If we are friendly and agreeable people, this question can be difficult to navigate. Our tendency is to follow through on what is requested. So we explain ourselves.
If we are a collaborative person dealing with a difficult person, we may have this fantasy that they are asking us so they can get on board with our version of the truth.
This will backfire because they are:
- not listening and using the time that you’re explaining to rev themselves up to argue why you should do what they want
- listening for ways of logically showing you that your excuse is invalid or less important than their request
- looking for an edge to make you feel guilty or obligated.
Here’s what I’ve learned to say when that difficult someone insists on an explanation.
I simply ask them: “Why do you need to know that?” Be aware of your tone of voice and body language when you ask the question.
The key to doing this right is to remain calm and curious and to remind yourself that you are entitled to say no. Whether this person is your teenager, mother-in-law, difficult colleague or boss, you will always be the winner if you remain calm and curious.
If this person becomes upset and insists on an answer in an aggressive manner, point out that you perceive them to be angry. Be prepared to listen with compassion to their answer (or rant). We can empathize or validate their feelings without giving in to unreasonable demands.
Then calmly repeat that you will not be able to help them on this, without explaining it. Just say that it is impossible and walk away.
Obviously, only you can discern what the consequences of your “No” will be. If this is someone that the word “no” incites drama or an emotional threat, unless they are your child, rethink whether you should still be around this person!