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Blog Short #116: How to Deal with Someone Who Always Says “NO!”

Photo by VukasS, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Do you know someone who has the habit of saying “no” right off the bat when you voice an opinion, idea, or request? Sometimes the “no” appears before you get the words out of your mouth. Sometimes the “no” comes in the form of an argument or counter-statement.

Regardless of the delivery, you feel like a wall’s been erected and the door to get thru to the other side is firmly shut.

However, not every “no” is the same, and knowing the differences will help you decide how and even if you want to respond.

Let’s start with the whys, which I group into two categories.

Category #1: There’s no malintent

Sometimes a quick, decisive “no” is vocalized, but there’s no intent to cause a conflict or personal affront to the other person. Three situations fall into this category.

1. You need more time to process.

Everyone processes information at different speeds. Some people process quickly, and others need more time to connect various aspects of problems or situations before responding. This is especially true for introverts.

If that applies to you, you might quickly spit out a “no” as a bid for more time. A “no” in this case means “I can’t respond adequately this quickly, so I’m not going to buy into something I haven’t thought through.”

By saying no, you prevent any anxiety or overwhelm that comes from committing to something too fast or dealing with it on the spot.

2. You’ve already thought it through.

This scenario is the opposite of the one above. Here, you’re already familiar with the situation based on previous experience. You don’t need to think it through.

Your partner says, “I’m going to call George and ask him to replace our kitchen faucet.” You respond with an adamant “No!” That’s because you’ve hired George before to fix something, and he did a horrible job. You don’t need to think about it. You already know.

3. You have issues with control.

Your parents were strong authoritarians who didn’t allow you to voice your ideas, opinions, or feelings yet overloaded you with adult responsibilities. You felt dominated, criticized, and taken advantage of.

You respond defensively when someone asks for something or proposes an idea that triggers any of those feelings. Saying a resounding and fast “no” gives you some control over being railroaded into something or feeling dominated.

Older children with overly strict parents often feel this way and project their early experiences into adult relationships.

What to Do

The best response in all three Category 1 scenarios is to invite conversation. Instead of debating or trying to convince, step back and explore what’s going on in the other person’s mind.

Case #1:

You could ask, “I’m curious what your thoughts are. What leads you to say no?” Or, you could also say, “Would you consider thinking about it, and we could approach it again after you’ve had some time to mull it over?”

If you know the person well, you could say,

“I know you do better when you have time to think something through on your own before talking about it. I can wait. Just let me know when you’re ready.”

Case #2:

Simply ask, “Why?” This person knows what and why she thinks the way she does. Open the conversation up so she can explain it to you. You may disagree, but you can validate her experience first, which will help the discussion.

Case #3:

Give this person the control she needs. Ask how your request or idea feels to her.

“Did I upset you? What did you think I was saying or asking of you? Did it seem like too much, or was it demanding?” I want to know how you feel and what you think.”

If you ask questions like that, you’ll connect emotionally and be able to discuss the situation productively rather than oppose each other.

Category #2: There’s malintent.

There are three general groups for this category.

1. The Narcissist.

For a narcissist, saying “no” is defensive but is also accompanied by an intent to manipulate, whether consciously or unconsciously.

This person not only says “no” frequently but takes issue with almost everything you say. Their statements and responses are oppositional, argumentative, and inflammatory. They bait you, one-up you, and insinuate directly or indirectly that they know more.

The narcissist’s main objective is to feel superior. They’re competitive, uncomfortable with vulnerability, and won’t allow themselves to be known. They become more oppositional if you try to find equal ground or connect with them. They need distance, and making you feel small or insignificant is a way to achieve that. “No” is a word they love!

2. Stuck in the “Terrible Twos”

This person is captive in an earlier stage of development and doesn’t have a solid sense of self.

Unlike narcissists, they can connect with you but can’t sustain that connection. Your experience with them is push-pull. They pull in, then become overwhelmed and push back out. You feel like a yo-yo, and they control the string.

Being oppositional and saying “no” is their primary method of moving you back out and getting distance. You’ll know them by the frequent use of “yes-but,” which is just another form of “no.”

3. The Pessimist

The pessimist is a chronically negative person who’s cynical about everything. “No” is not a singular response to a particular statement or situation. It’s the whole mindset.

This person lives in a black hole and shares it with anyone in proximity.

Any attempt on your part to lift them out, or to avoid being sucked in, is met with opposition.

A note here: Everyone can be pessimistic sometimes, but the “pessimist” sees it as part of his identity.

What to Do

For Category 1 situations, I suggested opening up a conversation to connect with the other person to move past the “no” and work toward mutual understanding. Most of the time, this works and is well worth the time and energy.

Not the same for Category 2 situations. In all three cases described above, “no” is used as an impenetrable defense structure to prevent connection. These folks are not open to solutions for the most part.

Someone can pull themselves out of these personality ruts, but only if they sincerely desire to and have enough perseverance to work at it consistently.

That doesn’t happen quickly, and often not at all. This is particularly true with the narcissist.

The person stuck in a “terrible twos” mode can make progress with therapy and the right kinds of relationships. However, these folks often present themselves as either ultra-independent or needing to be rescued, and they can easily embroil you in emotional quicksand. It helps to be mindful of when you get pulled into their internal drama and set firm boundaries to prevent it from continuing.

In the case of the pessimist, you’re better off not responding to chronic negations. You only increase the pessimist’s grip on their bleak views, interpretations, and thoughts. Avoid arguments or debates with this person, and be careful not to be pulled into the emotional abyss.

If you’re dealing with someone in your family or a partner, you can voice your concern about the effects of their negativity on both of you and suggest therapy, but don’t get caught up in trying to force it. Take care of yourself.

Be Discerning

As you can see, saying “no” excessively can come from many different places, and there isn’t a one size fits all response for each situation. It does help to be objective and try to see what’s happening from the viewpoint of the other person. If you do that, you’ll know better whether or not to respond and how best to go about it.

That’s all for today.

All my best,


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