It’s been a while since I got a very hard, blunt ‘No’ from a dancer. This weekend, I got to re-experience one when I moved outside my normal genres. I approached a guy who was sitting next to the dance floor. I asked him to dance. He looked me dead in the eye and said “no.”

Which is fine; he doesn’t owe me a dance. And, I have no reason to need an explanation for the ‘no’. But, the manner of this particular ‘no’ actually made me think it was sarcastic at first. He looked me dead in the eye with a scowl as he declined the dance. He maintained straight eye contact immediately after the ‘no’, as if judging my reaction.

I pouted at him because that’s how I typically would respond to a sarcastic ‘no’.

My assumption that such a blunt, borderline-hostile ‘no’ was sarcastic may be because I can be a pretty sarcastic person. Had I been a newcomer, that ‘no’ probably would have really hurt. Not because of the ‘no’ itself, but because it was so very blunt. If I were insecure in my skills, a ‘no’ like that could have killed my confidence to ask again.

Why blunt can be hurtful

When people are super, super blunt or mean about a ‘no’, they tend to be more prone to cause hurt. This is because not being at least a little bit polite or kind with the ‘no’ feels like a shut-down.

For the purposes of this article, I am lumping blunt and mean together. Although the intention behind a blunt or mean ‘no’ may differ, the feeling they create in the recipient is very similar. You can have all the good intentions in the world. But, if you are so blunt that it hurts, you are causing unnecessary pain.

For someone who is a seasoned dancer, it may not hurt very much. A small stun, certainly, but not pain. But for a newcomer, very blunt rejection can lead to feelings of not being welcomed or wanted in the scene. This slows the growth of the scene down and creates bad feelings.

The cost of kindness

Kindness is one of the few things we can give that costs us absolutely nothing. Whether it’s a “No, thank you” or smile, there are ways to reject a dance in a way that doesn’t leave the other person feeling stunned or shut down.

Again, nothing of this is against your right to say ‘no’. But, saying it in a mean way is both unnecessary and destructive.

Promoting the right to say “No”

I’m very glad communities are adopting the idea that ‘no’s are OK. It’s healthier for both parties involved. But, as often happens with groups fighting to change the status quo, some adhere so strictly to the idea they are trying to promote that it can undermine their very success.

This is one of those occasions. If you support the right to say ‘no’, I encourage you to promote kindness with that ‘no’. Otherwise, you’re adding fuel to the very reasons some people support the “Always Say ‘Yes'” idea.

You can support the right to say ‘no’, without using that right to discourage or hurt others. The two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive.

Exceptions to the rule

There are some optional exceptions to the ‘be kind’ rule. For example, there is one dancer who followed me to my hotel room and tried to get me to remove my clothes a few years ago. I most certainly give him a straight, and borderline venomous, ‘no’.

Most of the times, exceptions should be people with whom there is a direct conflict, vulnerability, or other issue that makes a kind ‘no’ seem not strong enough.

But, these exceptions should be rare. Even if the person has a very annoying habit (squeezing hands, being off-time, etc) they still should be treated kindly. Please remember that almost no one wants to be a bad social dance partner; some just don’t know they have a problem.

Will you be kind?

Next time that you feel you want to say ‘no’ to a partner, please consider being kind when you say it. That doesn’t mean you have to give an excuse, but it does mean considering the other person’s feelings and doing your best to be polite and kind.