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How to Say No to “Grabbing Coffee”

As people begin to re-emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re all bound to get more networking invitations and requests for our time. We all face a unique opportunity to reset how we invest our time. In our ultra-connected lives, if we don’t clear space for what is most essential, our aspirations will take a backseat to our inboxes. So rather than begrudgingly agreeing to meet someone or endlessly postponing social plans that you’re less than enthusiastic about, know that there are alternatives. It’s all about thinking through the values you want to bring to your work life.

After taking a year away from the ways you once socialized, you may be realizing you’re more of an introvert than you previously thought, or that you prefer spending time with your family, on your hobbies, or doing deep work, rather than participating in work-related social commitments. That’s OK. During this time of transition following the Covid-19 pandemic, as more of us get vaccinated and we begin to venture out, we all face a unique opportunity to reset how we invest our time.

So rather than begrudgingly agreeing to meet someone or endlessly postponing social plans that you’re less than enthusiastic about, know that there are alternatives.

Of course, in the moment, saying yes to an invite or opting for a softer no, with a response like, “So busy! Let’s be in touch in a few weeks!” may feel easier than flat-out declining. Yet as your guilt mounts and leads to a reluctant meeting, you may wish you had an effective way to decline warmly and transparently. Those ways do exist. When we’re interacting, we all face various and at times overlapping priorities: what we actually want — in this case, to pass on an invite; how we want to feel about ourselves; and how we want the person we’re engaging with to feel about us. The good news is that it’s possible to maintain your self-respect and your relationships even if you turn down an invitation. Here’s how.

Pinpoint your values before requests arrive in your inbox.

Instead of automatically scheduling when you get an invite, consider what feels essential this quarter — and beyond. If you’re dreading returning to the office, take some time to reflect on how you want to show up in your life as you re-enter. Ask yourself a few key questions to home in on what will feel most meaningful to you. What do you miss most from the time before Covid-19? What would you like to leave behind as you establish your new routine? Having a sense of autonomy and purpose not only helps you feel empowered but also improves your ability to manage your emotions.

Map out a budget — for your life.

Think beyond what has happened in the past year and a half and get to the crux of what you want by asking yourself this: If you had one year left to live (which may not sound so improbable, given everything we’ve been through and how many lives were cut short), how would you spend your time? Working more or less? If the answer is the latter, think about the various facets of your life, whether they pertain to your health, your family, your relationships, your career, your community, your spirituality, or your contributions to the world at large. Then set specific intentions and goals within each category. As with any budget, the more precise you are, the likelier you are to meet your aims.

Next, think about the values you want to bring to your work life. Then ask yourself how much time you can realistically allocate to a work-related rendezvous before you shortchange other domains that matter to you. Don’t just consider the time involved; also think about the sort of socializing that feels most meaningful or productive for you. For example, you may reflect on the fact that you most want to help people who have lost their jobs or support those with less access to mentorship, which may mean cutting back on unspecific catch-up lunches with acquaintances (there are other ways to nourish your collegial relationships, after all, such as sending a thoughtful email). You may realize that devoting more than one night a week to a work dinner deprives you of being able to spend time with a loved one or on a passion project. If you are undecided, sketch out a decision tree to help guide you before you’re confronted with invites. The goal isn’t to be a misanthrope; it’s to clear the way for what is most meaningful to you. In our ultra-connected lives, if we don’t clear space for what is most essential, our aspirations will take a back seat to our in-boxes.

Ask yourself whether social anxiety is keeping you from engaging.

As you’re planning, ask yourself if your social worries are getting in the way of moving in the direction you want to go. It’s understandable to feel socially awkward, especially if you’ve been struggling emotionally and assume that others have been thriving. If you find that you’re anxious after you make plans and then again when you’re with others, or if you’re acutely self-conscious and replay perceived faux pas following a get-together, you can ease your stress by working on your social worries. Many people who experience social anxiety disorder find relief with cognitive behavioral therapy.

If you say yes, then tru

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