Situation: An acquaintance is in town and wants to meet. You'd rather gnaw off your left arm than devote any time to her right now, but don't want to end the relationship. How do you beg off?
What to Say: Don't lie. The moment you do and say you'll be at x, y, or z, you know you'll run into the person at q. Offer a blanket response rather than a specific scheduling conflict.
Situation: Someone you never want to see again keeps asking to meet up. What can you say, as kindly as possible, to ensure that you will never hear from him or her again?
What to Say: Here you want to be very clear; a little discomfort now will spare you both the pain of more calls later.
Situation: The dishes are piling up in the sink; the sales report is overdue; nobody has taken out the recycling in weeks; or you're working overtime to make up for other slackers. How can you get a housemate or coworker to start pulling his weight?
What to Say: The first thing to do is some research: Identify exactly what the person was supposed to do and what he has actually done. Then present your findings in terms of a busted contract.
Situation: How do you deliver bad news—death, firing, breakup, arrest—as painlessly as possible?
What to Say: Here's the thing: Everybody wishes there were some magic words that would make bad news somehow less bad. There aren't. Our experts say the best you can do is be honest, to the point, and sympathetic. One line of warning helps; try saying "There's something upsetting that I need to tell you." — Douglas Stone, coauthor of Difficult Conversations
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