You Don’t Have to Take It

When you go to the shoe store, you’ve already decided to spend some money. You know you’ll have a lot of options, some familiar and some not. But you’ve probably also got a price point in mind.

You walk in, the clerk asks if she can help you, and you say yes, you’re looking for some shoes. The clerk smiles, tells you she has just the thing, returns, and opens the box.

“This is a fantastic pair of shoes for you,” she says. “They’re the best in the store.”

You like the shoes — and then you inevitably check the price. It’s five times what you were prepared to pay. Now you’re in a pickle: will you spend the money to relieve the tension of saying no, or will you say no to relieve the tension of spending much more than you planned?

It’s tricky enough at the shoe store. You didn’t know you wanted shoes like that. What if the salesperson is disappointed? What if you’re disappointed with a pair that’s within your budget?

It’s much more difficult when the stakes and the sale and the relationships are less clear than they are in a shoe store. What happens, for example, when the boss offers you an undreamed-of opportunity that will nevertheless cost more time, money, or energy than you’d budgeted? In that case, you know you’ll have to face the salesperson again tomorrow — and she’ll still be your boss.

Most of the tension in these situations comes from personal dynamics, and many of those dynamics are driven by uncertainty. Faced with a choice you didn’t expect, you’re not sure how to respond, and your social brain is doing a million calculations a minute to figure out what the right thing is.

The truth is, you don’t have to take what’s on offer. And the best way to reduce the tension is to depersonalize and clarify the situation: “Thanks for the offer. I’m honored, but I ran the numbers, and it doesn’t fit my budget right now.” At that point, the tension is reversed: the salesperson can either figure out how to make the sale fit your budget, find another option to sell, or walk away.