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I have an aquaintance who is unable to say no directly. Any conversational transaction which would lead to them saying no is redirected toward the questioner.

Is there a single word or phrase to describe them.

It's not cultural. It's a (learned?) behaviour.

Indecisive is not the word I'm looking for. Neither are these.

The use case was that a person was giving out to a group of friends, treats from a recent trip to the USA, and they were offered a packet of sweets (Jolly Ranchers) which they don't like.

The gift was non-personal and other members of the group were happy to receive them. No rudeness would have been perceived by directly refusing the gift or taking another offering. E.g "Sorry I'm not into those. Someone else can have them" would have been the quickest conversational route.

Instead of saying no directly the receiver then entered a long negotiation to say no without actually saying no.

This inability to say no directly is a repeating pattern in their interactions in general hence the curiosity about a description.

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You can clarify and emphasize this direct/indirect comparison in the title of the question also. Probably that's why you get the answers you don't want to get. –  ermanen Jun 1 at 19:53
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As anyone who has ever been to Japan will tell you - "Japanese" :) –  nbubis Jun 1 at 20:15
    
Is the issue really with the word "no" itself or is it any instance where the person is posing a contrary idea? It sounds like they are, for whatever reason, beating around the bush and uncomfortable or unwilling to be straightforward. –  Preston Fitzgerald Jun 2 at 4:43
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Your title of your question is misleading at best. It is more about the politeness and wavering of the person. I would rephrase so you get better answers. –  RyeɃreḁd Jun 2 at 5:32
    
Have edited slightly to clarify. –  Warren Burton Jun 2 at 6:22

12 Answers 12

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I think people-pleaser might come close to what you are looking for; although, the way I have heard it, that term generally implies a desire to please people so much that it becomes harmful to their own wants and needs, due to being so people-pleasing.

So, these folks (people-pleasing people?) have a hard time saying 'no' due to their desire to please others. However, your example might well fall outside this: whlie the person habitually does say 'no', the example given (with the candy) could also be explained by a learned reluctance to say 'no' (or some other dislike of the word) rather than a desire to please.

For those that do not fit the people-pleasing description; you might say such a person is not inclined to say 'no', or has a disinclination to saying 'no'.

For those that really hate the word, they might be averse to the word 'no'; or, perhaps, simply 'no'-averse.

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This really is the closest fit. Thanks –  Warren Burton Jun 2 at 15:52

If the inability to say no implied acceptance, then I'd say pushover.

Since you seem to be saying, rather, an inability to say no directly but making acceptance so unbearably complicated as to constitute an effective no, I'd say passive-aggressive.

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Acceptance is definitely not implied here as the receiver is doing everything they can to not accept the candy (except giving an explicit "No"). It can't be passive-aggressive either because the original poster hasn't discussed the receiver's intentions. –  kraftydevil Jun 2 at 11:51

What you're describing does not sound like a personality trait — after all, the receiver was trying to reject the gift, rather than just silently but unwillingly accepting it. Rather, what we have here is a difference in communication styles, and this is an example of indirectness. The receiver, in his/her mind, was saying "no", and the giver just wasn't taking the hint.

"Indirectness may be reflected in routines for offering and refusing or accepting gifts or food, for instance. . . . Visitors from the Middle East and Asia have reported going hungry in England and the United States because of a misunderstanding of this message; when offered food, many have politely refused rather than accept directly, and it was not offered again."
(Muriel Saville-Troike, The Ethnography of Communication: An Introduction. Wiley, 2008)

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This is close. It's as if they have a psychological barrier to saying no. "No thanks, I don't really like those. Do you have anything else?" would have been the quickest out but impossible for person to say. –  Warren Burton Jun 1 at 19:10
    
"Indirectness" can still apply, whether the root is psychological or cultural. –  200_success Jun 1 at 19:19

I suggest yeasayer:

a person who habitually agrees with or is submissive to others

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The person did not agree, but disagree - they did not say no directly, but they did say no in some ways. A yeasayer would have said yes. –  fNek Jun 1 at 19:01
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"yaysayer" sounds funnier :p –  Dirk v B Jun 2 at 2:03
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@DirkvB The two are pronounced identically. –  Anonym Jun 3 at 17:22

I'm going to say polite refusal. It can be present as a social skill, as a say-no characteristic or as incorporated in a culture.

