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Why declining social invites is OK


It's the holidays, and that means sometimes, we get invitations to events that we just can't attend or maybe, to be real, we just do not want to attend. But we worry - some of us too much - about the impact of saying no. Will my friends be angry? Will my colleagues think I don't want to spend time with them outside work? The anxiety can spiral. A new study suggests, though, that, actually, declining an invitation might not be as bad as you think. Julian Givi is an assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University and one of the study's authors. Julian, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JULIAN GIVI: Hey. Thanks for having me.

DETROW: I thought I was, you know, unique in just always worrying about the implications of saying no and trying not to disappoint people. But I guess enough people feel this way that you have thought to do a study on it. What was the inspiration here?

GIVI: I was invited to an event, and it was someone's wedding, you know, quite far away and quite a hassle to get to. And I really did not want to attend it, but I was like, man, I can't say no, right? They're going to kill me if I don't go. And so it got me wondering, you know, if people kind of worry a little bit too much about these negative ramifications. And so I was interested - you know, do they actually exist?

DETROW: And tell me what exactly the study looked at and what you found.

GIVI: Yeah. So in the study, we basically had two groups of participants. Some were what we called inviters, and others were what we called invitees. And so if you were in an inviter condition, you imagined that you invited someone to do a social activity - so it could be, you know, going to dinner, could be attending a museum, you know, whatever. And then what we did was we had invitees predict kind of the negative ramifications of what would happen if they said no. So, for example, how upset would the investor be? How disappointed would they be? How sad would they be? How angry? Would they invite them to do something again in the future? And then we also had inviters tell us, like, well, how would you actually feel, right? So they respond to all those same questions, only kind of assessing it for themselves. And what we kind of found consistently over and over, across several different studies, is that invitees tend to overestimate these various negative implications.

DETROW: So just summing this up, you asked both sides to kind of weigh what they thought would happen and then what would actually happen. And consistently, the person who was saying no overestimated how upset the other person would be.

GIVI: Yeah, that's 100% accurate.

DETROW: I have to ask, did - in any way at all, did you get into the pros and cons of making up an excuse when there isn't an excuse? Like, instead of, no, I don't want to go - oh, I'd love to, but I got a flu or whatever, you know?

GIVI: I think when it comes to offering excuses, I think three pieces sort of advice for people here. The first is the is the offer a reason why, so this is kind of a funny story. This happened before, the - before I started with this research project. But last year, I had, you know, texted my mother and asked her, hey, do you want to go get Chipotle? It was, like, a nice, you know, summer night. You want to go grab Chipotle? And all she responded with was, no thanks.

DETROW: Wow (laughter).

GIVI: I was sitting there like, wow, like, you can't even...


GIVI: ...Can't even give me anything. You know, like, you're busy or tired or something, right? And so...

DETROW: So one, give a reason, which your mom did not do.

GIVI: Yeah. No. 1 - yeah. So moral of the story, give a reason, right? And then the second piece is, you know, some events - right? - require you to spend money. So it's, you know, tickets to a football game, going to a show, out to eat, etc. If you cite a lack of money, people tend to be a lot more understanding than if you cite a lack of time. So in either case, they're rather understanding. But, you know, I think it makes sense - right? - that logically, we would think, OK, if someone can't afford it, then we're not going to, you know, put the pressure on them.

And then the third point is kind of the no-but strategy. And this is a very - this is one I use all the time in my own life. And so it's when someone invites you to do something and for whatever reason, you can't, right? You can always go with, say, you know, no, I can't make it, but I would love to do X, Y or Z with you, you know, in the coming weeks. And with this, it's kind of nice because in some cases - right? - we're declining events not necessarily because we have, like, another commitment or we can't afford to go or whatever, but really we just don't want to go to it, right? There's certain events that you just...


GIVI: Don't want to attend. And with this, you can kind of point in the direction as to what you want to do, right? So I don't want to go to this holiday party with people I don't know all that well. But if the host would like to go out to lunch next week, I would - you know, let's do that.

DETROW: I'm wondering, has doing this research and seeing the results led you to change the way that you respond to invites?

GIVI: So I always try to use my own findings to kind of inform my day-to-day life. And as I kind of, you know - one, like I mentioned before, I use that no-but strategy all the time now. So I certainly - like everyone else, you know, the kind of - the way this research project came about was because of me fearing these negative implications. So when I saw these studies, I'm like, wow, it's really not that bad. And I kind of thought to myself, you know, whenever I invite people to do things and they turn me down, it doesn't really matter all that much to me, right? I can go on to the next person...


GIVI: Or maybe I've already invited five others, and so it doesn't matter too, too much. So in my day-to-day life now, when I'm invited to do things, I feel more comfortable with turning people down. And also, I think that no-but strategy, you know, definitely is - helps in that regard, too.

DETROW: Well, Julian Givi, an assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University, thank you for accepting our invitation to come on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED to talk about your new study about invitations.

GIVI: Absolutely. Well, I'm glad I didn't turn this one down...

DETROW: (Laughter).

GIVI: ...Turn this invitation down. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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