Saying Yes When You Want to Say No

Reviewed Oct 10, 2017

Close

E-mail Article

Complete form to e-mail article…

Required fields are denoted by an asterisk (*) adjacent to the label.

Separate multiple recipients with a comma

Close

Sign-Up For Newsletters

Complete this form to sign-up for newsletters…

Required fields are denoted by an asterisk (*) adjacent to the label.

 

Summary

Being unable to say “no” without fear or “yes” without resentment is a common dilemma. The only way out is just to say “Stop!”

“My unhappiness was the unhappiness of a person who could not say no.”

—Dazai Osamu

When Becky and Ann agreed to write a book together, Becky could not have been happier. Ann was not only a published writer but her best friend. Becky bought a computer and set up an office in her spare bedroom, and the new partners got to work.

Immediately, a pattern was established. Ann set the agenda and dominated the sessions, pacing the room like a mad genius who could not contain her bustling imagination, while Becky sat at the keyboard and typed. When something tedious had to be done, Ann assumed that Becky would do it. When Ann asked Becky a question, she sounded as though she were speaking rhetorically to a subordinate, not soliciting the opinion of an equal. Becky’s own ideas were routinely discounted or ridiculed. She came to dread their work sessions.

Ann’s behavior was inappropriate; Becky’s was self-defeating. She was so afraid that Ann would cancel the project that she could not assert herself. At the same time, she could not go along with Ann’s agenda without feeling resentful. By not saying “no,” she was in effect saying “yes” and perpetuating her own abuse. Even more self-defeating was not discussing the situation and instead letting the anger and frustration build. Eventually, she erupted: “You treat me as if you’re the boss and I’m your underling,” she shouted. “You’re an arrogant know-it-all!”

That ended the problem, all right. It also ended a promising partnership and a once-beautiful friendship.

A common dilemma

Being unable to say “no” without fear or “yes” without resentment is a common dilemma. A breadwinner, for example, might fear that he will lose his family’s affection if he were to scale back their spending. But if he doesn’t, he might resent being taken for granted. People who live with substance users know that refusing to cooperate with the addiction can trigger an explosive outburst or a childish accusation. Yet, if they go along, they resent being manipulated.

If you find yourself in a situation where you resent acquiescing to unacceptable behavior but are afraid to oppose it, you might be tempted to simply avoid the person. Of course, that won’t do if he or she plays a necessary role in your life. But neither would continuing on your no-win course. The only way out is just to say “Stop!” But remember that timing is crucial. If you wait too long to speak up, the other person will feel offended and throw it back at you: “So, you’ve been holding this in all along. You’re nothing but a phony!” Or, as Becky’s former partner responded, “What am I, a mind reader? How am I supposed to know it bothered you so much?”

Had Becky acted before her frustration reached the breaking point, she might have avoided her outburst and instead said something like, “Maybe I should have spoken up sooner, but the way we work together upsets me. I realize you know more than I do, but I have something to contribute too, and it’s frustrating when my ideas are not taken seriously. I hope that as we go along you’ll be able to treat me more like a real partner.”

The key is to notice the early warning signs of frustration, such as feeling less and less enthusiastic about seeing the other person, realizing that you’re the only one who acts supportive, or feeling like a coward for giving in.

You don’t have to go along when others act unfairly or unreasonably. If you do go along, make it clear that you are doing them a favor—and that you expect something in return.

Usable insight: When you can’t say no without fear, or yes without resentment, it’s time to say stop!

Taking action

  • Realize that not wanting to go along doesn’t make you stubborn, mean, or defiant.
  • Understand that not saying no can be taken as a yes, and can reinforce the unwanted behavior.
  • Make sure you confront the person at an opportune time.
  • Express your grievance as an observation.
  • Speak in terms of how it hurts or frustrates you; don’t be accusatory or judgmental.
  • Admit your own participation in creating the problem.
  • Say specifically how you would like the situation to be different in the future.
  • Make it sound like a suggestion or request, not an ultimatum. 
By Mark Goulston, MD

Summary

Being unable to say “no” without fear or “yes” without resentment is a common dilemma. The only way out is just to say “Stop!”

“My unhappiness was the unhappiness of a person who could not say no.”

—Dazai Osamu

When Becky and Ann agreed to write a book together, Becky could not have been happier. Ann was not only a published writer but her best friend. Becky bought a computer and set up an office in her spare bedroom, and the new partners got to work.

Immediately, a pattern was established. Ann set the agenda and dominated the sessions, pacing the room like a mad genius who could not contain her bustling imagination, while Becky sat at the keyboard and typed. When something tedious had to be done, Ann assumed that Becky would do it. When Ann asked Becky a question, she sounded as though she were speaking rhetorically to a subordinate, not soliciting the opinion of an equal. Becky’s own ideas were routinely discounted or ridiculed. She came to dread their work sessions.

Ann’s behavior was inappropriate; Becky’s was self-defeating. She was so afraid that Ann would cancel the project that she could not assert herself. At the same time, she could not go along with Ann’s agenda without feeling resentful. By not saying “no,” she was in effect saying “yes” and perpetuating her own abuse. Even more self-defeating was not discussing the situation and instead letting the anger and frustration build. Eventually, she erupted: “You treat me as if you’re the boss and I’m your underling,” she shouted. “You’re an arrogant know-it-all!”

That ended the problem, all right. It also ended a promising partnership and a once-beautiful friendship.

A common dilemma

Being unable to say “no” without fear or “yes” without resentment is a common dilemma. A breadwinner, for example, might fear that he will lose his family’s affection if he were to scale back their spending. But if he doesn’t, he might resent being taken for granted. People who live with substance users know that refusing to cooperate with the addiction can trigger an explosive outburst or a childish accusation. Yet, if they go along, they resent being manipulated.

