Suggested rules for social engagement

Optional, of course, but helpful.

1. Be careful with your Yes.

 A yes is an agreement. It’s a contract, and it’s a good idea to be careful – even hesitant – of who and what you attach yourself to in verbal contract. Casual agreement can be construed as you making a commitment when perhaps that’s not what you intend.

I have this rule because I like to make people happy, and saying Yes seems like a quick, easy, no-harm-done way to make people happy.

But those quick-and-easy-and-harmless Yeses have gotten me into situations that are long and tiring. They have pulled me into circumstances that are difficult, awkward, and uncomfortable. They have resulted in inefficiency, lost time, frustration, hurt feelings, lost opportunities, and damaged relationships.

Was that too dramatic?


You don’t have to say Yes. Okay? You really don’t. Don’t default to Yes. Don’t say yes flippantly. Be aware of its power to bind you, Be aware of its meaning, and don’t say it unless you do mean it.

2. Be kind and clear with your No.

A half-way, mumbled, uncertain No can be as harmful as a promiscuous Yes. When you know that the right answer for you to give is No, be better to yourself and to everyone else involved.

Be definite.

Make it clear that you mean No. Don’t say Maybe if you mean No. Don’t say I’ll consider it if you mean No. Don’t say Okay and then try to weasel out of it. Just say No.

Saying No might seem like inviting conflict. It often seems like inviting resentment or causing disappointment. People don’t generally like hearing your No, or accepting it. Sometimes they’ll try to talk you out of it.

Be kind, so very very kind, so sweetly and gently and unmistakably kind.

Let your tone of voice be gentle and mild like a lamb (if any of you are familiar with how mild a lamb’s voice is that suggestion might be helpful. I’ve not spent a lot of time around lambs).

Use words and phrases like “I’m sorry but…” and “I know you’ll understand…” and “You’ve been so kind that I hate to say No, but I must…” and “I appreciate this offer so much…”.

Use those sweet, kind words, and follow them with your clear, firm No. Then, if necessary, excuse yourself and walk away. Because I don’t know about you, but I can only maintain that lamblike tone of voice for so long.

3. Respond to everyone with the same courtesy.

This shouldn’t need to be a “rule.” It should be a given, but it’s not.

Do you answer all your texts, emails, calls, and messages in the same amount of time, with the same enthusiasm and friendliness? Or do you, I don’t know… maybe ignore some, let them slide, intend to get back to them… And sometimes forget altogether?

Obviously I’ve done those things and that’s why I have this rule. I don’t mean to ignore people, but when I read a message and think, “I’ll answer that later,” I tend to end up never getting to it later. So it becomes ignoring, which is not cool.

Ignoring someone, I tell my kids, is failing to show them respect. And everyone deserves respect.

My solution is this rule. It helps me remember to respond to every message with the same courtesy and quickness.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I am accessible 24/7 and will answer any message sent to me at any time by any person on any subject within 5 minutes. But setting limits is a topic for another day.