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Rejecting someone without coming across as a horrible person is not only nerve-wracking -- it can also seem almost impossible. Thankfully, there are some easier, more tactful ways of saying goodbye than simply cutting and running (or changing your phone number).
We asked Christina Steinorth, psychotherapist, relationship advisor and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships (Hunter House, 2013), to share her advice on how to reject someone nicely.
1. Be honest
They don't say that honesty is the best policy for nothing. Whether you've been on one daytime coffee date or several more serious outings, parting ways tactfully requires the truth (even if it's going to hurt).
"The best thing to do is to not be hurtful, but be honest about it," says Steinorth. You might be tempted to sugarcoat what you have to say, but that approach will just prolong the process and make things more frustrating for both parties.
The key is to be direct, but gentle, she advises. "Be direct in your communication, be gentle with your word choices and show kindness by staying away from blaming or otherwise inflammatory language," she says.
2. Prepare yourself
As nice as you try to be, when you reject someone what you have to say has the potential to make the other person feel badly.
"Be mentally prepared to not have the words you're about to say be well received and approach it from that perspective," says Steinorth. "If the other person gets upset, don't feed into it or argue back, as nothing good will come of it. And really, why would you want to continue to engage with a person you're not all that interested in?"
The best thing you can do is to let things go and, if need be, let the other person have the last word, because let's face it, "it's not like you're going to see them again anyway," she says.
3. Do it face to face
In this digital age where we communicate more often via text and phone than we do in person, it can be tough to figure out just how to tell someone that you're not interested. As tempting as a quick text-rejection might be, though, it's just bad form, says Steinorth.
"Face to face is always the best option. Not only is it the most respectful, it gives the other person a chance to see by your facial expressions and body language that you're serious in your words," she explains.
An in-person breakup also gives you the chance to help the other person process what you've just told them should you feel the need to do so.
4. Stick with "I" statements
Whatever the reason for your feelings, avoid putting the blame on the other person when you tell him or her how you feel. "Don't start pointing out all the faults or issues the person has that are leading you to make your decision to reject them. All this will do is inflame the situation and make it more hurtful," says Steinorth.
For example, instead of saying, "I'm rejecting you because you drink too much," or "I'm not attracted to you," try a softer approach, she advises. Try saying something like this instead: "Over time our interests seem to have taken us in different directions. I will always treasure the friendship we shared, but I think it's time for me to move on now."
To avoid even more tension, it's usually best to approach a rejection from an "it's not you, it's me" approach.
5. Know that what you're feeling is normal
Being nervous before you reject someone can often make the deed seem even more daunting, but it's important to realize and accept that it is normal to have feelings of anxiety before you tell someone bad news.
"No one wants to hurt another person," says Steinorth. Just remember that some of the the best decisions (in this case, the decision to reject or break up with someone) often feel like the hardest ones to make, she explains. "Part of being a mature adult is being able to make sometimes difficult decisions, so don't be afraid to do what you need to do."
6. Avoid putting it off
It's common to wait until what feels like the "right time" when it comes to rejecting someone, but you're best off making a move rather than waiting.
"The more time that passes, the more difficult it's going to be for you to do," affirms Steinorth. "People build attachments over time and the more time and energy they invest in building a relationship with you, the more hurt their feelings are going to be when you tell them that their efforts and feelings aren't mutual," she explains.
Not to mention, he or she will also likely wonder why you didn't end things sooner and may get angry that you weren't more honest about your feelings.
7. Don't give false hope
According to Steinorth, one of the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to ending a relationship that isn't working is giving the other person false hope.
"Never give false hope," she says. "All that does is prolong the healing process for the other person and it really doesn't put you in a good light either, as the person you are rejecting may feel like you're playing games," she explains. "You need to be upfront and have a heart-to-heart conversation with them and let them know where they stand."
No one likes being the bad guy, but dragging out a relationship that isn't working or leading someone on who you aren't genuinely interested in can be far more hurtful in the long run. If you feel like it's time to move on, do yourself -- and the person you're dating -- a favour and be direct, honest and gentle when letting him or her know how you feel.