For years I was a "yes" woman. I did everything for everyone, even when it left me unhappy. What I craved is what no one could give me: unconditional love and approval. I finally freed myself—and you can do the same.

Knowing who you are is the key to saying no. But if you're having trouble getting the word "no" out of your mouth, try these strategies from Connie Hatch, co-author of the book How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.

1. Keep it simple: Resist the urge to over-explain. Simple responses such as "Sorry, I can't this time" or "I'm afraid I'm busy that day" are most effective. The more details you offer, the more there will be to argue about. The other person may try to change your mind or decide that your excuse isn't good enough. ("You mean cleaning out your closets is more important than I am?")

2. When in doubt, buy time: There's no law saying you must always answer at-that moment. Say a co-worker asks you to head up the fundraising drive for a company-sponsored charity. Tell her: "Let me think about it, and I'll get back to you." Then consider the best way to say no.

3. Expand your definition of "I have plans": Many women feel they can't turn down an invitation unless they have another engagement on the calendar. But if you've scheduled downtime for yourself, that is an engagement. So don't be afraid to say, "Sorry, I have plans."

4. Make it a policy: Make your no sound less personal by referring to a rule you have about the thing being asked. For example: "Sorry, but I have a policy about never lending my car" or "I make it a rule never to date people I work with." Such a response carries less sting-because it says no to a practice, not to an individual.

5. Remember that behind every "No" is a "Yes": You're sure you don't want to work 11-hour days or baby-sit your neighbor's Rottweiler. But do you know what you want to do instead?

Every time you say no to a less-than-appealing request, you say yes to something else. Maybe it's one golden hour to take a bubble bath, read a good book or play with your kids. Saying no frees you to pursue a dream—to take a class and develop your potential, or to work for a cause you believe in. The more time you can give to the things you truly care about, the more satisfying your life will feel.


Next Story