“It’s not a choice.” Or, The Gentle Art of Laying Down the Law

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sub for a friend who teaches nursery school (FYI: I am qualified to do this. I began my career as a nursery school teacher. In fact, that is me—far right—in the photo, above.)

Among the many memories it brought back for me was the magic of the phrase, “It’s not a choice.”

As those of you who have toddlers know, it’s important to give them a choice about everything you don’t care about. “Do you want saltines or graham crackers? Do you want apple juice or water?” That way, when you get to the non-negotiable things (In nursery school: clean up, fire drill, wearing shoes on the playground…) you can lay down the law with, “It’s not a choice.”

What I’ve found is that this works just as well with everyone from recalcitrant CEO’s, to hysterical customers, to nosy frenemies.

For example, say you find yourself in a social situation where you’re being pressed to answer questions about yourself, a friend, or an acquaintance, that you aren’t willing or prepared to discuss: you get asked the inside scoop on your romantic life, your best friend’s divorce, or your boss’ health.

In these moments it can be both nervous-making and seductive to find yourself in such conversational demand, making it easy to get sucked into a conversation you later regret.

Luckily, you have your get-out-of-jail-free response, (particularly if the conversation devolves into, “You know you want to tell me….)

“It’s not a choice.”

Why is this response is so terrific? Because it avoids having you use either “I” or “you.”

For example, if you were to continue with, “I really don’t want to discuss it,” you leave yourself open to commentary along the lines of the above or, “Well, X said you were speaking to him about it yesterday,”—and now you’re on defense.

If, however, you move to a “you” statement anywhere in the spectrum from, “Why are you so interested?” to “It’s none of your business,” you risk getting into a personal confrontation of another kind.

“It’s not a choice,” keeps you out of both of these unwelcome conversations…..and so many others.

For more useful skills I learned from working with the nursery school set, check out, ““No Idea” Means I Have One”