Yeasayers and Naysayers

Think about it for a moment. Are you one of those types who tend to agree with what is being said? You hear someone arguing in favor of an issue – “Children should be spanked” – and when they’re done you say, “That makes a lot of sense. I agree.” But then someone else speaks and argues for precisely the opposite position. As they move along with their argument, you find yourself saying, “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. What they’re saying seems reasonable to me. I agree.” Some might say you’re wishy-washy, indecisive, and unable to make up your mind. Psychologists have used the term “Yeasayers” to describe those who tend to agree with whatever point of view is being presented.

On the other hand, you may be one of those types who tends to disagree with whatever is being said. Bill says, “I really hate these cloudy days.” Wally responds, “It’s not that cloudy. I’ve seen lots of days with more clouds.” People might describe Wally as argumentative, stubborn, and uncooperative. Bill says, “Wally, why do you take issue with everything I say?” Wally: “That’s crazy. I don’t take issue with you. I agree with a lot of what you say.” Psychologists would call Wally a “Naysayer.”

Whether a yeasayer or naysayer, it’s pretty obvious that neither are good coping strategies. Yeasaying would seem to be a good way to cope. When you agree with someone, you’re giving their opinion validity and saying you value their opinion. That makes them feel good. After a while, however, they may begin to question your sincerity. It’s like a worker always agreeing with the boss’s ideas. The boss may eventually wonder, “Is he agreeing because I’m the boss, or because he’s afraid of me?”

Yeasaying can also be bad if you always agree to do something for someone. No matter what the request, do you typically say, “No sweat. I’ll be glad to help you out.” Such altruism may make you feel better, but it also brings coping dangers: What if helping involves a task that violates your values? What if you don’t want to be held accountable for this particular job? What if helping compromises your health, finances, or self-esteem? What if deep down you know that the job is unrealistic? When these factors come into play, you’re better off saying “No.”

When I was a professor, there were times when the President of the College asked me to serve on a particular committee, develop a project, or take on some similar extra duty. I never said no, even when I had my doubts about my ability to make a contribution [which was often!]. When the President asked something of me, I complied. Most of the time it worked out, but there were occasions when the extra work overburdened me, and my work in other areas suffered; or, there were times when I was simply unprepared and lacking knowledge in an area that made my contribution minimal at best. There were a couple of circumstances when I eventually had to go to the President and explain to him why I needed to be excused from my commitment to him. I could have saved myself a lot of grief and stress by taking that stand originally, and explaining why I didn’t feel I was the best person to represent him in whatever he was asking of me.

In the context of effective coping, you need to strike an appropriate balance between almost always agreeing or almost always disagreeing. A good coping strategy will allow you to adapt to the situation by weighing your needs and welfare against others’. This process can be especially difficult when you need to say “No.” You want to see yourself as empathetic, helpful, and humble, and avoid a reputation of being truculent, selfish, difficult, and not a team player. Those feelings are understandable. Remember, however, that “no” does not mean “never,” and the occasional, “Sorry, I can’t,” does not preclude helping someone in the future; nor does it make you a naysayer. That personality type shows a habitual pattern of being uncooperative, belligerent, and self-absorbed. The persistent confrontational nature is akin to a personality trait.

Coping with stress is challenging and requires behavior that not only takes into account your welfare and values, but also is adaptable to situational changes. Our coping model stresses acceptance of reality, personal responsibility, and coping actions that include empathy and humility. It helps to remember that you are not capable of everything and can’t control everything; you are liable for your accountability, not for others’; empathy and humility do not mean sympathy, nor do they mean habitually subjugating your independence to the whims of others.

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