As women, we’re often trained to be accommodating. In this month’s piece, “Self-Care: Buying Ourselves a Little Time,” Max Daniels talks about “buffer phrases.” Interesting!
I agree that a Buffer Phrase can be a useful tool, with a major caveat: You cannot use an alternate phrase to only say “no”. People, especially people who know you well, or demand things from you often, will catch on.
I think of it as the “let me think about it” syndrome when I was a kid. When my mom said that, I knew the answer was “No,” but she didn’t want to argue about it. That phrase filled me with dread and disappointment. Because “let me think about it” meant she’d already thought about it, and that all I was going to get later was a lecture about why I wasn’t going to get something I’d asked for.
So, if you’re actually going to “think about it,” “check the calendar,” “get back to you,” or whatever, that’s fine, but you should do the thing you’re saying in your buffer phrase. And you should use the same buffer phrase regardless of what your answer will eventually be (especially if you’re going to say yes!). Otherwise, basically you’re just lying to the person you’re dealing with in order to postpone whatever repercussions are going to happen as a result of saying No, and your friends and family will eventually catch on.
Friends, colleagues and acquaintances often ask “can you do me a favour?” It’s all too easy to say “yes, of course” before knowing what the favour is… sometimes it’s something simple, sometimes something that doesn’t sit well with me or is a real inconvenience. What to do when you’ve already piped up “yes of course” to a real humdinger? When someone asks me for a favour I always respond “I will if I can”. No one has ever taken offense and it buys you some time and you always get to know about the request before committing. It didn’t come naturally - I had to practice in front of the mirror
When my kids were young and I realized that if you have kids in the pipeline you need to be there, too, I was usually way over-subscribed, I saw on the cover of a women’s magazine this amazing phrase: Stress is when your brain says ‘NO’ and your mouth says 'YES". I eventually did learn to cut back, but mostly when I went to graduate school (Computer science) and had something I loved doing that made it easy to say no right off the bat. My new theory (testing now that I am retired) is to make sure I have something going on that I love to do and that makes it easier. I can still take time to think about a request and run it past family, but unless it provides something special, I can also say ‘NO, so sorry’ more easily. Just check it out with the BRAIN before letting the MOUTH take over.
Boundaries are a huge deal for me. I learned very early on to set them and stick to them for my own well-being.
Most of the time, I use a buffer phrase when I legit need to have a think or check my calendar.
But every once in a while at work, someone wants a call same day. This is a huge pet peeve of mine and I pretty much won’t do it unless it is mission critical. So I say something like, “unfortunately I have a full schedule, but I can chat tomorrow at whatever.” Sometimes I do have a full schedule, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have allocated most of my time to a large project, or plan to leave early. While this is disingenuous, I need it for my sanity. I think it is hugely disrespectful of someone to expect you to drop everything and get on a call when it isn’t strictly necessary.
The big thing I do to buy time is block out my calendar for important things like the gym, yoga and my lunchtime knitting group. My team shares calendars to facilitate scheduling, which is awesome. But if you don’t carve out any “me” time you have during the week, people will schedule you for stuff. They are all private appointments, so only I know that I can’t do that conference call because I am knitting on Tuesdays at noon, or going to the gym at 7a. Works great.
Respect! I love this.
But … what if do they catch on?
Lots of people, and even whole cultures, don’t like using the direct no. And it’s understood as a politeness.
I suspect that if someone’s willing to jam you because you’re being indirect or buying yourself time, they’re just not willing to take no for an answer. Which, unless they’re under 5, is a whole other order of problem.