The Polite No

When someone expects something out of you, and tells you explicitly, there is the chance for the moderate solution that can be described as “the polite no”. When they explicitly tell you that they want something, and for some reason you are either unable or unwilling to give that to them, you can politely refuse and reason out with them as to why you are unable to give them what they want.

On the other hand, if someone expects something out of you but doesn’t explicitly tell you that, that removes the possibility for this beautiful intermediate solution. Firstly there is the problem of guessing – you’ll have to somehow divinely guess that that is what they want. Secondly, if you fail to deliver, there is always the possibility that they ASSUME that you were UNWILLING to deliver, even if the reason you didn’t deliver was that you were UNABLE to do so. And this might lead to some sort of bad blood, or more misunderstanding.

Still, I don’t understand why some people never state what they want out of you. As to why they are being cryptic than being direct. I don’t know if they realize that they are ultimately putting themselves at a loss by means of this lack of communication.

2 thoughts on “The Polite No”

  1. Let’s say that a relationship between two people (not necessarily a romantic / friendly relationship; can be any relation at all) stands at a status quo. One of the parties wants ‘something out of’ the other party. He has two alternatives,

    1. To explicitly state what he wants
    2. To wait for the other party to divinely guess it. In this case, the first party can, of course, facilitate the happening of such divinity by a mechanism of hints (some mild, some not so mild)

    If he chooses option 1, the first party assigns a probability ‘p1’ to the event of getting that something out of the second party; a probability ‘p2’ of getting a ‘polite no’ and status quo being maintained; a probability ‘p3’ of getting a ‘polite no’ and things becoming worse (than the status quo level) for him; and a probability ‘p4’ of getting a ‘not-so-polite-no’ and things becoming far worse for him.

    The utility that he expects to receive by getting ‘something out of’ the second party being U1, (with a probability p1), and the disutility he expects to occur because of being told ‘no’ being U2, U3, U4 (with probabilities p2, p3, p4), he will choose to ‘not state what he wants’ if p1U1 < (p2U2 + p3U3 + p4U4).

    However, if he goes for option 2, then apart from not having to risk 'rejection', additionally he gets brownie points for being unassuming and caring of the second party's utility. It is assumed that the second party will have some disutility on giving that 'something out to' the first party, since the second party wasn't doing it voluntarily in the first place, despite facilitation by the first party through hints, etc.

    In the subset of cases I'm trying to fit the situation in, the economy of the first party is unaffected by whether the second party is unwilling, or unable to give 'something out to' the first party. And hence, the 'intermediate beautiful solution' isn't significantly more beautiful to incentivise first party to be explicit.

    In summary, if the status-quo isn't too unfavourable, then going for option 1 will probably not represent a risk-reward ratio attractive enough to merit going for it.

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