke a social…

mellopetitone said:

I think that “I don’t like being licked” is individual while “You know it’s rude to lick people, right?” is more broad, talking about patterns of behavior and expectations of behavior. The second one has the added effect of an implied assumption that you are someone who thinks it’s rude and don’t want to be licked. This isn’t as effective as “I don’t like X.” when the behavior objected to is generally accepted.

realsocialskills said:

That makes a lot of sense.

mis-andry replied to your post“Arguing isn’t always ok”
i would think if you argue with someone about their boundaries they would feel unsafe about stating their boundaries in the future, even with other people, even if youre careful not to cross them after this. thats why its not ok
realsocialskills said:
Yes, exactly. If you make it painful and difficult for someone to express boundaries to you, it will deter them from expressing boundaries. Even if you respect the boundaries after you resist them.

Arguing isn't always ok

… If someone acts defensive and argues when you criticize them for touching you, and from then on is very careful not to touch you, then they’re just nervous and don’t like criticism. That’s fine. The problem would be if they really act as if they have a right to touch you after you’ve asked them not to. Or actually the problem would be if they keep doing it, for whatever reason.
realsocialskills said:
I don’t think it is at all ok to be that resistant to criticism.
Sometimes it’s ok and right to argue if you think someone is misjudging you, but it’s not ok to have that be your default response every time someone says no to you.
Especially when what they are saying is along the lines of “I don’t like being touched that way, please stop.”
It’s not ok to resist that kind of thing, and it’s especially not ok to try to get them to back down by arguing about it. People have the right not to want to be touched. People who don’t understand this and put pressure on others to accept touch from them are dangerous.
It’s definitely better to argue and then respect the boundary from then on than it is to not stop at all. But that doesn’t mean the arguing was ok to begin with. (Everyone makes mistakes, and if you find that you have argued in a boundary-violating way, the first step is to apologize.) 
It’s ok that sometimes things hurt to hear; it’s not ok to try to make that hurt go away by arguing or otherwise putting pressure on someone to let you do what you want to them. It’s ok to be nervous or uncomfortable about criticism; it’s not ok to pressure someone else into making you feel better by doing what you wanted.
It can be hard to learn to hear no when you really want someone to say yes, it can be hard to learn to respect that and not push someone into something they don’t want, but it’s really, really important.

Social skill: Noticing a consent problem







I’m not entirely sure how to describe this, but I know it’s a thing, and I know a *little* about how to deal with it:

Some people have been systemically taught that they are absolutely never allowed to say no to anything. That their boundaries don’t matter, and that they’re not really people.

For this reason, some things you’d normally do in order to establish consent and find out someone’s preferences don’t work *at all*.

For instance, asking “do you want to eat a sandwich?” is a totally useless question when you’re asking someone who’s been taught to interpret this as a command. Which a lot of people have been, because they’re in the power of people who don’t want to perceive themselves as having power over others. So they use lots of things that *look* like questions and polite requests, but aren’t.

And people get really, really good at correcting identifying orders and giving every outward appearance of consent. Because that dynamic punishes everything else.

So you have to do it differently. You have to make more guesses (not the right word, but don’t know a better one). And you also have to ask questions differently. You have to ask in a way that *doesn’t* suggest an answer. And you have to remind people that saying no is possible. For instance “Do you want to watch TV now, or do something else?” is better than “do you want to watch TV now?”, but still probably not good enough. 

But you have to notice this. And take it into account when you interact with people. I know some of my followers on here know more about how to do this than I do — comments anyone?

pepperpatrol said:

I still do this even years after getting away from people who did stuff like that. :x

josiahd said:

It’s hard hard hard to unlearn that. When learning how to be that compliant is survival, and when you have a lot of experience getting really good at it, and you’re so good at it that it becomes automatic — even *noticing* that you’ve done it can be damn hard. Hard hard hard.

And it’s upon everyone who interacts with people who have learned this anti-skill to make it possible for them not to use it in their interactions with you.

And it’s hard to do that, and not something our culture really values, and I want to think a lot more about how to do that right.

amydentata said:

Consent is more complicated than asking first.

vdsdisc said:

I had a short-lived friendship that died because of this sort of miscommunication. :( We didn’t even try to do anything more complicated than hang out together, but when I would ask a question too opened-ended to contain the answer, she would get confused and upset and then I would get frustrated and upset and communication broke down completely.

The worst was, “Oh, what kind of food would you like to get before the movie?”

