There are lots of reasons we struggle with "no." Some feel bound by obligation or by fear of hurting someone's feelings. Others believe they really can do it all (and hate to pass up the opportunity to try). But think about it: Almost every misplaced yes is really a no to you.
By asserting yourself in a considerate, confident way, says negotiator William Ury, Ph.D., author of "The Power of a Positive No," you can be selective about what you take on without jeopardizing friendships -- a people-pleaser's biggest fear. Try our five-step plan so that you can start saying no -- and stop feeling guilty.
Find Your Yes
Before you can even think about getting good at saying no, get clear on what to say yes to in life. If your yes is more time with your family, that will mean turning down obligations that keep you away from home. If it's yes to better health, you'll need to say no to late nights at work that keep you from the gym. The firmer your foundation and connection to your yes, says Ury, the less difficult it will be to say no. After all, you'll be answering to a higher cause.
Buy Some Time
Whenever possible, don't respond to a request on the spot. This keeps you from saying yes under pressure ("Um ... sure, I'll host the baby shower") or reacting emotionally to the request, especially when you're feeling stressed out.
Deliver Your No with Grace and Resolve
The moment of truth can be the most difficult of all, particularly when you're afraid of hurting someone's feelings. Ury suggests a "yes-no-yes" approach: First, share what you're currently saying yes to ("My mother and I always go out for breakfast on Saturday mornings"). Then say no ("So I won't be able to help you set up for the brunch you're hosting").
But don't stop there. After you've turned someone down, affirm your good intentions by closing with another yes -- this time, to a mutually positive outcome ("But I'd be happy to help clean up after it's over"). In so doing, you relieve some of the frustration wrought by closing a door, while sending the message that you respect the other person's needs.
Have a Plan B
Even if the other person gets emotional or reactive after you've delivered your no, don't yield under pressure -- as difficult as this may seem. Instead, take a deep breath and listen attentively to his or her objections. Then, gently but firmly, underscore your no -- and keep it simple and clean; no backpedaling or scrambling for defense.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Even with practice, some will always find saying no a challenge. For the dyed-in-the-wool people pleaser, there may be a twinge of guilt -- and, for the overly ambitious, regret. Realize that your perennial inclination to offer help is something to be lauded, not criticized.