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Got a friend trying to sell you things you don’t want? Here’s how to just say no

Getting cornered by a “friend” selling overpriced leggings (or tote bags, or kitchen items, or jewelry) is like trying to watch a movie when the person behind you is talking.

You are annoyed. You want to say you are annoyed. You can’t. You buy the leggings.

Why? The relationship, even a tangential one, makes saying no feel like a personal rejection.

“We don’t want to hurt feelings,” said Northeastern University marketing professor Jay Mulki, who studies personal selling. “It’s like when you go to someone’s house, and even if the baby is ugly, you are not going to say the baby is ugly. You are going to say, ‘Ahh, look at the cute baby.’ ”

Personal selling in Massachusetts isn’t insignificant. Last year, nearly 269,000 people who live in the state sold $497.4 million in goods or services through personal selling, according to the Direct Marketing Association. The top five best-selling items were wellness products, services, home goods, beauty products, and clothing. (People who go too far in leveraging personal relationships to land a sale are known as “huns” because their pitches tend to go something like this: “Hun, I saw on Facebook that your aunt is dying. Give me a call. I’m selling oils that help with stress.”)

By all means, if you want to buy those leggings or stress-busting oils, buy them. But if you don’t and you’re struggling to say so, here is some advice from experts on how to say no.


The counteroffer

Snezana Pejic, founder of the Etiquette Academy of New England in Brookline, likes this approach. “Just say, ‘Oh, thank you very much. I love learning about this,’ ” she said. Then, “ ‘Maybe I can share this information with others.’ ”

This response allows you to support your friend while also avoiding a regret purchase, she said. If she calls back and you don’t have names to share? Tell her you don’t have any leads at the moment but you’ll be in touch if you do.


Been there, done that

Personal sellers make their real money by recruiting other people to sell the products, not off of product sales. If your friend puts a hard sell on you joining her, Mulki, the marketing professor, recommended citing a past experience. (You have permission to concoct one if necessary.)

You might say something like, “I had that opportunity when I was living in Chicago and I couldn’t do it. I lost a lot of money.”

If the seller insists this time will be different, emphasize the hardship of your past experience. “You have to make them feel guilty,” Mulki said.

The Switzerland approach: neutrality

Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, suggested telling sellers you have too many friends in the business to favor one. This also works well with relentless officemates fund-raising for their kids’ schools or friends hounding you for political donations.

“You cannot buy every piece of wrapping paper or cookie dough,” she said. “You can say, ‘I can’t donate to one over the other. I’m very neutral.’ ”

And if they persist? Try, “I appreciate your efforts, but I’m going to have to decline,” Gottsman said.

Don’t encourage

Sometimes we think we’ve said no when really we’ve said maybe. It sounds like this: “I’m broke right now, but maybe later.” Or, “I’m away this weekend or I’d come to your [sales pitch] party.”

This is called a “fuzzy no,” and it keeps the door open. “ ‘No’ needs to be clear,” Gottsman said. “Clear and polite.”


Be honest

Remember, your friend is in business to make money, not to cure cancer or feed the hungry. Just like the stranger who calls with a deal on vinyl siding or new windows, hearing “no” is part of their job.

“If we know them personally, we can say, ‘I love you and I admire your work ethic,’ ” Gottsman said. Or, “I’m so excited for you but this [skin cream, fitness supplement, makeup] is not my thing.”

It’s a way to say yes to the friendship and no to the product. And it’s not fuzzy.

Annmarie Timmins can be reached at