June 4, 2019

"You might ask yourself: 'What’s wrong with saying yes and keeping people happy?'"

"It might be a hard pill to swallow, but consider this: compulsive people-pleasing can be a form of manipulation. The teacher and author Byron Katie sums it up brilliantly: 'It’s the biggest fallacy that I can manipulate you to love me.' We kid ourselves that we’re just being decent people by acquiescing to others, but things can turn unexpectedly sour when our own needs aren’t met.... [T]he billionaire businessman Warren Buffet famously said: 'Successful people say no to almost everything.' Saying no allows you to say yes to what is important to you. It allows you to be a better person because when you say yes, it comes from a good place, not from resentment or fear. It creates space for what matters most to you, rather than drowning in busyness, like most of us are."

I'm reading "Want to improve your life? Just learn to say no/We are used to saying yes to please others but it can be harmful not to be more assertive. And imagine what you can do with all that free time" (The Guardian).

I'm reading that in spite of the fact that it's always been my instinct to say no. The author, Chloe Brotheridge, suggests that you remember all the times you found yourself doing things you didn't want to be doing — having coffee with people, going to weddings, sitting through meetings — to stimulate yourself to avoid things you're going to feel trapped in later. That advice is for other people. Is it helpful for you?

My instinct for saying no is so strong that I had to worry it would get me in trouble. I was concerned, in a professional setting, that hesitating when presented with invitations would make me look bad. You have to take a half second to realize going to lunch, say, would not be that interesting, and then concoct the excuse — at least another half second. At some point, people will notice. I had to overrule my own instinct and adopt the practice of saying yes. How'd that work out? Disastrously!

60 comments:

rehajm said...

and then concoct the excuse

I've always been good at no but what was liberating for me was not bothering with the excuse. Positive side effects: you end up giving out fewer nos and people appreciate no but maybe laters knowing they're legit.

traditionalguy said...

This is also called setting your boundaries. If you don't tell people where your boundaries are, then they will keep violating them until you tell them. Most people will respect you for it.They just wonder how much you will take. Or, if you are seen letting others abuse you,then they expect to get their share of it. People are born to be hunter-gatherers. Let them know that you are not volunteer prey.

Your own children are likely violators here. Help them learn your boundaries.

JML said...

Where I work, leadership says yes to everything suggested to them that involves more funding they can't spend and more programs that sound good. Consequently, nothing gets done. They seldom say no, preferring to not make a decision. Consequently, more things don't get accomplished. And in my new role, I started a response to a request for support of some new, shiny program with, "The harsh reality is XXX does not have the manning to support what you are requesting, therefore, what current program would you like this to replace..."
I was accused of being disrespectful, and I was informed my tone was unprofessional and lacking of character... I can retire now, which is why it was easy for me to respond the way I did - with truth and honesty, and most of my employees respect me for speaking for them. But my peers? They never invite me to lunch, Ann, so I don't have to say no to them regarding that!

rhhardin said...

Mrs. Dorothea Brande "Wake Up and Live!" suggests spending one hour a day without speaking except in answer to direct questions.

Tank said...

On the other hand, I have often grudgingly said yes, then genuinely enjoyed the experience.

So there is that too.

David Begley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadisonMan said...

"No" is a complete sentence. Never explain your No.

whitney said...

I've read about people-pleasers my whole life and I think it must be more of a problem with extroverts. Many introverts don't care about pleasing random people. There are always people, for whatever reason, you have obligations to but it's definitely a lesser number for introverts. People are exhausting. Saying yes to them just means you have to spend more time with them.

Ann Althouse said...

A stock excuse is: Oh, I'm sorry but I'm busy or I have another appointment. But then you risk being seen doing whatever it is you wanted to do with your time, such as going for a walk on your lunch hour. You don't want your lie to turn you into a prisoner. Can't be seen. Must stay in with the door closed. If you portray your walk as an inalterable lunchtime health regime, then you've wrecked your option of ever saying yes to anyone.

