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Just Say No

People ask you for your help because of one big reason: You always say yes. Here's how to cultivate the art of saying no.

Are you a perennial yes man? You know, the neighbor or friend or coworker who is always available without fail.

Your friend asks you to walk his dog every day for the next two weeks and you say yes. You're asked to chair a local fundraiser for the school and you say yes. Your neighbor needs help with a leaky toilet and you say yes—with wrench in hand even. Of course you want to help. No problem.

But are you really happy saying yes all the time? Do you even have the time to walk the neighbor's dog? The funny thing is you actually feel pretty annoyed—with the person who asked you to walk the dog and with yourself. "Why does she always bug me and not the neighbor down the street?" You may even feel a little manipulated: "I think he's taking advantage of me."

The truth is you'd rather say no a lot of the time. Just think about it. People ask you for your help because of one big reason: You always say yes.

In the end, the real problem is that you don't know how to say no. Throughout your life you've been overly accommodating. You wanted to please your parents and win their approval (and maybe you still do). Besides, you learned that to be well liked you had to say yes. Otherwise, you would have been friendless and frowned upon. Right?


It's time to do an about-face. The art of saying no is important to learn. Otherwise, sanity will be hard to come by. Susan Newman, author of The Book of No, has a few basic tenets that can help you hone your "no" skills:

  • Make a list of how many times you said yes in the last week. Your reaction to each request is important. Note if you felt angry with yourself or resentful for agreeing. Or note if you really didn't want to be available or if the request gave you anxiety.
  • How you divvy up your time is telling. Think about whether you are being monopolized by one individual. It could be a friend, a relative or a co-worker who makes endless demands. You let this person infringe on you countless times in the past. Why do you think he will stop?
  • You need to define your limits. Sometimes fulfilling a favor can be satisfying, but just know when the requests start to impinge on you. Know when you are being drained by other people's problems.

Perhaps you are just avoiding confrontation. You may think that it's easier to help your friend than deal with her neediness. But this approach may need some thought. It's best to discuss how you feel with your friend; otherwise you may blow up at the wrong time and wrong place.