Three years ago, I learned in a seminar by author and Stanford professor Bernhard Roth that I should stop giving reasons. “There are only bullsh*t reasons!” (sic!), was how Bernie started his talk. (I wrote about the seminar here.)
One of his examples was the following: You are invited to a friend’s party but you are not in the mood to go because you have so many things to do or you just want to mellow out at home on your own. Because we are taught to always be polite, we would tend to say: “I cannot make it, because of XYZ reason.” We do this because we think giving a reason is more polite. It is “the right thing to do”. But according to Bernie, a simple “I’m sorry, I can’t make it.” is enough. If your counterpart then asks you why, you can still give reasons.
Since the seminar I have made a constant effort to apply this strategy. At first, I was sceptical. One of my biggest issues is that I am a people pleaser. I often put the comfort of others first instead of my own. I tend to over-analyse way too often what others would think of me. In the past, when I could not make it to a party, a meeting or another event, I felt bad. Even though there were legitimate reasons (most of the time, I was literally at the other end of the world and could not attend a birthday party or hen’s night.) Very often, I get annoyed with myself for over-apologising and giving reasons.
I saw it as an experiment. Would it really work if I politely say that I cannot make it? To my surprise, it did. I still make sure to be polite when I say it. But I learned that reasons are not necessary to be polite. And frankly, nobody, has since asked me for reasons.
I prefer if people are honest. If they are not in the mood to meet up, I rather hear “I am not in the mood to go out today.”, instead of a haphazard lie such as a migraine or a last-minute deadline.
Since I applied Bernie’s strategy, I also experienced that I feel much better about it. Once I say “no”, it is out there, it is done. And because I did not give any reason, I do not feel bad that I fibbed or have to worry if my counterpart would ever find out about it.
Since the start of social distancing, I experienced many situations where I could have given reasons or more information about myself:
“When are you going back to Thailand?”
“When are you going to see your partner?”
“What are you going to do about the situation?”
“When will your supply chain work like before the pandemic?”
I cannot or do not want to answer most of these questions. I could give elaborate explanations about my personal and professional situation to anyone asking. But frankly, I do not see the need to dig into my private life with every person I meet.
When these questions come up, I ask myself before I answer: Would they answer, give elaborate reasons and tell you their life story? Of course not! That is why they ask me – not because my stories are way more interesting, but probably because they do not want to talk about what is going on with them either.
I have built up relationships where I know I can be honest and can give reasons. But these are a handful. Most of the time, I apply Bernie’s advice. And after almost three years of testing, I do agree that there are only bullsh*t reasons. Try it out yourself!