It's possible to be the person in the office who never eats lunch. But then you're never included. Might be worth it, but then you've got to ask why am I working here? You want some camaraderie, right?

David Begley said...

In the investing realm, Warren uses baseball analogies. He can stand at the plate, take strikes, not swing and he has more than three strikes. He just waits until he has a fat pitch. He also uses Ted Williams’ breakdown of his strike zone. If he likes high pitches, he just swings at high pitches in the strike zone.

Early in his career, Warren wouldn’t even listen to charitable pitches. His idea was that it was a waste of time and capital. IOW, if he kept the money he could earn more by keeping it and then give nearly all of it away at the end.

Laslo Spatula said...

'It’s the biggest fallacy that I can manipulate you to love me."

I thought the biggest fallacies involved checks in the mail and events that may or may not happen in someone's mouth.

Most people can be manipulated into almost anything, when the right pressure-points have been identified.

The key is many people WANT to be manipulated. They want to believe, even if their more cogent thinking tries to tell them otherwise. Twitter lives off of people WANTING to be manipulated. It is a matter of one's commitment in relation to the other person's lack of commitment.

Of course, it helps if the manipulator is charming or rich or attractive enough.

And, referencing yesterday's posts: plastic surgery can let you manipulate people into thinking you're good-looking.

I am Laslo.

Sebastian said...

"Just learn to say no."

This is age dependent. Old people need to learn to say yes (to help and support).

rhhardin said...

In chapter I, first paragraph, Dr. [Sadie Myers] Shallow gives the dictionary definition of "personality" as follows: "The sum total of traits necessary to describe what is to be a person." Unless I have gone crazy reading all these books, and I think I have, that sentence describes personality as the sum total of traits necessary to describe an unborn child. If Dr. Shallow's error here is typographical, it looms especially large in a book containing a chapter that tells how to acquire reading skill and gives tests for efficiency in reading. Dr. Shallow tells of you young woman who "was able to take in a whole page at a glance, and through concentrated attention relate in detail what she had read as the words flashed by." If Dr. Shallow used this system in reading the proofs of her book, the system is apparently no good. It certainly sounds as if it were no good....

Thurber _Let Your Mind Alone! and Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces_

Ignorance is Bliss said...

My approach was to develop the sort of personality that encouraged others to not invite me to coffee, weddings, or meetings.

It has worked out quite well..

Sebastian said...

"They want to believe"

In particular, as a corollary to an Althouse theorem, they want to believe that they believe what they profess to believe.

Althouse, for example, wants to believe that Ben becoming prog leader in WI is "fantastic."

Annie C. said...

Saying yes at work has usually helped me and rarely ended in disaster. Saying yes outside of work has rarely helped me and usually ended in disaster.

rhhardin said...

Yes Man (2008)
Carl Allen is at a standstill. No future... Until the day he enrolls into a personal development program based on a very simple idea: say yes to everything! Carl discovers with amazement the magical power of "Yes", and sees his professional and romantic life turned upside down overnight: an unexpected promotion and a new girlfriend. But he'll soon discover that better can be good's enemy, and that all opportunities shouldn't be taken. imdb

MayBee said...

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. As easy and as hard as that.

MD Greene said...

Here's the deal: Don't be a squish.

If you go along with something that bothers you or you agree to do something that you don't want to do, you will be angry and resentful and suffer a lot of internal regrets. It's too much work.

People go to great lengths to avoid offending others because they fear negative reactions. They overestimate how much their small preferences matter to other people in their lives.

No need to be obnoxious. "Sorry, can't do it" without elaboration usually is fine. The point is to be honest with yourself and understand your own needs/wants.

And Annie C's decision rule makes a lot of sense.

Ralph L said...

How'd that work out? Disastrously!

Meade could not be reached for comment.

dbp said...

I don't know what Byron Katie looks like and for reasons described below, I don't want to know.

