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Saying No
Mom with a View

Saying No

What to do when the person won't take no as the answer.


My husband and I like to explore different neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Each one has a unique flavor, an individual look – and even a type of person that frequents the area. It makes a great “date afternoon” – and the price is right. Unless we spend too long inside some of those funky boutiques we pass…

The other day we walked in to a little jewelry store. The owner, noticing my husband’s yarmulke, began to speak in Hebrew. He was Israeli – and friendly – and the sales pitch began. He was creating a relationship with us and it was very hard to resist. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he was in fact happy to have some fellow Jews walk into the store (and we are such a charming couple!) but he also wanted to sell me some earrings. And he kept showing me pair after pair after pair…I felt guilty not buying anything and we barely escaped with our bank balance intact. What is the best way to handle such a situation? It’s hard to be friendly but firm.

A variation on this theme occurred when I was at a local mall picking up some Chanukah presents. A vendor from a small kiosk approached me claiming he only wanted to ask me some questions about the holiday. Ever the Jewish educator, I eagerly responded to his queries. But as soon as the questions ended, he began to describe his product to me. I tried to extricate myself politely but when that didn’t work, I finally just walked away, with the vendor yelling after me.

Was I rude? Friendly but firm did not seem to work.

And speaking of extricating myself politely, it’s a particular challenge with telemarketers and phone solicitations from charitable organizations. I know they are trying to make a living and I applaud them for it. I know it’s a tough way to earn an income and I respect them even more. But how do you communicate no? I feel like I’m negotiating for a carpet in a Middle Eastern shuk. How about $36? $18 $10? How about I just send you an envelope and you pay when you’re ready? How about…?

I really, really don’t want to hang up the phone on another human being. I know they are only following a script. But how do I communicate a definitive no without being rude? Without feeling guilty?

Don't be pressured into spending money, but act with caring and concern.

Financial transactions skew relationships and it’s hard to get it right. For many years, a close friend of mine was a travel agent (now there’s an almost passé term). She was always upset when her friends didn’t book their trips through her. But she was also upset when they did – and came to her with all their complaints and requests for refunds. Or how about the story I heard the other day from another friend who is a real estate agent? After months of negotiating the sale of a home to some friends, they went behind her back and approached the seller directly, robbing my friend of her commission and such direly needed income.

I’m searching for a magic answer to these dilemmas. Is there a “just right” way to walk away? A “one size fits all” method of getting off the phone?

Or is it like everything else? It depends on the situation. We need to be guided by our good sense and good values. We can’t allow ourselves to be pressured to spend money we don’t want to or don’t have – even for a charitable organization – yet we still need to be friendly and courteous to the person on the other end.

It’s not that easy being polite under some of these circumstances. Sometimes we lose our temper. Sometimes we erupt in frustration. But if we exercise self-control, if we act with caring and concern, then we have made a Kiddush Hashem; we have sanctified the Almighty’s name.

We don’t have to engage in heroic acts to make a difference in the world. We just have to behave with common decency – which is much less easy than it sounds. And because it’s difficult, it’s the true test of character and the true test of a people. This is a small but significant way to be a light unto the nations.

December 11, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 17

(17) Rochel, December 19, 2010 5:42 AM

Isn't there a halacha...

that you can not go into a store if you know that you will not buy anything. You are not obligated to purchase from that seller, but I believe that you need to have an honest intention to purchase something that the seller sells (or you think that they miught sell) eventually and from someone. Otherwise you are getting their hopes up. You can just not answer the phone. Caller I.D. exists for a reason. But sometimes tzedaka collectors come to my door. Some even walk in without knocking, and you can believe that they get a good knocking when I am through with them. I live in an all Jewish building, B"H and on several occasions a woman just walked into my apartment asking for money. Another man comes around Pesach at 11 or 12 at night. When I tell him that it is rude for him to come so late he says he thought we were all up cleaning. The chutzpah is just mind boggeling. Although there are some wonderful people who are always kind and ask in a way that makes me want to give to them. Sometimes I feel like people just want to take advantage of me because they see a shaitle and figure that they can get something from me. Tzedaka is a great mitzvah. Not always easy.

(16) SheppingNachas, December 15, 2010 6:07 PM

Value the person, decline the sales pitch

Having had personal experiences with telemarketing (my mother fundraised for years while we were growing up and I worked for a wholesaler in telesales for a bit) I have have conflicting feelings about these calls. On one hand, I hate the phone calls. They disturb my family time and no, I will not contribute/purchase/etc. Yet this is someone's job. The economy is bad and someone is trying to earn a living. My ongoing dilemma has been how to get the person off the phone expeditiously while still valuing them as a tzelem elokim (p. created in G-d's image). Recently I have begun saying, "Look I know this is your job and a I wish you much success with your next phone calls however, I cannot/donot want/willnot do ---- please take me off of your list and have a great evening" and I hang up. I have heard that many telemarketers are not allowed to hang up first; they need to continue to try to sell as long as there is a person on the other end of the line.

(15) Sharon, December 15, 2010 4:01 AM

The Harassment from Jewish Tzedakahs

I often feel harassed by tzedakahs from organizations that aren't even in my city. When I politely tell them that they should send me an envelope and I or my husband will decide they continue to press. I actually have told some of them that if this is how they solicit for tzedaka then they are comitting a chilul hashem - no one should be harassed! There are actually times when I have been forced to hang up on the person...I have been left with no choice. Do these people really get what they want?

(14) Raisy, December 14, 2010 11:20 PM

Walking into a store

Although entering a store does not obligate you to buy, it does indicate more interest than if a telemarketer interrups you in your own home. I try not to enter stores when I know I will not buy anything. If I do, I make sure to tell the salespeople (if they come up to me) that I'm 'only looking...' I don't want to mislead people. I don't feel guilt about telling a telemarketer, "I'm sorry, I'm not interested in product/have no time to complete survey, etc."

(13) Anonymous, December 14, 2010 11:20 PM

I can relate so much to Emuna Braverman's comments. I also love her writing style. She should know that whenever I see the articles, I scroll to read hers first! Thanks for the delightful article, plus the keen insight.

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