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Experts Explain How To ~Politely~ Turn Down Social Invites During Lockdown

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Following the public address from Boris Johnson on May 10, in which he discussed a potential framework for loosening the lockdown, some people are choosing to begin making moves to return to life pre the coronavirus crisis. This might mean deciding to go ahead with previously made plans or creating new ones to replace missed milestones. However, the government has stated that group gatherings are still very much a no-no, so if you've been invited to something you know shouldn't technically be happening, here's how to say no. Because politely declining social events during lockdown can be a bit of a manners minefield.

The UK's new "Stay Alert" motto, along with the PM's May 10 address was heavily criticised for its lack of clarity. However, what we do know is that hanging with a group of people outside your household is still not allowed. And although many are intending to continue adhering to social distancing rules, there are some people choosing not to cancel weddings, birthdays, baby showers etc., which leaves their attendees in an awkward positions. So how do you say no without causing any unnecessary upset?

In the interest of getting the best advice possible, I reached out to the professionals – expert in all things etiquette William Hanson and behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings – for their help.

Pick up the phone

Hanson is known as a trusted authority on etiquette and civility, as well as being the Executive Director of The English Manner, the UK’s most established etiquette and protocol consultancy. So needless to say, he knows how to say no in the politest way possible.

"These things are always best done on the telephone, perhaps a voice-only call so you can be spared seeing any of their pained facial expressions," he advises.

Let them know you're sad to miss out

"When communicating your decision," Hanson explains, "the first thing is to acknowledge and stress how disappointed you are to be missing the event and how in usual circumstances you’d be there."

Explain your reasoning

According to Hanson, it's best to explain your reasoning and be prepared to have evidence to back up your point. "Say that, after seeking advice from others (no need to say who), you have chosen to prioritise your own health and the health of the other people you may come into contact with at the event. Then stress again how much this decision upsets you but how you hope they will understand and accept your reasons."

Hemmings agrees, but takes a bit of a stronger stance. Like Hanson, she believes you should explain why you won't be attending but, if the host won't accept your reasoning, it's "their issue not yours," she says. "You shouldn't be questioned or judged."

Book in another date

Although saying no in these circumstances is a bit of a no brainer for a lot of people (maybe even for the individual hosting the event), it's always disappointing to hear your nearest and dearest won't be attending – especially if its a special milestone.

Hanson says the remedy for this is letting the person know you're keen to mark the occasion in another way once some semblance of normality has returned. "If you want to you can say you will treat them to a special dinner or night out to mark the occasion." And, he says, you could also send a present the day of the event to show you're thinking of them.

Future events

So what if the event is in a few months time? As nobody knows what the future holds, Hemmings says that there's no harm in giving a "provisional yes" at this point. In other words, you're not fully committing to attending the event but you're also saying you'll go if you can.

So there you have it. Now go forth and RSVP.