I’ve had cause recently to think about how it’s been an ongoing struggle for me to say “no” to people. Strangely, it’s rarely been a problem when I’m dealing with someone I know well. If a family member or friend asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I typically can be honest about not being interested. This problem almost only crops up when dealing with strangers.
It used to be such a problem for me I would genuinely fear picking up the phone or being approached by someone on the street. Making a stranger dislike me was some sort of anathema.
The thing is, they know this. Sales, telemarketing, and in-person fundraising rely on the principle of people not wanting to be rude, not wanting to be disliked by the other person, not wanting to ruin the other person’s day with rejection or potential loss of income. Their reliance on the niceness of strangers prompted Congress to create a do-not-call registry almost exclusively to protect the peace of mind (and pocketbooks) of nice, little old ladies. A cottage industry exists that relies on the niceness, forgetfulness, and gullibility of elderly people. How fucked up is that?
I used to feel so guilty about saying “no” to a salesperson, telemarketer, door-to-door salesman, fundraiser, or even a panhandler that I almost invariably said “yes”. Want to sell me some disgusting, overpriced candy for your band fundraiser? Sure, I’m only 13 years old and have no income aside from my allowance, but I can’t say “no”. Enjoy. You’re a 40-something who has no better option than selling useless crap door-to-door? Well, actually since I’m a 15-year-old who still doesn’t have any income, I physically can’t give you any money for that useless crap, but I will let you relentlessly bully me until you finally give up and go the fuck away. Accosting people on the street of New York to donate to your charity? Be sure to hassle the 17-year-old (again with no income) because older people are mature enough to ignore you.
It’s funny, because I think a major reason why I started to stop feeling guilty about saying “no” or, conversely, ashamed for saying “yes” (that’s really how they get ya; set you up so *you* feel responsible for being weak) is because so many of these people targeted me when I was obviously too young to be able to buy their crap or donate to their charity. It would be nice if someone could pass a law making it illegal to direct door-to-door selling, telemarketing, or chugging to anyone under the age of 18. Although, I guess the outcome of that is a huge number of fleeced 18-year-olds who technically have money to spend/donate, but don’t already have years of experience telling these people to fuck off.
I think the real tipping point for me was this one telemarketing call I made the mistake of picking up my senior year in college. It was a standard bullshit magazine sales pitch, and, thinking back on it, it’s a really stellar example of the type of shit salespeople will pull to pry your money out of your hands. There was never, not once, a discussion over whether I wanted the product he was selling. It was, “You want this, and you’re going to give me your credit card number.” Not being familiar with that kind of aggressive sales tactic and being too afraid to say “no”, I complied. I got stuck with a year of some really shitty magazine subscriptions, a few of which I never received, but, if anything, that was a blessing.
In the following years, I developed various tactics for avoiding these situations in the first place. A major one was training myself not to answer the phone, which was tough when I was still living with roommates and had a landline. While I never forked over my money on demand again, I did waste a lot of my time being polite to fundraisers and telemarketers. Crossing the street became useful, except for when chuggers set up on both sides of the street, naturally. Ignoring them became necessary. On those rare occasions I was guilted or tricked into engaging with someone who wanted the content of my wallet, I finally learned to endure the extreme discomfort of “no”. Over time, rejecting a product I didn’t want finally became a largely guilt-free experience; although much of it happened through anger over having to deal with it at all. Nothing washes away guilt quite like righteous rage over some greedy asshole intruding on your day.
But I still occasionally have that one time per decade that I just can’t get the stomach to say “no”, which brings me to why this topic has fired me up today.
I was obliged to get a new gym membership recently. There were very few gyms to choose from in the neighborhood where I live or the one where I work; so, I just went with one near work. A few things irritated me when I joined, particularly the shady practice some gyms engage in of refusing to discuss their membership fees until *after* you decide to join. (Seriously, any gym that does this is a pile of shit, full stop.) But, like I mentioned, I had slim pickings (I already had experience with the other gym in the area and knew just how bad its sales tactics were), and ultimately the gym wasn’t insanely expensive, so I just rolled with it.