If you find yourself in a situation where you resent acquiescing to unacceptable behavior but are afraid to oppose it, you might be tempted to simply avoid the person. Of course, that won’t do if he or she plays a necessary role in your life. But neither would continuing on your no-win course. The only way out is just to say “Stop!” But remember that timing is crucial. If you wait too long to speak up, the other person will feel offended and throw it back at you: “So, you’ve been holding this in all along. You’re nothing but a phony!” Or, as Becky’s former partner responded, “What am I, a mind reader? How am I supposed to know it bothered you so much?”

Had Becky acted before her frustration reached the breaking point, she might have avoided her outburst and instead said something like, “Maybe I should have spoken up sooner, but the way we work together upsets me. I realize you know more than I do, but I have something to contribute too, and it’s frustrating when my ideas are not taken seriously. I hope that as we go along you’ll be able to treat me more like a real partner.”

The key is to notice the early warning signs of frustration, such as feeling less and less enthusiastic about seeing the other person, realizing that you’re the only one who acts supportive, or feeling like a coward for giving in.

You don’t have to go along when others act unfairly or unreasonably. If you do go along, make it clear that you are doing them a favor—and that you expect something in return.

Usable insight: When you can’t say no without fear, or yes without resentment, it’s time to say stop!

Taking action

  • Realize that not wanting to go along doesn’t make you stubborn, mean, or defiant.
  • Understand that not saying no can be taken as a yes, and can reinforce the unwanted behavior.
  • Make sure you confront the person at an opportune time.
  • Express your grievance as an observation.
  • Speak in terms of how it hurts or frustrates you; don’t be accusatory or judgmental.
  • Admit your own participation in creating the problem.
  • Say specifically how you would like the situation to be different in the future.
  • Make it sound like a suggestion or request, not an ultimatum. 
By Mark Goulston, MD

Summary

Being unable to say “no” without fear or “yes” without resentment is a common dilemma. The only way out is just to say “Stop!”

“My unhappiness was the unhappiness of a person who could not say no.”

—Dazai Osamu

When Becky and Ann agreed to write a book together, Becky could not have been happier. Ann was not only a published writer but her best friend. Becky bought a computer and set up an office in her spare bedroom, and the new partners got to work.

Immediately, a pattern was established. Ann set the agenda and dominated the sessions, pacing the room like a mad genius who could not contain her bustling imagination, while Becky sat at the keyboard and typed. When something tedious had to be done, Ann assumed that Becky would do it. When Ann asked Becky a question, she sounded as though she were speaking rhetorically to a subordinate, not soliciting the opinion of an equal. Becky’s own ideas were routinely discounted or ridiculed. She came to dread their work sessions.

Ann’s behavior was inappropriate; Becky’s was self-defeating. She was so afraid that Ann would cancel the project that she could not assert herself. At the same time, she could not go along with Ann’s agenda without feeling resentful. By not saying “no,” she was in effect saying “yes” and perpetuating her own abuse. Even more self-defeating was not discussing the situation and instead letting the anger and frustration build. Eventually, she erupted: “You treat me as if you’re the boss and I’m your underling,” she shouted. “You’re an arrogant know-it-all!”

That ended the problem, all right. It also ended a promising partnership and a once-beautiful friendship.

A common dilemma

Being unable to say “no” without fear or “yes” without resentment is a common dilemma. A breadwinner, for example, might fear that he will lose his family’s affection if he were to scale back their spending. But if he doesn’t, he might resent being taken for granted. People who live with substance users know that refusing to cooperate with the addiction can trigger an explosive outburst or a childish accusation. Yet, if they go along, they resent being manipulated.

If you find yourself in a situation where you resent acquiescing to unacceptable behavior but are afraid to oppose it, you might be tempted to simply avoid the person. Of course, that won’t do if he or she plays a necessary role in your life. But neither would continuing on your no-win course. The only way out is just to say “Stop!” But remember that timing is crucial. If you wait too long to speak up, the other person will feel offended and throw it back at you: “So, you’ve been holding this in all along. You’re nothing but a phony!” Or, as Becky’s former partner responded, “What am I, a mind reader? How am I supposed to know it bothered you so much?”

Had Becky acted before her frustration reached the breaking point, she might have avoided her outburst and instead said something like, “Maybe I should have spoken up sooner, but the way we work together upsets me. I realize you know more than I do, but I have something to contribute too, and it’s frustrating when my ideas are not taken seriously. I hope that as we go along you’ll be able to treat me more like a real partner.”

The key is to notice the early warning signs of frustration, such as feeling less and less enthusiastic about seeing the other person, realizing that you’re the only one who acts supportive, or feeling like a coward for giving in.

You don’t have to go along when others act unfairly or unreasonably. If you do go along, make it clear that you are doing them a favor—and that you expect something in return.

Usable insight: When you can’t say no without fear, or yes without resentment, it’s time to say stop!

Taking action

  • Realize that not wanting to go along doesn’t make you stubborn, mean, or defiant.
  • Understand that not saying no can be taken as a yes, and can reinforce the unwanted behavior.
  • Make sure you confront the person at an opportune time.
  • Express your grievance as an observation.
  • Speak in terms of how it hurts or frustrates you; don’t be accusatory or judgmental.
  • Admit your own participation in creating the problem.
  • Say specifically how you would like the situation to be different in the future.
  • Make it sound like a suggestion or request, not an ultimatum. 
By Mark Goulston, MD

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please consider contacting your human resources department. ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

Close

  • Useful Tools

    Select a tool below

© 2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.