Back when he blogged, RLC used to talk about Katie and some form of martial art a lot. I don't think he ever described her physical appearance, but I always pictures someone like Kathy Bates, especially in her The Office era. Middle aged, wise, assertive, charismatic. I like that image and I don't want to spoil it by finding out she is skinny, blond and botoxed.

Back to the actual topic. Saying yes, when everything inside of me screamed, NO! Has occasionally led to a fair amount of hardship, angst, danger and now many years past, humorous memories.

bleh said...

Better way to say no to an invitiation like lunch is to say “sure sounds great! ... (take a second to think of an excuse ) ... Oh wait, I can’t, I have this other thing ....”

Wince said...

I suspect simply not attending to your personal hygiene would limit the number of invitations you receive in the first place.

Fernandinande said...

Want to improve your life?

Yes.

Just learn to say no/We are used to saying yes to please others but it can be harmful not to be more assertive.

Yes, I agree.

And imagine what you can do with all that free time

I understand and will obey.

M Jordan said...

Some organizations and social fabrics don’t have the word “No” available. It has been altered to mean, “Yes,” a slower Yes than a plain Yes but Yes nonetheless. I was in such a social group at one time. Deeply in. I recall a phone call where I was requested to take part in something. I said No. The phone conversation continued. I said No a dozen more times (not exaggerating) and the conversation continued. Guess how it ended? I finally collapsed, said Yes.

But guess what: it never happened again. I had taught them a new word.

Fernandinande said...

'It’s the biggest fallacy that I can manipulate you to love me.'

People do that all the time, it's a major part of life. It's not a fallacy at all.

MikeR said...

'It’s the biggest fallacy that I can manipulate you to love me.' Odd way to describe decent behavior and caring about other people.

tim maguire said...

1) Never pass up an opportunity to do another person a favor.

2) Lots of things that you don't feel like doing you wind up being glad you did it when it's over.

3) Be realistic about your capabilities--if you say yes, you have to come through.

wwww said...

Professional invitations are in a different category then personal, social invitations. Refusing both can be wise, refusing both can be costly. But the costs, and the implications of refusal, are not identical.

Parents invite you home for the holidays. Your adult child or your husband asks you to do something Friday night. You receive a professional invitation to consult for a company. You can say no. You can say yes. The benefits of accepting the invitation are not the same.

But, yeah, if a friend or acquaintance asks you to lunch and you don't wanna go--don't go! You're wasting everyone's time. That person should invest in someone else if you aren't into it.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Byron Katie looks like someone you'd meet in Taos or Santa Fe.

Marcus Bressler said...

So the Hostess lies. No big deal. She's in good company, it seems, as I read the comments.
Jordan B. Peterson's Rule 8: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie helps me to avoid that character defect. So when I am invited, if I don't wish to share a personal reason for refusing (e.g., I'm poor), I just say, "Sorry, I have another commitment, but thanks for thinking of me." My commitment is being by myself.

Tell the truth when a lie is stupid and meaningless. Or as often as possible.

THEOLDMAN

Kevin said...

It’s the biggest fallacy that I can manipulate you to love me.

Free college. Free healthcare. High-speed, solar-powered rail. Free citizenship.

If that doesn’t work, they’ll promise more four years later.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...


“It's possible to be the person in the office who never eats lunch. But then you're never included. Might be worth it, but then you've got to ask why am I working here? You want some camaraderie, right?”

I’ve found, if you’re otherwise a decent human being, co-workers don’t mind if you stake out some solitary habits (the lunch walk is a great example). Sure, there’s some initial jibes and, probably, some “too good for us” gossip but if if you laugh it off, they quickly accept your choices. It doesn’t preclude camaraderie and a little distance can create respect and a reluctance to impose.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Saying “No” is the single best habit for saving precious time, and something that every MBA student should learn early. Buffet's wisdom is simple and direct. Once one has the reputation for being direct more opportunities (to say “No”) will arise, and when you say “Yes” people will believe you. The GM at a Swedish tool company I worked for taught me a lot about managing people and distributors but early in my career he came to me and said he really liked how easily and firmly I said “No.” We were both frustrated by the Swedes’ way of swerving their answers around, often failing to furnish a yes or no. They put a larger emphasis on consensus, especially among management, to the absurd point of pushing many decisions to another useless follow up meeting.

