Saying ‘no’ to that invitation might not be as bad as you think, study suggests
Some may consider it rude, but experts suggest people often overestimate the social consequences of rejecting an invitation.
New research suggests it may be OK to say “no” to that invitation to the event you do not want to attend.
According to the findings, which may come as welcome news to those feeling overwhelmed by events and commitments at this time of year, rejecting an invitation might not have the consequences people expect.
Some may consider it rude, but experts suggest people often overestimate the social consequences of saying no.
Lead author Julian Givi, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, in the US, said: “I was once invited to an event that I absolutely did not want to attend, but I attended anyway 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.
“Our research shows, however, that the negative ramifications of saying no are much less severe than we expect.”
More than three-quarters (77%) of people in the study said they had accepted an invitation to an activity they did not want to attend because they were worried about the consequences of declining.
Researchers conducted five experiments, with more than 2,000 people, to investigate if these concerns were justified.
In one experiment people were asked to read a scenario where they either invited, or were invited by, one of their friends to a dinner on a Saturday night at a local restaurant with a celebrity chef.
Those who were given the invitation were told to imagine they declined because they already had plans during the day and wanted to spend a night at home relaxing.
Those who had been told to imagine giving the invitation were told the reason for their friend declining.
The study found that people who imagined turning down their friend’s invitation often believed it would immediately have negative ramifications for their relationship.
They were more likely to say that their friend would feel angry, disappointed and unlikely to invite them to future events than people who imagined being rejected rated themselves.
According to the findings, this may be because people who rejected the invitation were also more likely than those who were rejected to say their friend would focus on the rejection itself rather than the deliberations that went on inside their friend’s head before they declined.
Dr Givi said: “Across our experiments, we consistently found that invitees overestimate the negative ramifications that arise in the eyes of inviters following an invitation decline.
“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 160 people were recruited to take part in what was called a “couples survey” with their significant other.
Of the couples who took part, 4% had been together for less than six months, 1% six to 12 months, 21% one to five years and 74% had been together for more than five years.
One member of the couple was asked to leave the room, while the other wrote an invitation for an activity they would like to do in the next few weeks.
After reading the invitation, the partner who left was asked to write a rejection that said something along the lines of “I just want to stay at home and relax”.
The study found that regardless of how long the couple had been together, the person who rejected the invitation tended to believe their partner would be angrier, or more likely to feel as if the rejection meant they did not care about their partner than they actually did.
According to the researchers, the findings show people consistently overestimate how upset someone will be when they decline an invitation, even if they have a longstanding, close relationship.
“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 Dr Givi.
He added that people could benefit from turning down invitations when it could help them avoid burnout, as doing so will not necessarily have the major consequences they expect it will.
Dr Givi said: “Burnout is a real thing, especially around the holidays when we are often invited to too many events.
“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.”
The research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.