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Dealing with Rejection Part 2: Saying No to Others

How to convey your disinterest to others respectfully and persuasively.

Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor

After a brief break, I'm back to resume our discussion of "rejection". In part 1 of this series, I spoke about managing when others reject your dating request. This time, I will provide some advice on how to properly convey disinterest in a date request from someone else.

Again, this topic may seem elementary, but it is very important. The misconceptions, bad behavior, and hard feelings surrounding rejection can create difficulty for all involved. So, it can be valuable to learn how to say "no" with a bit of tact, care, and etiquette for all involved.

Why Saying No Correctly is Difficult

Turning down a date request from others can be a tricky process. There are often psychological dynamics pulling at people from both sides...

First, there is Empathy and Altruism. People all have a natural tendency to connect and identify with others. When they want to say no to others, they may remember a time when someone "said no" to them and the discomfort it caused. Or, they may not want to hurt others' feelings. Such empathy and altruism can make it difficult to be assertive and say no to a request. It can also make the person saying no feel bad about doing so. Therefore, it can be hard for some to be assertive, to say no, and to uphold their own interests when asked.

Second, there is also a psychological tendency to bias the attributions about the requester. The Fundamental Attribution Error illustrates that individuals are likely to attribute the behavior of others to disposition or personality, as opposed to situational factors (Ross, 1977). In other words, when an individual is disinterested in the offer of another person (a behavior), he/she is more likely to attribute that disinterest to a characteristic of the requester (e.g. they seem unattractive, boring, or uncomfortable), rather than to factors within themselves or the situation (e.g. they are in a bad mood, disinterested, or distracted). So, there is a bias to blame the requester for not liking the request - even though many other factors often actually cause the disinterest.

Finally, there are also Downward Social Comparison processes that can even make some people feel good when they view others badly. This has been studied particularly in instances of racism, but it certainly applies to other forms of prejudice (Fein & Spencer, 1997). Essentially, people can get a self-esteem "boost" from putting others down (like when they "reject" others harshly). This is especially likely to occur when they are feeling badly about themselves, or are not thinking about the situation fully (e.g. distracted, drunk, etc.).

Put it all together...and that is a recipe for a very difficult interpersonal situation. If someone is not interested in a date request, it can feel bad or difficult to say no while empathizing with the person asking. There is an automatic psychological bias to incorrectly blame the requester's personal characteristics for being disinterested in the request. Also, there can even be a temptation for a self-esteem boost by devaluing the other person, while exercising the "power" to say no. No wonder, even with the best of intentions, it often goes so badly...

How to Say No Well

So, we have found that the deck is initially psychologically stacked to not handle "saying no" well - and often to "hesitate", "judge", "dislike", or "cut down" the requester for no good reason. However, as we all know, such behaviors are not ideal. Furthermore, psychological explanations don't condone them. However, such explanations do offer an understanding of why those behaviors occur - and a process to make doing the right thing easier.

Once you understand what is going on psychologically, saying no politely and taking the feelings of the requester into consideration can be accomplished with ease. Essentially, it is the same process as changing any "habitual" or even "prejudiced" behavior to a more functional alternative (Devine, 1989). Just follow these steps:

1) Stop and think - All of the processes above occur automatically and influence reactive behavior. So, do not react before thinking. Take a minute to reflect first.

2) Consider your reaction - Are you falling into any of the "traps" above. Is empathy making you uncomfortable, feel bad, or hesitate to say no? Are you blaming the requester for your feelings? Are you judging others unfairly? Are you planning on saying something mean that the situation doesn't warrant? If so, take a moment to note these biases and how they are skewing your reaction.

3) Choose a better behavior - Is there a courteous option you can think of to decline their offer? Can you think of a better way to handle the situation that is respectful and non-judgmental for both you and them? If so, implement it. Remember, you can rarely go wrong with just being assertive, saying "no thank you", and walking away.

4) Uphold your own interests too - Ultimately, you are always within your right to say no. Remember that too. Being courteous or empathetic does not mean you have to say yes. Rather, when you are genuinely disinterested, it means trying to say no with as little judgment, disrespect, and hard feelings as possible. Certainly though, if a requester is being disrespectful, then it is appropriate to assert yourself more fully. But, unless that occurs, keep it civil, non-judgmental, and appropriate. Just say "no thanks" and move on.


Dating can be a difficult process. It isn't easy to muster up the courage to ask someone out. Receiving such a request can be flattering - but also difficult to decline at times too. Try to avoid the psychological traps that can make it harder. When you get a request you'd like to decline, take a minute to think about your reaction. Note where the above biases might be creeping in. Choose a behavior that is useful and respectful for both you and the requester. In the end, this will allow you to uphold your interests, respect others, and have a more fulfilling dating experience.

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Until next time...happy dating and relating!

Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor

Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor


  • Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(1), 5-18.
  • Fein, S., & Spencer, S.J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 31-44.
  • Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (vol. 10, pp. 173-220). New York: Academic Press.

© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.