Etiquette School is in session! > "I'm afraid that won't be possible."

Help write a script

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Since the new topic of "Etiquette School Is In Session" has been launched, I have an idea I have been thinking about for a while.  It would be a folder where people could post a story about a situation they are having where they need to have a certain conversation with someone, but are not sure how to phrase it.  Dr. Phil does this in one of his advice columns, and I find his scripts to be a great model of how difficult conversations should go.

It could be a situation where someone is taking advantage of you, and you have let it go on too long without objecting, or someone has hurt your feelings unintentionally, and you have never said anything about it. 

This folder would be for people who are having conflicts with others who are important in their lives, who they do not want to end the relationship with, but don't know how to ask for what they need in order for the relationship to continue on terms they can live with.  Some of us were never taught the correct way to defend ourselves in a constructive way and could benefit from having the appropriate words taught to us.  This is not a place for one line responses like "no is a complete sentence".  It is to teach each other how to handle distinct situations in an assertive manner, and how to overcome objections the other party may raise.

I'll start:  I have set a precedence with my SIL where we agree on plans and then she routinely cancels them at the last minute.  I have been much too accommodating about rescheduling the activities to another time, which also is sometimes cancelled. These are usually plans she initiates, not something I have asked her to do and she just did not feel like doing in the first place.  I need an assertive script to tell her how inconvenient this actually is to me, even though I have been overly accommodating in the past.  Can someone write a script for me on how to change the precedent I have set?

Anyone else have a situation they need help in expressing themselves about?

How exactly are you too accommodating to your SIL?  Is it that you always reschedule at her convenience, or something else?  If she calls to cancel plans at the last minute, you could respond something like this:

SIL: I'm sorry CreteGirl, but XYZ has come up and I can't meet up with you today.  Can we reschedule for next weekend?
CreteGirl: No, I'm actually very busy next weekend.  I was going to take care of some things this weekend, but we made plans, so I put it off until next weekend and I can't put it off any longer.  I'll just have to see you some other time.

If she insists that you make more plans, you can just tell her that you'll call her sometime when you have a free weekend, but you're just booked for the foreseeable future.  I don't think you ought to be specific about what you're doing, either, just make it clear that you're busy.  The key is that you should only call her when it's convenient for you, and you shouldn't schedule anything on her timetable unless it is also works for you.

And you might try having a backup that doesn't require any planning (like taking the day to clean, or spending the day with a good book or gardening or something).

I hope this has been helpful.  I have the same problem you do, with friends canceling at the last minute, and my bending over backwards to accommodate them.

Usually what happens is we make plans, and then she calls and says she can't make it for whatever reason.  We don't necessarily reschedule the plans at that time.  I like your idea of not rescheduling for a while afterwards. 

What you said is exactly true, in each instance I have rearranged my weekend plans to make plans with her.  There is actually never a weekend where I don't have a lot to do, because I work full time with a long commute, have a teenage son, and have the responsibility of doing shopping, errands, bill paying, etc. for my Mom, who is too ill to do these things for herself.  So I have to schedule my time carefully to fit everything in.  When I rearrange everything to get together with someone and they cancel, it throws my whole schedule off, and makes everything unnecessarily difficult.

When she calls to cancel/reschedule:

"You can't make it? Really? Wow. I rescheduled a lot of my own plans in order to do this with you." Pause. She might apologize (riiiight) or she might say "Well, let's just do it next Saturday," to which you can reply "No, that won't work for me. I told you I had to reschedule a lot of my own plans, so now next Saturday is full. Maybe some other time." And then I'd be "too busy" to schedule anything with her for a looong time.

Maybe you should just preemptively be too busy for awhile.  It sounds like you have a really full schedule, and most if it doesn't sound like things you can let slide.

I'm not sure if it would help, since I don't know your SIL, but perhaps she doesn't realize just how busy you actually are?  That's giving her the benefit of the doubt, which I'm not sure she really deserves.  No matter how busy you are or aren't, it's still rude to constantly cancel plans at the last minute.

I've known people who do this, and I can only assume (after a very long time) that they must not think about or care about my feelings on the matter.  Or my time, if it comes to that.  With those people, I can't make them care, so I schedule plans with the assumption (on my end) that they probably won't actually happen.  It's not a very nice thing to do, but I haven't been able to come up with anything better.  With some of those people, I've actually just stopped trying to see them at all.

It's probably hard to just stop talking to your SIL, since she is a part of your family, but if you go a long time without seeing her (or even trying to see her), you then have a chance to explain why when she comments on it.  It gives you a chance to tell her, "Well, SIL, I love spending time with you, but I can't rearrange every Saturday in a month to accommodate you.  I've got a lot of other things I have to do, and when you kept canceling our plans at the last minute, I had to stop making them or I wouldn't get all of the other things done."

I still think it might be good to try and schedule some "backup" things that don't require anybody but you.  That way, if you can't meet up with your SIL, you're not wasting the time, either.


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