Now, for years, I avoided getting personal training. For one, it has always been too expensive for me. I started getting serious about fitness when I was still chronically underemployed and making all of $10/hour, so personal training at six-eight times my hourly wage was completely out of the question (even now, at three-four times my wage; it’s still out of the question). For two, I prefer to do things my own way on my own terms. I actually kind of hate being instructed. I prefer to read a book or figure things out on my own. For three, I saw at my old gyms what personal trainers had their clients do, and it was obviously bullshit. For four (and this gets into how I’ve gotten smarter about avoiding arm-twisting sales tactics), I always figured that saying “yes” to personal training once would turn you into a mark for the gym. Say “yes” once, and they’re going to treat you like you can never say “no” again. Running the gauntlet of saying “no” to personal training is difficult enough when you first sign up, but let them smell blood in the water? You might as well just sign your bank account over to them.
So, this time, I ran the gauntlet of saying “no” to training, and it was uncomfortable as per usual. The same bullshit claims of efficacy with no proof, the same insistence that you have to do it or you’re going to be fat forever, the multiple occasions of having to say “no” firmly and they refuse to listen. Things are wrapping up, and then the salesperson offers, seemingly offhand as an afterthought, that I should try the “free” personal training they offer. Being momentarily stupid (I’ve always said “no” to the “free” training out of my now-confirmed fear that it’s a scam), I said “yes”. Fuck me.
When the personal trainer contacts me for my “free” training, she mentions that she’s really excited to work with me and that I should start thinking about my goals. Um, what? This is supposed to be a free trial thing, right? Ha! No.
That was my first missed clue that I should have canceled.
At the appointment, she again reasserts her conviction that I am definitely, without a doubt, interested in forking over 20 percent of my monthly income for training. We go through a standard training session, nothing I’m not familiar with and also with compound weight lifting, which I don’t like to do. And again: “You are giving us money; I’m not giving you the opportunity to say no.” Where have I heard this before? This being in person made it even more impossible for me to say “no”. At least with that horrible telemarketer a decade ago, I could have just hung up on him (and the thought did occur to me at the time).
This is really amazing sales, you have to admit it. It takes some real brass balls to railroad someone into buying a luxury product that has no real world use. This is why I’m not in sales.
In the ensuing three sessions, it became even more clear to me that saying “no” to this woman was going to be very difficult. She was very perky and nice, and being “mean” to a perky and nice person does feel a bit like kicking a puppy, but, given that I can’t afford the training and, even if I could, I easily have dozens of things I’d rather spend that money on, I resolved myself, at the very least, not to buy more training. I also grew increasingly uneasy about what I was sure would be an equally obnoxious attempt at railroading me into spending another $500 on something I don’t want.
But the gym supposedly solved the problem by firing that trainer with no advance warning to me. I still had three sessions remaining, but letting that money go to waste so I don’t have to deal with those people again sounded like a good deal. I suspected that any other trainer would attempt the same kind of ballsy “you are buying more training; I’m not asking you if you want more” sales tactics and/or would rely on guilt-tripping me for eventually getting them fired. I’m positive my old trainer was fired for not meeting sales quotas, and she specifically mentioned in her closing salvo that she wanted to see me through my last three sessions, but that the gym wanted to give me a chance to “fall in love” with a new trainer.
*cough* bullshit *cough*
Little did I know, however, the lengths to which the gym would pursue me to get me to schedule my last sessions (getting me in hoc to a new trainer and having me use my sessions so they can sell me more). I received a call from the trainer and from the salesperson who had sold me the “free” training. Okay, fine. Then, on Monday, the salesperson hunted me down as I was working out to demand that I schedule a new appointment. It wasn’t even just: “do you want to?” It was flat-out bullying. You are doing this. You are doing this tomorrow. Several “nos” and “I’m busys” later (and being busy isn’t enough for them, you are obligated to do what they say, apparently), she instructed me to schedule with her when I leave for the day. Thankfully, she left before I did.
Again, amazing sales tactics. At some level, you have to admire people who won’t take “no” for an answer just in terms of their sheer brazenness, their greed, their determination. Another sticking point for me is, by rights, paying $80/hour for something that’s worth maybe a quarter of that cost should grant me some serious ass kissing. You don’t treat the customers of luxury goods this way unless you’re particularly shady or particularly stupid. When shelling out way too much money for something, I expect to be treated as something other than a cross between a walking, talking wallet and a doormat. Unfortunately for them, though, the more I’m treated this way, the more pissed off I get. As I’ve established, getting pissed off washes away my guilt and my concerns with politeness.
Soul Fitness, you’re on notice.