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I have a co-worker who keeps asking me to lunch and I keep saying no. They don’t seem to be getting the hint that I would not like to go out to lunch with them. What should I do?

This is a tough situation to be in. It’s great that you’re aware that your current approach, while well-intentioned, is not working. You have every right to reject your co-worker’s lunch invitation and it sounds like you’re doing all you can to spare their feelings. You are correct to assume that some people would respond well to your current approach. After hearing you say “no” to a few lunch invitations, they may stop asking. However, this approach does not work with all people. For some people, particularly those with social language impairments, social cues are not as inherently understood. Some people may have difficulty making inferences and reading non-verbal cues. Further, their interpretation and response to information may be quite literal in nature. When they ask you to lunch and you say “no,” your implied message (“I am not interested in having lunch with you”) may be lost. Instead they may hear “I am not interested in having lunch with you today” and decide to try again tomorrow. While uncomfortable, when you suspect this is the situation, a literal response that makes it clear that your reply is not just relevant to today will be most effective. Something like this may do the trick, “Thanks for asking me to lunch, but I use my time at lunch to get work done/I use my time at lunch to run errands or catch up with family and friends.”Diversity is ever-present in the workplace and world and this scenario is one of many that suggests that a “one size fits all” approach to communication is rarely effective. Thanks for being alert to this and seeking advice on a situation so many of us have come across!

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