We talked ourselves in circles for ten minutes while she tried to determine my preferences so she wouldn’t fuck up and I would say I liked a thing and suggest a place and ask her if she would like to eat there. She would confusedly say yes(?) but using all the vocal markers and body language that I code as ‘not really, but I will’, so I would suggest a new place and the process would repeat, only with increasing confusion as I seemingly flipped through preferences and gave her different ‘orders’ she must agree with while she refused to state any preferences at all in case I got mad at her for them. I felt like I was taking advantage of her willingness to do stuff she didn’t want to do and couldn’t figure out what she did want to do.

Disaster. Sheer disaster.

I honestly don’t know how to communicate that there is no wrong answer and you can say no beyond adding, ‘there is no wrong answer’ or ‘you can say no’. (Which I have started to do, because it really is easier to just be blunt sometimes.)

holmesianhatter said:

I would like to chime in on this. I am an English teacher for Chinese students and I have to practically beat it into my students that it is ok to say no. In this society, when someone asks you to do something for them, you are basically expected to do it and that translates to classroom behavior. I ask them if they understand and they all say “Yes!” Then I ask a question about whatever I am teaching and they all look at me like they have no idea what I just said (which does happen sometimes). I have drilled it into them, by saying every single class period “it’s ok to say no.”,and “If you don’t understand something, I want you to yell “NO” at me!” (then we practice yelling “NO” so they can get used to it). I have also introduced “maybe”, “a little” and “kind of” into their vocabulary so that when I ask “do you understand” and only one or two people say “yes”, I can say “a little?” and then the rest will agree and say rather enthusiastically “a little!” 

I bring this up because those who are taught that they can’t say no have SUCH a hard time saying no that it’s generally a great idea to give them a way of disagreeing without actually saying “no.” You can sit down and have a chat with them explaining that you realize what the problem is and you don’t want to cause them any undue stress. You can both agree on a “maybe” term that can be used that means, basically, “no” but won’t freak them out. Also, telling them “it’s ok to say no” is a great thing to do, even though it seems rather redundant and boring and almost childish, the constant reassurance that it’s ok can be beneficial for helping the person who has been trained not to disagree. So PLEASE, tell them repeatedly that it’s ok to stick up for what they want and what they like. And if they don’t know what they like, take them to a food court of a mall (or other such place that could ensure a mass exposure to things they could like) and have a field day trying every type of food. Encourage them. It will be super difficult and rather stressful for them and they will pick up if you’re stressed out too, which will make them feel worse. So, remember to be patient (as patient as you can be, we all get annoyed at times but don’t take it out on them).




When people say “I can’t” I’ll sometimes encourage them to say “I decided not to” or something instead. Nobody can predict the future, so maybe nobody can know for sure whether somebody would be able to do something if they tried some more times. However, a person has a right to decide to stop. They may judge that it’s so unlikely they would succeed that it’s not worth trying; and doing it may not be worth a tremendous amount to them. I also have a right to my opinion that maybe they can.
realsocialskills answered:
You have a right to your opinion, but you don’t have the right to have them respect your assessment of their abilities. You especially do not have the right to have them take your opinion into consideration when they’re deciding what they can and can’t do.
Inability to do things is real. And yes, I may sometimes be wrong about my inability to do things, but taking it seriously when I think I can’t do something matters. Even if I’m wrong.
There’s a difference between deciding I don’t want to do something, and deciding that I think I am incapable of something, or that doing the thing is unacceptably risky for me.
Even if other people think I’m wrong - I still have the right to assess what my limits are and act accordingly. And even though I will sometimes mistakenly think that I am unable to do something I am actually capable of, “I can’t” is still a vital part of my vocabulary.
There’s a difference between not wanting to do a thing, and reaching the conclusion that I’m probably not capable of doing the thing and that trying is hurting me.
I need to be able to acknowledge that I have limits in order to manage them correctly, and do what I can instead of pretending that enough willpower makes everything possible.
So does everyone else. In particular, people with disabilities who have been taught that we’re not allowed to take physical limitation seriously. But being disabled and physically limited isn’t a moral failing. It’s just a fact of life that sometimes needs to be accounted for.
selfcareafterrape said:
respect people’s boundaries.
respect people’s boundaries.
respect people’s boundaries.
If you do this, you are being extremely invalidating. You are being gross. Don’t be gross.
though- I would like to say, in some cases it is appropriate and okay to ask ‘Could you do it with some help?’
Because sometimes people say ‘I can’t’ when they want to do a thing- but they can’t do it alone. and if you are offering to help them do the thing, it is okay. But do not ask if you aren’t willing to help- or point them in the right direction.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, there are cases where “could you do it with some help?” is appropriate, especially if it’s clear that what you’re doing is offering help and NOT trying to make them do the thing.