Rob adapted my quick firm no technique. We managed our side of the world and did all right. Most of the Swedes have been replaced by more decisive managers from the U.K. and Belgium. Then an American company bought us and brought a more workable management style to the table. Now I’m trying to teach the French how to listen to their customers. And say no quickly and firmly to bad ideas.

Howard said...

Nancy Reagan could not be reached for comment

daskol said...

"Now is not a great time" or "Now is not a great time, honey:" learning to say it cheerfully but firmly is indeed a life-changing skill.

reader said...

I’m pretty quick with a no. It is my default response. I became better at it after sitting through a few depositions. Answer the question concisely and be polite.

mockturtle said...

I've always been a nay-sayer.

mockturtle said...

This is also called setting your boundaries. If you don't tell people where your boundaries are, then they will keep violating them until you tell them.

Tradguy beat me to this.

CJinPA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CJinPA said...

My wife and I talk about that all the time. She envies my ability to say 'no,' or to end conversations when I need to. She tries to please others but just ends up resenting them because they take advantage.

Just yesterday a neighbor stopped by and talked to her for 45 minutes even though she knew my wife was prepping the home for our daughter's graduation party. It annoyed my wife the rest of the day. Saying "No I can't talk" would have actually been nicer, preventing those later, angry thoughts.

wwww said...

"This is also called setting your boundaries. If you don't tell people where your boundaries are, then they will keep violating them until you tell them. "

Yes. Social chatting, lunch invitations: It's not obvious that you don't have time. It's not obvious you don't want to talk. It is your responsibility to tell other people. Others are not psychic. As we tell toddlers, "Use your Words."

rhhardin said...

"No" doesn't get quotes in, e.g., saying no. It's indirect statement.

Seeing Red said...

I'm reading that in spite of the fact that it's always been my instinct to say no. The author, Chloe Brotheridge, suggests that you remember all the times you found yourself doing things you didn't want to be doing — having coffee with people, going to weddings, sitting through meetings — to stimulate yourself to avoid things you're going to feel trapped in later. That advice is for other people. Is it helpful for you?


There are also things you need to do to get along.

Family events is a good training ground.

Seeing Red said...

And Buffet is full of bullshit.

He acquiesced until the ex-wife was dead.

His son adopted. He treated her as part of the family until the ex was dead and he was handing out money to his kids. She wasn’t blood, she didn’t get.

CJinPA said...

"No" doesn't get quotes in, e.g., saying no. It's indirect statement.

This is one occasion when you have to say "yes" to receiving grammar lessons in comment sections.

Ann Althouse said...

"Meade could not be reached for comment."

Meade arrived long after my (very brief) experiment with overriding my no instinct.

Ann Althouse said...

"Jordan B. Peterson's Rule 8: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie helps me to avoid that character defect. So when I am invited, if I don't wish to share a personal reason for refusing (e.g., I'm poor), I just say, "Sorry, I have another commitment, but thanks for thinking of me." My commitment is being by myself."

Define the meaning of "lie" narrowly and you can tell yourself you don't lie.

Ironically, that's a character defect.

Lying to yourself about what lying is so you can lie that you're not a liar.

What's the good of all that? To preen? That's another character defect.

Yancey Ward said...

You should always have the white lies ready to go. I also am a practitioner of saying no almost all the time.

Yancey Ward said...

Of course, honesty has it drawbacks.

Narr said...

I wasted a lot of time saying yes to things I really didn't want to do; now I have a rep as a pretty decisive yay-or-nayer. I seldom give reasons, and if someone I've asked to do something gives me a lot of reasons they can't, I don't care. They should save their breath.
I prefer a short straight negative and don't hold it against the person.