As a culture, Japanese people are the master of "saying no without saying no".

For example, Japanese word iie, which translates to "no", is rarely used. They use the word chigaimasu, which is a polite way of saying no, and translates to "different" (or "wrong" in some contexts.)

In general, this kind of indirect people can seem as a waffler also because of the vagueness and indecisiveness in their speech and their understatement can be explained as an unobtrusive behavior. This behavior can show itself as both a polite hesitation for a desired offer and a polite refusal of an undesired offer.

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I wouldn't consider "polite" wasting my time with a complex conversation when you had already decided before starting it. Unless the conversation was somehow particularly interesting anyway. –  Lohoris Jun 2 at 12:49
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@Lohoris: I guess not everyone is you. Polite can be interpreted as a general concept. There are different ways to convey it. –  ermanen Jun 2 at 13:43
    
That's a safe guess. –  Lohoris Jun 2 at 13:44

I like the word acquiescent for your requirement.

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It might be a case of non-assertiveness or meekness.

nonassertive: not aggressively self-assured, though not necessarily lacking in confidence

meek: having a gentle or quiet nature : not wanting to fight or argue with other people

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Jaherr is German and literally translates to Yes-man. This is a good term for someone who is a subordinate.

Someone who is like, for example, that kid at school who is always getting in trouble because he does everything the "Cool kids" tell him to do...

He is a follower.

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Welcome to EL&U. As this is a site for English enthusiasts, I imagine the original poster was looking for an English word; there are many German loanwords in English, but this one has no currency. –  choster Jun 2 at 3:22
    
@choster: Yes-man is an English term. Someone who does not say no (esp. to authority) is yes-man. I wrote this as an answer myself, before I realized that Another Tim had written the same thing (I deleted my redundant answer). –  Drew Jun 2 at 5:25

This sounds to me like a cultural habit. Persons from some other cultures avoid saying "no" directly. As far as my search went (I spent less than 5 min searching), I could find no single word to describe this phenomenon.

If it is not a cultural thing, and it is simply the individual's personal "issues" getting in the way of saying the word "no," you may be able to say that they had verbophobia, or Logophobia, which describe the fear of word(s) (http://www.thinkingclearly.org/phobia-fear-of-words.htm). I am not sure there would be a specific word for "fear of the word 'no.'"

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Nice thought but it's not a cultural value for the person. It's close to Logo-phobia though. –  Warren Burton Jun 1 at 17:11

I think that the person in question can be defined as irresolute in the sense that even with a simple decision to make he/she remains wavering, hesitating, unable to to decide and in the end accepts passively what is proposed or asked to do.

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If they go to great lengths to reveal their intentions without explicitly stating them, then how do you like the term, passive-assertive?

This person is out of their element or situationally ignorant because they are trying to communicate with a high-context cultural mindset when a low-context cultural one is sufficient (e.g. "Sorry I'm not into those. Someone else can have them").

More about high/low contexts: http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html

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Unable to say no. Like an assentator or Jaherr; easily persuaded.-A thesaurus dictionary of the English language ... . March, Francis Andrew, 1825-1911

Though Jaherr is a German word, the use above indicates an association in the English-speaking world

Jaherr, Jabruder. in. a person who says yes to every thing,who has not the courage to say no, ninny,ninny-hammer -Rabenhorst's dictionary of the German and English ... v.1-2. Noehden, Georg Heinrich, 1770-1826.

Though vacillation or the indecision in speech or action is understood to mean indecisive, historically unable Incompetent. Might-Impotence; unable to say "no," was "Determination-Vacillation".-A thesaurus dictionary of the English language ... . March, Francis Andrew, 1825-1911.

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