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How to Let People Down Gently

by Maura Banar

Letting someone down, no matter how genuine the reasoning, is never easy but it's sometimes necessary. Committing yourself past your available energy and resources is a fast track to stress-related conditions such as insomnia and hypertension, explains the Mayo Clinic. Letting someone down in a way that softens the blow can make a difficult explanation less stressful for both parties involved. In addition, remaining kind and respectful when turning someone down can reduce the impact of your words on their emotions. This provides the ideal foundation for a win-win situation, in spite of the disappointment.

Be gentle, but direct. In the context of letting someone down, it's important to use "I" before making a statement, in order to be clear that you are sharing feelings and letting someone down without judgment or blame. Statements that are assertive are also concrete and specific and letting someone down would include identifying clear reasons why you are saying "no."

Have a conversation, rather than providing an explanation. Although you might feel a sense of responsibility for the feelings of someone you've just let down, it's important that the other person is given an opportunity to speak. According to the University of Illinois Counseling Center, you can encourage the recipient of your polite "no" to share their thoughts and feelings by asking simple questions such as "Is that clear?" This shows the other person that their feelings are being considered, despite the negative nature of your discussion.

Choose an appropriate setting for letting someone down gently. If you aren't close with the individual you are letting down, consider meeting in a public place such as a restaurant or coffeehouse. If you feel that you know the person well enough and prefer some privacy, meeting at a local park or your home may be more appropriate. It isn't always possible to predict what someone's reaction will be to being let down and emotions may flare and make one or both of you feel uncomfortable.

Include positive, affirming statements about the person while you also let them down. This approach is commonly used by individuals in the field of sales, because it balances the perceived negative content with positive content. When turning the person down, begin by letting them know that you respect them and they are giving, pleasant, fun, or something similar. Don't embellish how you describe the person, because you risk appearing less credible. Losing credibility can lead the other person to have a more catastrophic reaction, particularly if they realize that you are not being completely honest.

About the Author

Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.

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