My advice to new colleagues was always, learn to say no. As in any other large (and therefore irrational) organization there are always people looking to enlist you in their pet scheme whether it benefits anyone or not.

Narr
Stick to your last

tpceltus said...

I spent many years working in DC in federal government relations (aka lobbying) either in a glad-handing position or only as technical support called in to explain what the lobbyists meant (and who couldn’t take the time to read background material).

In this realm, knowing when to say “yes” or “no” is regarded as a skill set. The very best know how to say “yes” when they really mean “no way” and the official, regardless of level, doesn’t realize it or understands the interaction for what it is, choosing to react in accordance with their own best interests. This skill set is not listed on the resume explicitly, but you know it when you read it. It works best on Congressional staffers and, thankfully, far less so on career federal employees (not political appointees) who are generally very proud of good federal service. For example, you count on federal employees like air traffic controllers to land your planes...they may not be perfect and they’re not in the business of telling pilots how to fly their planes, but they do a pretty darn good job of performing under stress unlike political appointees.

In contrast, I really enjoyed my prior administrative litigation experience. There, the whole process (being institutionally adversarial) required saying “no” and doing it pointedly and aggressively, if necessary.

The latter gave you a sense of mission. To me, the former corrupted the soul. I’m glad I got out of it when I did.

Jessica said...

I have conflicting feelings about articles of this ilk. On one level, yes of course, we need to say no to so many things to preserve space for what really matters to us and those we love. ("No, I can't run the school carnival for the PTO - I need to run an efficient and peaceful home for myself, my husband, and my kids.") But on another level, I also wonder if commentary like this simply ratifies self-centeredness. Jesus asks us to deny self. To value others above ourselves. To pour ourselves out sacrificially, as he did. It seems like the ethic of self-care in these articles can shade over to the practice of self-centeredness.

Marcus Bressler said...

Never said I didn't lie. Peterson's advice helps me to TRY not to lie as often I did.

I am full of character defects. I've asked God to remove them but I have to do the work.

THEOLDMAN

"Preening"? If you were referring to me in your comments, you need better reading comprehension.

Sebastian said...

""Preening"? If you were referring to me in your comments, you need better reading comprehension."

Hey, hey, there's only one schoolmarm around here, and any incomprehension is the commentator's fault. Get with the program and adjust your attitude.

iowantwo said...

The only thing I say yes to, unconditionally is a request to be a pallbearer.

When I was a kid, Mom told Dad when he came in from chores he needed to call back the local funeral home.They had called and asked if he would serve.

It was the only time I ever saw my Dad raise his voice in anger and Mom. He said it is an honor to be asked, and all other plans would be adapted. Mom attempted 'what if' scenarios, which only made dad more angry. 35 years later I asked Mom about the incident, and she remembered it just a vividly as I, and chalked it up to one of her top 5 bone headed moves.

Bilwick said...

" Jesus asks us to deny self." Is that what he did? "Boy, this Messiah stuff is a drag. I should get crucified for these ingrates? I'm giving this up and going back to carpentry."

Bilwick said...

I had a friend who reminded me of Jessica. When the self-help genre became popular in the late Seventies, he bristled at all the books on assertiveness training, and apparently felt threatened by them. As well he might. He was an enormous timesuck and emotional parasite, and such people feel threatened by anything or anyone who tells potential victims to assert themselves. I did, by eventually dropping him.

iowantwo said...

Define the meaning of "lie" narrowly and you can tell yourself you don't lie.

Ironically, that's a character defect.


You are so on point. Lying to yourself about lying is a huge character flaw. (the lies we tell ourselves are the most debilitating)

My personal experience that the polite truth, even if it upsets a person, earns you respect. That is what I care about. A persons respect, not if they like me. Saying no is not hard. Work hard not to personally insult the person you tell no.

Ann Althouse said...

“Preen” was a question. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.