Learning to say no to aggressive flyer-distributors
Any student who attends class knows the corner between the Amphitheater and the Lawn is a favorite spot for students aggressively promoting various clubs and events to camp. When I initially experienced this first year, despite my clear non-verbal refusal — not making eye contact and never veering too close to any one group — I found myself swarmed, forced to take dozens of colorful flyers which ultimately only cluttered my backpack and my pockets.
I am not opposed to people promoting their improv comedy troupes, experimental dance cycles and a cappella groups. On principle, I just do not like being forced to take little scraps of paper I am going to throw away when it is clear I am not interested. I have never been one to get bogged down in malls by the kiosks, staffed with people asking for “just a moment of your time” who try to get you to pay to put glitter on your phone. But I find it harder to pretend other members of the student body do not exist. I feel they are owed at least some courtesy — though they are the ones being impolite.
As a meek first-year, this evoked memories of Scylla and Charybdis from ninth grade English’s “The Odyssey.” Walking down the sidewalk without being chased down by someone was virtually impossible. The easy solution was to go another way, but I felt I shouldn’t have to avoid the center of Grounds just because I dislike persistent salesmen.
During the first few months, I employed a number of strategies to make it through unscathed. One staple was listening to my iPod and pretending I wasn’t aware of their efforts to peddle flyers. In frequent cases when someone would take note of this and block my path, I would point to my headphones and mouth, “I can’t hear you,” then speed walk away before he had a chance to respond. Sometimes I wouldn’t be in the mood to listen to music, but would put headphones in anyway, letting the unplugged cord hang out so promoters could clearly see I was lying to them.
If this failed, I would try the classic hands-in-pockets technique. When people would try to give me flyers, I would simply give them a sympathetic look which said, “As you see, I cannot possibly take your slip of paper because my hands are unavailable.” Most people foolishly take out their hands when people try to give them things — but if you keep your hands in your pockets, the distributor has nowhere to force his wares and, dejected, must move on to more accepting targets.
Finally, whenever possible, I would use other pedestrians as human barriers between me and the distributors. This worked for a while — until one day, a distributer saw what I was doing, commented loudly to one of his comrades that I was avoiding him and actually chased me down. With no other option, I looked him in the eyes, said “no,” then continued on my way.
The first time you say it, “no” seems harsh and alienating — but in reality, it is the best answer you can give. It is simple, direct and honest. While it is likely the distributors intentionally “miss” my unreceptive body language, there is nothing unclear about a formal rejection. Most people aren’t quite as obnoxious as the person who chased me down, so a more diplomatic “no, thanks” often suffices.
For me, the ability to outright refuse these people is empowering. Promoters try to obligate passerbys to take things just to be polite, but for me, giving an outright refusal is the perfect response. Ironically, I might actually read people’s signs if I were not bombarded the minute I came close. There is probably a broader application in promoting the superiority of unambiguous communication — but I think rejecting aggressive salesmen stands out as the most pressing in our table-filled University environment.
Christian’s column runs biweekly Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.