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David Baxter

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Saying no can be a positive
April 24, 2006
USA TODAY

Some people seem to have little difficulty saying no -- like bosses refusing a bigger raise or actors who won't give interviews unless they have a new movie to promote.

"The rest of us," notes social psychologist Susan Newman, "have difficulty saying no to our children, no to relationships that aren't working, no to our bosses or to the friend who wants to borrow our brand-new car."

As the pace of society quickens, Newman says, there is an epidemic of yes-people, people who try to please everyone. "It often seems easier to say yes or slide along with the status quo," says Newman, author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It -- and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill). "In the long run, it isn't."

Jessica Bacharach was dating a sweetheart of a guy. Even though she wanted to end it -- there was just no chemistry -- she couldn't.

"Every time I tried to have The Talk, he did something super-cute, like bring me brownies or put together my new Ikea furniture," the New York fashion publicist says. "He kept asking me out, and I kept saying yes." She finally ended it when she met someone else. "I realized I didn't want to settle for anything less than amazing."

Such behavior isn't unusual, psychologists and self-help writers says. Most of us have been programmed to think -- and say -- yes, sure, no problem, without considering the consequences of what we agree to do. Whether it's kids who beg to stay up late or a relationship that's going nowhere, people often try to accommodate others, saying yes when they really mean no, even if it's to their own disadvantage.

"Most people hate confrontations -- and that includes the rudeness and discomfort that comes from saying no to somebody," says Mira Kirshenbaum, psychotherapist and author of Is He Mr. Right? Everything You Need to Know Before You Commit (Harmony). "Because of their fear of that short-term unpleasantness, they're willing to subject themselves to years of an unhappy relationship."

Says Newman: "More often than not, yes is uncalled for. While the worry is that someone won't like you or will think of you as uncaring, the reality is, especially in relationships, it's better to have closure so both parties can move on.

"People don't think about you as much as you worry about what they think."

Newman says people view saying no as something negative, and that perception has been ingrained from childhood. "If you said no to sharing your toys as a toddler, you were sent to your room; as you got older and refused a parental rule or direction, you had privileges taken away. These early experiences translate into concrete fears of saying no."

And men say they have the same problem.

W. Thomas Smith Jr., 47, a divorced journalist and military expert in Columbia, S.C., believes women are "simply more complex" when it comes to conflict and men have never developed the skills to engage them properly.

"It's men who are terrified of giving women bad news," Smith says. "A woman's reaction is rarely predictable to a man."

Says April Masini, author of Think & Date Like a Man (iUniverse): "Men are different from women, and that's the bottom line. They have different needs and ways of expressing themselves. If a man doesn't call, he's not interested in making the time to call." But a woman "will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out all the reasons he hasn't called, rather than just ... moving on."

Newman says parents also can't say no to their kids today.

The pressure to raise "star" children is high, and when combined with parents' own work, family and community pressures, the word "no" seems to be extinct in parenting by the time a child reaches his or her fifth birthday.

"Parents say yes because they have e-mail to check, the Internet to search, phone calls to return, or another child to drive to another scheduled activity that will look good on his or her college application," she says.

Lisa Jacobson, CEO of Inspirica, a test preparation and tutoring firm, believes today's baby boomers want to do everything possible to help their children achieve.

"Subconsciously, most of what we do is about helping our kids ultimately get accepted into a 'good' college," Jacobson says. Parents see ways they can help their kids get an edge, so they do, she adds: "Most parents truly want their children to be happy and think this is the way they will be happy."

It may take work to learn to stop saying yes when you don't mean it, but Masini says it can be done.

"The first step is to realize when you're doing it -- and sometimes the step before that is to realize you don't feel good when you say yes when you mean no," she says.

Once you're conscious of it, "you can stop."
 

Peanut

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This is a very interesting article...I read it several times and I have a feeling I should read it several more times :)

I noticed a lot of the article focused on relationships and parenting. Interestingly enough I find it a little bit of the opposite, like the less I know someone the harder it is to say no.

I thought this was interesting: "
He kept asking me out, and I kept saying yes." She finally ended it when she met someone else. "I realized I didn't want to settle for anything less than amazing."
While at first glance it sounds as though she came to a realization or suddenly had the ability to say no, it also looked like maybe her ability to say no was more of a result of the third person coming into the picture and intervening. She had to tell one of those men no, so since the issue was forced, then she was able to say no to guy that she wanted to...because that meant yes to the second guy. I'm not sure if I'm making sense but that example did not strike me as one of someone finally being able to say no to people.

"People don't think about you as much as you worry about what they think
I think that is a really good thing to remember. I'm always so worried about dissapointing someone and a lot of times it is probably not as big if a dissapointment to them as I imagine that it would be.

"The first step is to realize when you're doing it -- and sometimes the step before that is to realize you don't feel good when you say yes when you mean no," she says.
That is really good advice, I think I will try to work on that first step.
Once you're conscious of it, "you can stop."
That is REALLY encouraging to hear :) I can't imagine how nice to would be to stop overcommitting myself, and have some real boundaries. It would be soo nice and make a huge difference in my stess level.

Often after I agree (or don't say no) to something I stress myself out so much thinking "why did I do that, how am I going to manage it or if I can't can I get out of it, etc?"
Ahhhh...it's nice to dream :)

Thanks for the article--it was very good
 

just mary

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Hi,

I thought the article was pretty good too. It's funny but I can see this behaviour in other people much more easily than in myself. I think it's because I always have a reason (or a rationale) for saying yes, I can defend it. But really, I'm just to fearful (?) to say no. The last few weeks of work have been very taxing, it's been one obstacle after another and I just make it worse by trying to please everyone. I just end up feeling deflated and kind of p**sed off at everyone (though I would never say anything). I really have to start standing up for myself 'cause in the end all you really have are your memories.

And I have to agree wholeheartedly with Toeless when she pointed out the following:

He kept asking me out, and I kept saying yes." She finally ended it when she met someone else. "I realized I didn't want to settle for anything less than amazing."

While at first glance it sounds as though she came to a realization or suddenly had the ability to say no, it also looked like maybe her ability to say no was more of a result of the third person coming into the picture and intervening. She had to tell one of those men no, so since the issue was forced, then she was able to say no to guy that she wanted to...because that meant yes to the second guy. I'm not sure if I'm making sense but that example did not strike me as one of someone finally being able to say no to people.

I agree completely, she didn't say no. The new guy provided a much softer landing, someone she could go to if she felt guilty, maybe he made her feel better about herself. I guess my point is, she didn't do it on her own. She needed someone else, it sounded more like "she couldn't be alone" as opposed to "she couldn't say no". The story just seemed out of place in the article.

"If you said no to sharing your toys as a toddler, you were sent to your room; as you got older and refused a parental rule or direction, you had privileges taken away. These early experiences translate into concrete fears of saying no."

That was also kind of interesting, I never thought of it that way. But how else do you teach your child to listen because most of the time you (as the parent) are right, especially when your child is a toddler.

And I could echo a lot of what Toeless said.

Great article Dr. Baxter and good comments Toeless.

Thanks. :)
 

Holly

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I agree, it is a healthy way to set boundaries up also if you can say no!
 

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