One of the key points of etiquette is about making people comfortable. Unfortunately, people won’t always flat out say that you are making them uncomfortable or they aren’t interested. Oftentimes we all feel the pressure to be “polite” and not say no and hurt people’s feelings. Of course, it is absolutely polite and fine to say no to things, but it is hard!
So, if you practice reading the social cues people are giving you, you will be better able to interpret whether they are truly interested or whether they are just too shy to say no.
This is especially true when it comes to making plans. Sometimes you meet a new person and think you really click. You say “hey, we should hang out!” They say “omg that would be amazing, want to try this new ice cream place with me on Friday after work?” Then, you have a very enthusiastic person and that’s great. If you conversation goes more like this: “hey, we should hang out!” They say, “oh, yeah, definitely sometime!” You says “how about getting drinks Friday after work.” They say, “oh, I’d have to check my calendar…” There is a lot less enthusiasm there. If you don’t hear back, you should certainly follow up with them because yeah, maybe they do have to check their calendar. But if they are busy that night and all the other nights you suggest, you should probably give up on them.
This kind of thing is especially true for dating. If someone is barely responding to your messages/calls/etc or does a lot of one word answers, chances are they are just not that into you and it’s probably time you move on.
You especially need to be sensitive to the cues people are giving you when it comes to things that are going to cost a lot of money. Like trying to plan a big trip with your group of friends, like a bachelor/ette party. I just saw this example on A Practical Wedding where the bride is upset that her groom’s friends don’t seem that interested in doing a big weekend bachelor party for the groom that has a lot of subtle social cues going on. If someone is saying- “hey, let’s whisk Jimmy away to Vegas for a big crazy weekend- penthouse suite, strippers, bottle service, the works!” and everyone is emailing back things like, “oh, well we just bought a house and money is really tight right now” or “I only have one vacation day I can spare right now,” or “hey, my parents have a cabin at [nearby lake], let’s do a fishing weekend there,” or “maybe we could do a night out a couple of days before the wedding” then maybe it’s time to think about whether a trip like this is really going to work for this group of people at this time. If people are making excuses, it’s usually because they are not really into the general idea (and often those excuses are very valid!). But if people aren’t picking up the things you are putting down, you need to step back, scale down, and not push. (Hey Ladies is the not-quite-totally-satire version of this. It’s great, check it out.)
However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the cues people are giving you are because they aren’t interested or that they are interested but they just aren’t interested in doing any planning themselves. Take a long chain email about a plan to go hiking. A few people are debating dates, locations, times, train vs carpool etc. The rest of the group gives the dates they are available and then are silent for the rest of the conversation. These folks are likely still interested in going, but they just want to be told when and where to show up. A good way to figure this out is do a roll call after the details have been hammered out- send around an email giving the date, time, place, and relevant details and ask that everyone respond if they are going.
All of this is so very subtle and it can be very complicated. Is there anything I left out? Got totally wrong? Let me know in the comments!