'No' is normal



People in all kinds of relationships say no to one another all the time.

Bosses say no. Employees say no. Spouses say no. Friends say no. Exceptionally close friends say no. Girlfriends say no. Boyfriends say no.

Everyone who regularly spends time with someone will also routinely say no.

Some people will want you to treat no as a special word to be used only in emergencies. Those people are wrong.

Saying no is normal and routine.

creating-caitlin said:

I have A LOT of trouble saying “no.” And just as much troubling hearing it from others. Something to work on .

realsocialskills said:

This goes hand in hand for a lot of people.

One way it can play out looks like this:

  • People have trouble saying no because they feel like it’s inconsiderate or otherwise bad
  • So then they don’t say no when they ought to, and think of this (consciously or otherwise) as being considerate and having basic respect
  • Then they expect (consciously or otherwise) that other people will reciprocate by not saying no to them
  • And then other people actually *do* say no in circumstances where it’s appropriate
  • But they feel like it’s horribly inconsiderate and ungrateful

For instance:

  • Mary regularly asks Samantha to go to parties with her
  • Samantha enjoys this sometimes, but also finds parties really overloading and would sometimes rather say no
  • But Samantha almost always says yes anyway, because she knows that Mary really wants her to, and she feels like this is what good considerate friends do
  • Samantha really likes going to movies, and doesn’t like going alone
  • So she regularly asks Mary to see movies with her
  • Mary generally only says yes when she wants to go
  • Samantha gets angry and resentful, because she goes to parties even when she doesn’t want to, and feels like Mary should reciprocate by going to movies she doesn’t want to go to
  • It would be better if Samantha learned to say no when she doesn’t want to go

It might be worth watching yourself for this dynamic. When you have trouble accepting no from people, are you resenting the times you felt like you couldn’t say no?

For the anon who feels like people cut them out a lot: one other potential issue could be that people try to explain things to the anon, but for whatever reason (no words for what they want to say, being too intimidated to be more forthright, or some other reason), it may be that they can’t explain things as clearly as anon might need, so anon perceives them as “not explaining” why they do things when, from their perspective, they *are* explaining things and anon just isn’t taking the hint.

Sometimes, people that I think of as close friends because of how long I’ve known them and the things they’ve helped me with decide to totally cut me out of their lives without warning and without explaining why they’ve done it. I can’t become a better friend or person if they don’t tell me what’s wrong, so what am I supposed to do in situations like this? It hurts and leaves me distrustful of everyone for a long time whenever it happens.
realsocialskills said:
I don’t know you, so I can’t say with any real confidence what is going on. But I do know one thing that I’ve seen happen over and over with a number of people, so I’m going to describe it in case it is applicable.
I think it might be worth taking a look at what happens when people say no to you, and seeing if maybe the way you react is creating relationship problems.
Here’s a thing that might be happening (I don’t know you, so I can’t be sure, but I’ve seen this happen with other people):
  • It’s really hard for people to say no to you because of the way you react when other people don’t want what you want
  • But you have a lot of really good qualities, and people like you a lot
  • So, in the medium term, people put up with not being allowed to have appropriate boundaries so they can be around you
  • But, eventually, this becomes intolerable
  • And when people reach the point of not being willing to put up with it anymore, they’re not inclined to discuss it with you
  • Because it would involve having the kind of confrontation they’ve spent your whole relationship carefully avoiding
This might not be you. But, if you think it might be, here’s some things to look at:
When your friends say no, can it be ok, or does it always upset you?
  • For instance, if you want a friend to go to a movie with you, and they say they don’t want to see that one, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
  • When you invite your friends to so something, and they’re busy or have conflicting plans, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
  • Friends don’t always want to do the same things, and it’s normal for friends to say no to suggestions for getting together. If it *always* upsets you, there’s a problem.
  • There are legitimate reasons to be upset when friends don’t want to do something, (or especially when friends cancel plans without a good reason.) But if you’re *always* upset when friends say no to things you suggest, there’s probably a problem with your expectations. 
Can you think of recent examples in which a long-term friend said no to you, and you didn’t get upset? 
  • If not, it’s likely that you have problems accepting no for an answer
  • Because friends say no to each other all the time for all kinds of good and even important reasons
  • And that’s part of what maintains good relationships and allows people to try new things
When your friends say no, does it ever stick, or do they almost always end up doing what you wanted anyway?
  • In good friendships, people can and do say no to each other regularly.
  • If when your friends say no, they almost always apologize, back down, and do what you wanted, something is wrong
  • Friends need to be able to say no. Friends need to be able to hear no.
  • It’s ok if sometimes it turns out that something was more important to you than your friend initially realized, and your friend changed their mind once they realized.
  • But if that happens all or most of the time, it’s an indication that you probably should work on learning to take no for an answer
  • If this is happening with all or most of your friends, you’re probably making it difficult for people to say no to you, and that’s probably making it hard for you to maintain relationships.
  • (Not an absolute indication, because it’s also possible that a lot  of people in your life have trouble saying no for reasons that have nothing to do with you. But if you notice this pattern, it’s worth seeing if there’s something you can do about it.)
What happens when your friends don’t want to do things for you?
  • If you ask for a lot of favors and almost no one you consider to be a friend ever says no, that’s a sign that something might be wrong
  • Because there are a lot of things that it’s ok to ask but not ok to assume the answer will be yes
  • And if your friends don’t ever say no, it’s very likely that it’s because they feel like they can’t
  • If people who do say no tend to end up crying, apologizing, and doing the thing you asked them to do anyway, that’s a serious red flag
  • It might be that your friends are manipulative and like to make you feel bad about asking for things, and don’t like to say no - that’s a thing that happens, and a possibility that it’s important to take seriously
  • But it also might be that you’ve made it really difficult to say no, and that it’s causing relationship problems, and it’s also important to take that possibility seriously

