The second step of the dance is the approval or rejection. This has been done to death, but some of the information out there does not prioritise clear information transfer.
When the primary goal is to avoid upsetting the person being rejected, the result can be word salad. When the primary goal is to “let him have it” for daring to make the offer in the first place, the result is verbal escalation at best. Either extreme can have its use in places, but neither conveys a clear, calm, “no,” and both can fail badly in social settings.
The bottom line of approval and rejection should be “let your yeah be yeah, and your no be no”. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and stick to it. All future steps of boundary setting will fall apart if these three basics are not into place.
The acceptance or rejection will be met with a response. This response is significant. The manner in which our decision is received should inform the future of any potential relationship with the asker.
If a rejection is met badly, that is a meaningful data point. Bad or blank reactions can tell us a bit about how well we did at expressing our rejection. If the person is utterly confused, were we maybe too vague? If the person is offended, were we maybe too blunt? More than that, however, these kinds of reaction can tell us a lot about the other person’s disposition. If a person cannot be denied something they want without becoming spiteful, accusatory, hysterical, vulgar, vindictive, manipulative, angry, threatening, whingey, etc. – if a person does not accept our “nos” gracefully and respectfully, basically – that’s a massive red flag.
Bad reactions to our rejections can make us feel bad. However, they shouldn’t. They should tell us that our rejection was a good call. Yes, it can feel terrible when people fly off the handle at us because we didn’t oblige them. However, there is no upside to engaging further or more intimately with someone with whom we will have to fight every time we are unwilling or unable to give them every damn thing they want. In fact, Richard Grannon (http://spartanlifecoach.com) recommends the use of small “nos” to test a person’s attitude and particularly to screen out narcissists.
There’s the rub: when we focus solely on the activities of the person setting the boundaries and how well they are performing, it’s easy to forget that for an adult to throw a hissy fit because they can’t get their way is far from normal. We also forget to mention that if the group as a whole reacts unusually badly to any of its members being denied their wishes, that’s a red flag about the entire group. Do we really want to be part of any group where our good standing is predicated on never, ever saying no?
Responding to the response.
The very last stage of this process is our response to how our no was received. Based on their behaviour, we might decide that the person in question is someone we still want to retain in our life, albeit in a restricted capacity; we can carry on as we are, basically. If they behave at all badly, however, we may decide that we do not want them around at all. Their reaction to our rejection is their own responsibility, and a reflection of their personality.
I must reiterate this: people who play fast-and-loose with our consent are not safe to be around. In particular, telling someone who flipped their lid, resorted to manipulative tactics, or in any way tried to coerce us into dating them that “we can still be friends” is staking an awful risk. They have already demonstrated a lack of either understanding or interest in our consent: why should we expect that to change? If we do want to keep them in our lives, we need to be mindful that they could try to overcome our consent again, and plan accordingly. As Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”