Do You Have Trouble Saying No to Pushy People?

The good news is that you are not alone and you are in good company. The great Russian composer Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Eugene Onegin, etc.) had this problem, too.

An opera singer Korsov kept bugging the great composer to write an aria especially for him. Tchaikovsky was a very sensitive, polite kind of person. He was incapable of refusing anybody directly and decisively. Korsov knew that the composer would never refuse him in strong terms and kept insisting.

Once, he appeared at the composer’s place unannounced. Tchaikovsky’s butler had been instructed to lie to Korsov and tell him that the composer was not at home.

“Never mind, I’ll just wait for him in his study until he comes back,” the insistent opera singer said.

Tchaikovsky heard that from his study and panicked. He didn’t want the obnoxious singer to find him in his study and discover that the butler had lied to him. So he hid under a sofa.

The singer came into the study, sat on the sofa, and remained there waiting for Tchaikovsky for over three hours.

In the meanwhile, the world-famous composer stayed under the sofa, almost suffocating and trying hard not to sneeze.

And after that ordeal, he actually gave up and wrote an aria for the pushy singer.

Not being able to say “no” is not a character flaw. It is actually a sign of sensitivity and tactfulness that pushy people who can’t get a hint often exploit. Don’t let them think that you are the one with a problem. If an adult is incapable of making a request in a way that makes it very easy to refuse and fails to see one’s unwillingness to do what s/he asks, s/he is the one with a flaw. 

It just bugs me how often people who are sensitive, tactful and kind are pathologized. What’s up with all those self-help books that teach people how to stand up for themselves and say “no”? Where are the self-help books for bullies and obnoxious people? Is the solution really for all of us to learn to bully others? Is the ideal society the one where we all turn into the worst stereotype of a used car salesman?

And I bold-typed the preceding two paragraphs because I think that this is a very important point.

12 comments on “Do You Have Trouble Saying No to Pushy People?

  1. I totally agree with you here. This kind of thing has happened to me a lot.
    like, someone requesting something that i didn’t really want to do from me and getting me to do it, and then someone else telling me “oh, you sweet thing, you should learn how to say no”.
    What’s that? I should stop being sweet? what about “oh, sweet thing, that bastard exploited you. S/he should learn not to push people”.?

  2. This is a problem for me, too, although it’s getting easier as I get older — some kind of inner stubbornness finally kicked in about the time my kids were in elementary school. People would demand my time for things, but that interfered with the limited time I had for my kids (at the time I was working and going to school full time after a divorce). I could either disappoint my kids or please some pushy person. Disappointing my kids was just not an option; they were already having a tough time.

    Now, many years later, the first “no” is still difficult, but once I’ve said it, and it’s not respected, the next “no” is much easier. I wouldn’t wish what my kids and I went through on anyone, but all three of us seemed to have learned some life skills we would not otherwise have now.

  3. I agree with you that not being able to say no isn’t a character flaw. I do think it’s a very useful skill to have. The motivation for acquiring this skill should be ‘I’m not going to let assholes exploit me’ rather than ‘There’s something wrong with me and I should change’.

  4. I agree with this to a point, but some people will attempt to walk all over you. The only thing you have control over is yourself, so you might as well use that power to set up boundaries for those who are trying to control you. This also saves the other person from trying to read your mind about the circumstances…

  5. I still have a real problem with this, some people seem to have this power which forces me into human doormat mode. The ones who do this best to me are the ones who are passive-aggressive about it when they don’t get their way, because I can’t naturally detect passive-aggressivism, and trained myself to be on the lookout for it- big mistake.
    They should write a book explaining to people like that about how being pushy will only grant you short-term satisfaction, and explain to them that being collaborative works better towards happiness and success for a lifetime. It has all of the key words of self help books in the description, only targeted at the people who need it.

    • “The ones who do this best to me are the ones who are passive-aggressive about it when they don’t get their way..”

      Ha, this reminded me of the douche boss in ‘Office Space’.

      • At my old work space, we had a white board with today’s tasks on it, that said “Hey, Workers, Lumbergh Says…” with a cardboard cutout of him attached, and the instructions were given in his tone, like “Hey, could you please refill the coffee by going to the store with the money in the collection cup and getting (brand of coffee)? That would be really great if you could, yeah,..”
        My boss at that job was evil, but the supervisor, who put that up, was a great person who became a friend after we both quit. We had a lot of laughs comparing Lumbergh to our boss.

  6. Sounds like ask vs guess culture. These are two strategies that both work great when the interaction is between two ask people or two guess people, but end up causing hurt when an ask person interacts with a guess person. Both of these are perfectly valid ways of dealing with stuff as long as one remembers that allowances need to be made for people of the opposite mindset to one’s own. As for the difference between an ask person and a bully, an ask person will stop with no hurt feelings at a “no” and will be ok with interacting with guess people in more of a guess manner once they figure out they’re guess people.

    I find much of the bolded paragraphs rather strange if I don’t keep the existence of different communication styles into mind. “If an adult is incapable of making a request in a way that makes it very easy to refuse and fails to see one’s unwillingness to do what s/he asks s/he is the one with a flaw.” is weird to me because to me, most requests outside of serious power imbalances are easy to refuse by saying “no” – a no that is psychologically easy to say and doesn’t require further explanation. Offering an explanation instead of just saying no is understandable as a no to me, when I know I’m dealing with guessier people, but if I’m the one listing reasons why I can’t do the thing rather than just saying no, it means “I am ok with doing the thing in itself, but here’s reasons x y z that make this inconvenient for me, so I welcome any suggestion on how to fix them so I can do the thing you’d like me to do”.

    But yes, I definitely agree with you that what I call “guess culture” and what you call “sensitive, tactful and kind” is not to be pathologized. It is a perfectly valid communication style that works great between people who share it, just like my preferred communication style works great between people who share it.

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