Saying No Gracefully
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Saying No Gracefully

Tips for women who take on too much.

Just Say No

It's 4:30 p.m., and you're winding down your workday. On your agenda for the evening: Pick up the kids at the sitter's (your spouse is at a client meeting tonight), make dinner, hop on the treadmill, and finish your day with a hot bath. Suddenly your phone rings. It's your boss, asking you to stay for a few more hours to crank out a last-minute project. What's your response?

If you're like most women, it's "yes." While our lives are becoming more and more jam-packed, we still feel compelled to agree to any task that's asked of us, whether it's walking a neighbor's dog, finishing a report at work, or baking a batch of brownies for the PTA fundraiser. The result of taking on more than we can reasonably handle is that we become so stressed, we have little time to enjoy the aspects of our lives we're supposed to relish.

The solution? Just say no. Of course, this is no easy task, especially when we're eager to please everyone around us. "Women worry that if they turn down a request from a boss or friend, they'll be seen as unreliable, selfish, and unlikable," says Gloria Butler, EdD, a psychologist in private practice in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. In some cases, professional women feel they're putting their chances of promotion or praise in jeopardy by saying no.

Saying No: How Tos

The truth is, saying no in appropriate situations is healthy. And learning how to say no, while it takes practice, can be done. Here's how:

Evaluate the situation. When you're tempted to say yes to something you feel you're too busy to do, be a little selfish: Take a close look at your situation and weigh its pros and cons for you. If a sick friend, for example, asks you to collect her mail while she's in the hospital, your sense of loyalty to your friend may outweigh the inconvenience of stopping by her house every day. In that case, you may decide to say yes. But if your daughter's school asks you to serve on a less-than-exciting school lunch committee, for example, you may decide that the stress of trying to make it to committee meetings outweighs their benefit for you -- and you may decide to pass.

Realize your time is valuable. Your time is just as valuable as that of the person who's asking you for a favor. If completing that task will take away too much of your time, it's your right to say no.

Give an explanation. When you decline, back up your reasons for saying no. You may explain that while you'd love to help your daughter's school, you have a busy few months coming up and wouldn't be able to give the committee your full attention. Most people will be grateful for an honest explanation and won't challenge you. What's more, they'll respect your decision.

Offer alternatives. Even if you can't honor someone's request for your time right now, let the person know you'll be available for other things in the future. "By giving someone an alternative, you're stressing to them that this one instance isn't indicative of how you'll respond every time they ask you for something," says Dr. Butler. So while you may not be able to stay late at work tonight, explain to your boss that you'd be happy to stay late tomorrow, when you can have time to arrange for childcare. By giving an alternative solution, you'll soften the blow of declining. --Lisa Kovalovich