Key 45. You are not obliged to give a reason.

Many of us grow up thinking we are obliged to justify the decisions we make. But when we make a decision, most of the time we don’t have to justify it.

We might be willing to justify our decision, and that’s fine. But there are times when we don’t want to provide a reason, and it’s at those times we can refuse to give one.

Yes, if a parent, partner or boss asks why we made our decision, we have to answer them. But in most other instances in life we don’t have to give a reason. Who says we have to? Who says we have to go through life supplying evidence to prove our decisions are valid? For how many years will we need their approval before we are granted the dignity of having our decisions respected without argument? Answer: every year we are alive, unless we change.

Things will only change when we change. The problem is not with the other people. They’re just people in the same little boat we are in, trying their best to feel comfortable. The problem rests with us. If we think we are obliged to justify all the decisions we make, we have some growing up to do.

When we do finally realise that we don’t have to justify ourselves, that we don’t have to seek other people’s approval, we start to see ourselves as adult, as people deserving of respect. And in the process, we begin to recognise our self-worth. After all, if we are making decisions without feeling the need to justify them, it means we realise that we are the boss of our life.

There is no stronger position in life we can take.

There is a further advantage: by not giving a reason, the other person doesn’t get to argue the point. We can avoid being ‘painted into a corner’ by their ‘logic’.

If you want to decline an invitation and don’t want to give a reason, just say, ‘No, thank you.’

If you reject a salesperson’s suggestion, don’t give a reason. Just say, ‘No, not interested,’ or ‘No, thank you.’

You will feel uncomfortable at first, but when you get good at just saying ‘No, thank you’ or ‘Not interested’, you will feel better about yourself. By focusing on your intention (to decline the suggestion) instead of focusing on appeasing the other person, you establish your position and become harder to budge. You are effectively ‘clinging to the mast’.

After a while, it becomes easy to cling to the mast. And you realise it isn’t a stormy ocean after all – it’s just choppy.

If you want to give a reason, that’s fine. I’m talking about the times when you don’t want to give a reason.

Q. ‘Surely we have to justify some decisions! We can’t live our life being entirely selfish.’
I’m talking about the times in which we feel obliged to justify our decision, but aren’t obliged. A person acting impeccably should not feel obliged to justify their decisions in every instance.

Q. ‘Are there times when it’s a good idea to justify our decisions?’

Of course. If council signs explained why people shouldn’t feed the birds, fewer people would feed the birds.

Example 1. You encounter someone collecting for a charity.

Collector: ‘Please give a donation to assist retired pirates.
You: ‘I don’t believe retired pirates need a helping hand.’  Incorrect. You aren’t obliged to discuss the matter. Try: ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘I decline to give.’
Collector: ‘But their treasure is buried, and they have no superannuation.’

You: ‘I’m not interested.’

Collector: ‘How about a donation to keep their parrots fed?’

You: ‘I’m not interested.’

Collector: ‘Are you interested in anything?’

You: ‘Not in what you have to say.’ Good – you didn’t justify your refusal; you’re not obliged to. You simply kept refusing.

Ben often borrows money but doesn’t pay it back. Here he comes now.

Ben: ‘Can you please lend me $20?’

You: ‘No, I need it for myself.’  Incorrect. Don’t give a reason; Ben will find fault with it. You: ‘No.’

Ben: ‘Why not?’

You: ‘I’m not giving a reason. The answer is no.’    Good.

Ben: ‘But why won’t you lend me $20?’

You: ‘I don’t want to.’  Incorrect. That’s a reason. Try:

You: ‘The answer is no.’

Ben: ‘I’ll pay it back.’

You: ‘Even so, my answer is no.’  Good, acknowledge his claim and say no.
Ben:  ‘I’ve lent you money in the past.’

You: ‘Thanks for that, but my answer is no.’ Good. Rather than debate the point,  you have acknowledged Ben’s claim and said no. You have clung to the mast.

Ben:  ‘Don’t you believe I’ll pay you back?’

You:  ‘What I believe doesn’t matter. I’m not lending you money.’ Good. You’re holding onto that mast tightly.
Ben: ‘It’s only fair that you lend me the money.’

You:  ‘I don’t think so.’ Incorrect. You’re buying into the argument and you will now feel pressure to justify that view. Try:
You: ’I understand that you think that, but my answer is no.’  Good. You have acknowledged his view and said no.
Ben: ‘I need the money desperately.’

You: ‘I understand that you have a desperate need, but the answer is no.’  Good, you have shown Ben you understand he has a serious problem, and again established your position. Ben:  ‘I’ll pay you back tonight.’

You: ‘Even so, I’m not lending you money.’ Good.
Ben:  ‘How about $5?’

You: ‘No. Why don’t you borrow it from your father?’  Incorrect, don’t buy into the argument by trying to solve his problem. Try:
You: ‘I’m not lending you money.’

Ben: ‘Why not?’

You: ‘I don’t wish to give a reason.’

Ben: ‘You’re a lousy human being.

You: ‘I understand that you think that.’  Good. You’ve accepted Ben’s statement without agreeing with it, and without getting into an argument. As for the insult, you can let it slide, or practise sticking up for yourself.

Exercise 1:

Kim: ‘Why aren’t you staying the night?’
You: ‘I choose not to.’
Kim: ‘But why not?
Kim: ‘Just give me one good reason.’
Kim: ‘That’s not a reason. We need to communicate properly.’
Kim: ‘You choose not to? How about a decent explanation?’
Kim: ‘If we talk about it I’ll understand where you are coming from.’
Kim: ‘Is that all you can say?’

That was easy, wasn’t it? Can you see how your refusal to justify your decision gives you power, and adds to your inner authority?
 Yes, the other person is curious, and perhaps distressed, but if you don’t want to give a reason, don’t let yourself be pressured into giving one. If you’re happy to give a reason, fine. Give one.

Exercise 2:

Sales person: ‘You might as well sign up, it will save you heaps of money.’
You: ‘I’m not interested in your product.’
Sales person: ‘Aren’t you interested in saving money?’
Sales person: ‘What’s wrong with saving money?’
Sales person: ‘Everyone in your street has signed up.’
Sales person: ‘Tell me why you’re not interested. Perhaps I can allay your fears.’
Sales person: ‘How about I give you my card in case you change your mind?’
You: ‘No thank you.’ (This is better than taking the card and throwing it into the bin. It’s the difference between being assertive and being wimpy.)

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