Suppose someone (like a boss, friend, cousin,.., to whom you can not say "no" easily) has a personal request for you which you find difficult to decline, but you cannot bring yourself to say no, because you feel embarrassed or too shy to say no (i.e. you do not feel free to say no), or just simply don't like them to feel offended or hurt.
What is the expression or idiom that would convey this meaning: "to accept a request in this situation, unwillingly but under your own moral pressure or just out of shyness".

I have found this idiom: "to put somebody on the spot", can I use it in this situation?

For example:

My mother-in-law asked me to accompany her to the market, and I was actually put on the spot by her request so I went shopping with her despite having a severe headache.

  • The desired term would likely depend on your relationship to the person making the request - different for the boss than for the friend, and the cousin is family, so probably different internal reactions for each, resulting in different appropriate terms.
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:53
  • You could feel a duty, an obligation, a debt, a responsibility... lots of words cover what you asked.
    – Jason M
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:56
  • This is called “being *pressured into it [against their (will/better judgement)]” if the asker knows that they don’t really want to do it but also knows they won’t say ‘no” and asks anyway.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 3:53
  • 1
    I imagine in previous centuries, when in Western cultures propriety and culture dominated social interaction, there may have been a more colorful way of saying this, perhaps even with a focus on the shyness or desire of the person being asked not to hurt the one asking. But I'm afraid I can't think of anything that means quite what "put on the spot" means...
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 21:08
  • 1
    Also, in some circumstances, you could use the expression "between a rock and a hard place" with certain requests.
    – Tim Ward
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 21:12

7 Answers 7


I would probably use the word diffident when someone is acquiescing to another's authority. The word connotes not just "simple" shyness, but also a lack of self-confidence and assertiveness.

Definition: (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/diffident)

diffident adjective 1. lacking confidence in one's own ability, worth, or fitness; timid; shy.

Another option would be timid. It's a fairly common word and I don't think I need to define it here.

To more directly put across the point of submission to authority, you can consider submissive.

Definition: (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/submissive)

submissive adjective 1. inclined or ready to submit or yield to the authority of another; unresistingly or humbly obedient: submissive servants. 2. marked by or indicating submission or an instance of yielding to the authority of another: a submissive reply.

Obedient is another (more positive) option. Again, a word in common usage, and I won't be defining it here (it's easy to look up).

The most negative options, generally used critically, are pushover and doormat. They are idiomatic nouns that describe a person who seriously lacks self-assertiveness and may be defined as follows:

Doormat (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/doormat):


  1. Slang One who submits meekly to domination or mistreatment by others.

Pushover (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pushover)


  1. One that is easily defeated or taken advantage of.

In the same vein as the above two, there is another idiom, which I believe is peculiar to the US: milquetoast.

Milquetoast (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/milquetoast)


noun, (sometimes initial capital letter)

  1. a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, especially one who is easily dominated or intimidated: a milquetoast who's afraid to ask for a raise.

And, as included in the definition of that word spineless is another negative adjective for someone lacking self-assertiveness. Again, it's a highly critical word. Given that the spine supports your body in an upright posture, I believe you should be able to see how the metaphorical meaning comes about.

  • Plus one for acquiesce. Put acquiescent in front of any of your words and now we have an idiom.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 20:21
  • Pushover is a good one. Or "pressured". You could feel pressured to go shopping with your mother-in-law.
    – Abs
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 16:47

Consider, feel obligated.

obligated: caused by law or conscience to follow a certain course.

WordNet by Farlex


For an idiomatic phrase, your question itself contains a very good one. You probably say 'yes' in these situations simply because you are one of the many people who “have a hard time saying ‘no’” or similarly one who has “trouble saying ‘no’.”
(examples from ‘Health and Wellness’ By Gordon Edlin et als and ‘How to Say No...and Live to Tell About It: A Woman's Guide to Guilt-Free Decisions’ By Mary M. Byers, respectively, via Google Books)

Since you’ve already used this phrase in your question, however, you are obviously looking for something else, and another candidate for you to consider is “You have trouble saying ‘no’ because you are perhaps a “people pleaser.” (from ‘kalimunro[dot]com’)

People pleaser”:

“A People Pleaser is one of the nicest and most helpful people you know. They never say “no.” You can always count on them for a favor. In fact, they spend a great deal of time doing things for other people.” (from ‘Psychology Today’)

As for a single word, ‘PsychCentral’ even hyphenates “People-pleaser.”

Please note that “people[-]pleaser” would work best in contexts involving friends and family, for in cases involving bosses (and even co-workers), the reason might be better described as your being “afraid of the [negative] consequences [of saying ‘no’].”

And, of course, there’s the possibility, regardless of the context, that the nature of the people to whom you find yourself most often saying ‘yes’ explains the phenomenon:

“I have trouble saying ‘no’ because most of my bosses/friends/family/co-workers don't easily take no for an answer [and I’m not assertive enough to deal with their persistence].”

(cf: reasons 2 and 3 (behind #1, which involves “pleasing everyone”) listed in Sonali Ila Ekka, Aspiring Dog Owner’s answer to this question posted on ‘Quora’)


"I could never refuse the Boss, I'm far too inhibited"

inhibited adjective: unable to act in a relaxed and natural way because of self-consciousness or mental restraint.

synonyms: shy, reticent, reserved, self-conscious, diffident, bashful, coy


  • 1
    Thanks a lot @Little Eva, +1 _if I accept my friend's request for accompanying her in shopping, and I accept only out of being shy to say "no, I can't come with you now", shall I use "I was too far inhibited to say no to her"? :)
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 1:36
  • I'd say that "inhibited" would be less precise under those circumstances - which are personal, as opposed to professional - the difficulty in refusing a friend's request is due to not wishing to "hurt" or "offend" your friend's feelings. Maybe you are then, too "sensitive" or "sympathetic."
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 1:45
  • how about "overly obliging"?
    – ab2
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:40
  • Especially considering the OP as edited, I think your suggestion of "obliging" or "obligated" is fitting. Why don't you submit this, @ab2, with definition/citation/link, included?
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:46
  • Little Eva: Because I am jet-lagged. ab2
    – ab2
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:53

soft touch (noun)

a person who is easily imposed on or taken advantage of

> the kindly old woman was a soft touch for any con man with a hard-luck story



You are too nice for your own good

From Psychology Today

Are you agreeable, accommodating and saintly to a fault? Being too nice for your own good can take a toll on you. The key: Knowing when to curtail kindness.

Just two items from the Table of Contents of the online issue:

The Perils of Being Too Nice;
7 Ways to Say No and Keep Good Relations....how to set boundaries without feeling guilty.

When you google "too nice for your own good", you will find many articles, far too many to link here, and even a book Too Nice for Your Own Good

It is a very popular pop-psychology topic.

As for put on the spot, yes you can use it in the way you illustrated. People who are too nice for their own good are frequently put on the spot or just feel put on the spot.


When someone unwilingly do something, he acts against his wishes.

Example: Let me point out that our group forces no one to participate against his wishes.

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