How do you react when your friends don’t want to share some aspects of their life? For instance:

  • Do you expect to meet your friend’s coworkers and get hurt and offended if this doesn’t happen?
  • Do you get upset if your friends don’t want to answer intimate questions about their sex life?
  • Do you get angry if your friends don’t want your advice about their personal life?
  • Do you expect your friends to listen to your theories about their medical condition and follow your plan of treatment?
  • If you’re having these kinds of reactions, something is wrong.
  • Friends don’t share everything with friends, and people have the right to keep their private life private, even if their friends want to be part of it.
  • Friends also have the right to have other social relationships that not all of their friends are included in (There’s a good article on Geek Social Fallacies that explains why).

When you apologize, does it usually result in you getting your way?

  • A real apology means acknowledging that you have done something wrong, that you’ve stopped doing that thing, and that you will try your best not to do it again in the future
  • There are other kinds of apologies that are more about either manipulating others or submitting to someone’s power over you
  • There are all kinds of situations in which using those are legitimate, but not between close friends. Apologies between close friends should be genuine.
  • Some kinds of apologies are really about making it hard for people to tell you when you’re hurting them
  • I wrote about that some before
  • If when you apologize in your personal life, people tend to feel guilty for making you feel bad, and then do what you wanted anyway, something is wrong

If any of this sounds like you, it’s probably really important that you work on learning to take no for an answer. Other people, even friends who care about you very much, have all kinds of legitimate reasons to say no to you. If you can accept that as an inevitable part of a relationship, it will make it a lot easier to have and keep mutually good relationships going.

As I said, I don’t know you, and it may well be that this isn’t the problem, or that it isn’t the main problem. But this is a very common problem, and it might be worth considering.

It’s ok to say no without giving an explanation

outcasticonoclast asked realsocialskills:
RE:- boundaries without anger. Obviously there are exemptions to the following statement where “no” would be enough; but I think the reason a lot of people have problems with personal boundaries in this way is that when someone says no, they are reluctant to provide the reason. If denying/refusing a gift, offer or invitation, answering why is only polite, yet people get frustrated when people ask.

realsocialskills said:

Here are several reasons that folks get annoyed when you ask why:

  • They might not know a clear reason, but know that they don’t want to do the thing. That’s ok. You don’t have to know your reason in order to decide to say no.
  • The reason for saying no might be rude to say. For instance, if you ask someone out and they find you physically unattractive, it would be considered very rude to say so. But it’s an entirely legitimate, and common, reason not to want to date someone.
  • If they’re rejecting a job offer, it might be because they’ve received another offer from someone they think it would be much more pleasant to work with. It can be very difficult to say this politely, and it’s not a good idea to offend people in your network by implying that you think it wouldn’t be nice to work with them.
  • The particular gift might be something they’re upset by the idea of possessing (eg: if you give them an itchy sweater), but it’s never considered polite to say that.
  • The reason might also be complicated to say. For instance, if they like a particular activity, but they find it overloading, so they only do the activity with people they know really well and who know how to react appropriately if the overload gets too bad. Most people don’t even understand that explanation on any level. More people say “of course I can handle that!” and then get offended if they don’t immediately accept that as true and agree to do the activity.
  • They might think that accepting your gift/offer/invitation will create a kind of relationship they don’t want, and not feel comfortable explaining that. Especially if they’re not quite sure why they feel that way.
  • The reason might be private. For instance, if you’re a man and you ask out a closeted lesbian, she has every right not to want to come out to you.
  • Or, if someone finds a particular kind of movie triggering because of past abuse, they might not want to tell people about this. They might rather just quietly say no.
  • They might think that if they give a reason, you’ll just argue about the reason. Given that you didn’t just take no for an answer to begin with, this is a legitimate concern

At bottom, people don’t owe you an explanation. When you ask for one, you’re implying that people need your permission to have boundaries. Further, you’re implying that you will only give this permission if you think they have a good reason.

