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Saying 'No' to a Holiday Invite May Be Easier Than You Think
  • Posted December 12, 2023

Saying 'No' to a Holiday Invite May Be Easier Than You Think

Saying “no” to a holiday invite might feel unforgivably rude, but people often overestimate the social consequences of turning down an invitation, psychologists report.

More than three out of four people (77%) say they've accepted an invitation to an activity they didn't want to attend because they were concerned about the consequences of declining.

To see why people feel that way -- and whether they should -- psychologists conducted a series of experiments involving more than 2,000 participants.

The upshot -- people who've invited you to an event won't be as offended as you might think if you decline, according to findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“I was once invited to an event that I absolutely did not want to attend, but I attended anyways because I was nervous that the person who invited me would be upset if I did not -- and that appears to be a common experience,” said lead researcher Julian Givi, an assistant professor at West Virginia University.

“Our research shows, however, that the negative ramifications of saying no are much less severe than we expect,” Givi added in a university news release.

One experiment required participants to imagine they had either invited people to a Saturday night dinner at a local restaurant with a celebrity chef, or had been invited themselves.

Those who had been invited were then asked to imagine they declined because they already had plans during the day and wanted to spend the night at home relaxing.

On the other hand, those who handed out the invitation were told their friend declined for the same reason.

Participants who imagined turning down the invitation often felt that it would immediately have negative ramifications for their relationship.

But results showed that those who turned down an invite were more likely than the participants whose invitation was rejected to fret about it, worrying their friend would feel angry, disappointed and unlikely to invite them to future events.

“Across our experiments, we consistently found that invitees overestimate the negative ramifications that arise in the eyes of inviters following an invitation decline,” Givi said. “People tend to exaggerate the degree to which the person who issued the invitation will focus on the act of the invitee declining the invitation as opposed to the thoughts that passed through their head before they declined.”

In another experiment, researchers recruited 160 people to participate in a “couples survey” with their significant other.

One person was asked to leave the room and the remaining participant was asked to write an invitation to their partner for an activity they would like to do in the next several weeks -- seeing a movie, eating out, hiking in a park.

The invite writer then left the room and the partner returned. Upon reading the invitation, the partner was asked to write a rejection along the lines of, “I just want to stay home and relax.”

Researchers found that the person who rejected their partner's invitation to a fun activity tended to fear that their partner would be angrier over it than the partner actually felt. They also worried too much that the rejection would be interpreted as them not caring about their partner.

People consistently overestimate how upset someone will be when they decline an invitation, even if they have a longstanding close relationship, researchers concluded.

“While there have been times when I have felt a little upset with someone who declined an invitation, our research gives us quite a bit of good reason to predict people overestimate the negative ramifications for our relationships,” said Givi.

Saying no has its benefits as well, helping people avoid holiday burnout, Givi added.

“Burnout is a real thing, especially around the holidays when we are often invited to too many events,” he said. “Don't be afraid to turn down invitations here and there. But, keep in mind that spending time with others is how relationships develop, so don't decline every invitation.”

More information

The University of California-Berkeley has more about saying “no” gracefully.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Dec. 11, 2023

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