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Science says declining social invites is OK. Here are 3 tips for doing it

Can you relate?
Planet Flem
Can you relate?

It's party season, but if your idea of holiday cheer is a quiet night in, then rest assured: science has found it's OK to say no to things.

A new report has examined the potential ramifications of declining an invitation for a social outing, and found that people tend to overestimate just how much it matters.

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the report considered things like: Will those who invited you be disappointed or think differently of you if you say no? Will they stop inviting you to things outright?

For one of the study's authors, the research question came from his own anxieties.

"I was invited to an event, and it was someone's wedding, quite far away and quite a hassle to get to. And I really did not want to attend it," said Julian Givi, an assistant professor of marketing at West Virginia University. "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, if people kind of worry a little bit too much about these negative ramifications ... do they actually exist?"

The study seeking this truth consisted of two groups: the inviters and the invitees. With more than 2,000 participants, and five rounds of experiments, members of each group were asked to imagine themselves in various real and hypothetical situations.

Inviters, for example, were told to imagine they asked someone to come to a social outing — like getting dinner or going to a museum — and how they would feel if the person said no. The findings were clear.

"Invitees have exaggerated concerns about how much the decline will anger the inviter, signal that the invitee does not care about the inviter, make the inviter unlikely to offer another invitation in the future," the study found.

"This asymmetry emerges in part because invitees exaggerate the degree to which inviters focus on the decline itself, as opposed to the thoughts that ran through the invitee's head before deciding."

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How to say no

That isn't to say that you should go about rejecting invites willy-nilly. Givi offered some tips on how to respectfully decline an offer.

  1. Give a reason instead of just an outright "no."
  2. If you're invited to an event with an expected cost — like dinner or a show — mention that in your reasoning for not being able to attend. Givi said that people will be more understanding and less likely to pressure you.
  3. Respectfully decline, but offer an alternative activity in the future to show them you still care and value that relationship.

Social expectations aside, there are plenty of understandable reasons why someone might want to skip an expensive party, trip or gathering. Last year, it was estimated by lending platform LendTree that Americans were taking on $1,500 in debt to afford their holiday spending.

"That's the biggest number that we've seen since we started looking at this back in 2015," LendTree's chief credit analyst Matt Schulz told NPR. "That's the kind of thing that may take a little bit of time to pay off. And given how small the average American's financial margin for error is, every extra bit of debt matters."

Throw in the stress of bills, inflated prices on goods and the general stress of the holiday season, and some people may just not feel like going out. And that's OK too, said Givi.

"We're declining events not necessarily because we have another commitment or we can't afford to go or whatever, but really we just don't want to go to it," he said. "There's certain events that you just don't want to attend."

Learn more:

Adam Raney, Avery Keatley and Scott Detrow contributed to this story. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
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