Even if you don’t mean it that way, that’s how it comes off. It puts pressure on people that no one likes to experience. If they wanted to give you a reason, they would have done so when they said no to begin with.

Hearing no




[conversation snipped]

I actually have real trouble with this kind of thing. If someone says they can’t X because of Y, and that is all they say, then I assume that’s all they mean. If I want X, then I will do all I can to get not-Y. And if I succeed, I assume the problem is solved. If there are multiple reasons why X is not possible, I would rather they told me all of them. If they are saying Y because they don’t want to give the ‘real’ reason.. well, I would rather they just told me the real reason. Even if it’s something ‘hard to hear’ or supposedly upsetting, like “I don’t like you”. It makes me angry if I go to great lengths to fix Y and it turns out Y wasn’t the reason after all. I realise this is a problem, but it’s really difficult for me.

It sounds like maybe you’re assuming that the default answer is yes in situations in which you ought to assume that the default answer is no.

In situations in which the default answer is no, no-because still basically means no. Because they didn’t actually owe you a reason, to begin with, and they might not even know all the reasons or want to examine them.

In situations in which the default answer is yes, it’s different. Then, no-because is more likely to mean maybe-if. But it doesn’t mean yes-if until someone actually *says* yes-if.

It may be useful to think of “no, because X” as an intended-to-be-polite way of saying “I won’t even think about it, because X”. If you can figure out a way to make X not be an issue, that doesn’t make the answer ‘yes’; at best it makes the answer ‘I’ll think some more about that’. (Sometimes it doesn’t even do that, if the person really wants not to have to think about the question and was using X as a way of not having to come out and say that.)

That’s often the case, but not always. 

I’d say that it’s good to keep in mind that it *might* be the case, and if you ask follow-up questions, do so in a way that makes it clear that you will take “No, and I don’t want to talk about it any more” as an answer.

Hearing no

Hearing no

Sometimes this happens:

  • Person 1: X?
  • Person 2: No, because y.
  • Person one hears: Yes, if not-y. (And then acts accordingly).

No-because doesn’t mean yes-if. It doesn’t necessarily give you all, or even any of the reasons the answer is no. Changing things so that the no-because no longer applies doesn’t automatically make the answer yes. All it gives you is some information that might be useful in asking another question.

Some more concrete examples:

  • Hat-asker: Hey, can I borrow your hat?
  • Hat-owner: No, it’s raining and I don’t want it to get wet.
  • Hat-asker then assumes: If there’s no risk of getting the hat wet, then Person 2 agrees that it is ok for me to wear it.
  • Hat-asker  borrows the hat without asking, but only wears it indoors.

In this example, it would probably be ok for Hat-Asker to ask Hat-Owner, “Actually, I just wanted to wear it for a minute in the other room to entertain my friend. Would that be ok?”, but it would not be ok to assume without asking that it would be ok because the hat definitely wouldn’t get rained on.

Or this:

  • Person 1: Hey, let’s sit together
  • Person 2: I’m really not in the mood for company; I want it to be quiet.
  • Person 1 thinks: It’s ok if I sit there if I don’t make any noise. (And then sits next to Person 2 without verifying that this is ok).

In this situation, it might be ok to ask if it was ok to sit there quietly without having conversation, but it also might be better not to ask. (I’m not sure how to explain the difference, though.) But it would be invasive to just sit there and assume doing so quietly was ok.

Or this:

  • Person 1: Hey, do you want to go out on a date?
  • Person 2: No thanks; I’m too busy for dating this semester.
  • Person 1 thinks:  Person 2 will go out with me during winter break.

In this case, it’s important to bear in mind that wanting to date someone doesn’t necessarily mean they want to date you, or that they should date you, or that they should consider dating you. No-because doesn’t mean yes-when. In this case, it would be probably ok to ask again when it gets to be around that time, but it would not be ok to assume that the answer will be yes, and it would not be ok to demand an explanation of why the answer is still no.

Because people have the right to say no to requests for favors, attention, and use of their possessions, and they don’t generally owe you an explanation.