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Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017 12:12 am

Nose to the groin stone

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
I’m a woman, and I recently made a new professional connection -- a man who’s excited about my work. We’re planning on doing a big, important project together. I’m worried that he’s interested in me romantically (based on a few things he’s said). I’m not interested in him in that way. What’s the right thing to say to get that across? -- All Business

It’s tempting to get everything out in the open right away: “I’ve run the numbers on your chances of having sex with me, and they’re pretty close to the odds of your being crushed to death by a middle-aged dentist falling out of the sky.”

Informing a guy pronto that you aren’t romantically interested in him -- though in somewhat kinder language -- would be the right thing to do if he were just some persistent Tinder date you wanted to unload forever. But you’re hoping to have a continuing business relationship with this guy. So even if it were wildly obvious that he has the hots for you, the last thing you should do is mention that particular elephant in the room (not even while you’re pole-vaulting over steaming mountain ranges of elephant dung).

Cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker points out that “most social interaction” involves some conflicting goals -- for example, when only one of two people is interested in ending the evening in the tool shed/sex dungeon. (Yes, sometimes the nightcap is a rubber hood.)
Pinker explains that “indirect speech” -- not saying exactly what you think or want -- is a way two people can maintain their relationship as it is (even when both suspect or are pretty sure that their desired outcomes are in sharp conflict). The sometimes tiny measure of ambiguity -- uncertainty about another person’s goals -- that is fostered by indirect speech does a big job. It allows the person who wants something the other doesn’t to save face, enabling the two to preserve their common ground.

So, your refraining from telling the guy that you aren’t interested (in so many words) allows him to cling to the ego-preserving possibility that you might be. If he goes direct on you -- tells you he wants to sex up your business relationship -- that’s when you likewise get explicit: Tell him straight out that you want to keep things strictly professional. However, this may not be necessary if you act in ways that say “just business!” Avoid going flirty in communicating with him, and schedule meetings for the utterly unsexiest times and places possible. Nobody ends up doing the walk of shame because they had seconds on biscotti and one too many double espressos.

© 2017, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem?
Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

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