Shortcuts: Learn How to Say No

“Despite growing up in the 1970s with feminism and Ms. magazine, I still feel the pressure to say yes to everyone,” admits Darcy Ing, a San Francisco psychologist of Asian descent. “The Asian emphasis on cooperation and solidarity places a lot of pressure on women to go along with whatever the group wants.”

Although Asian women may find this especially tough, many women have difficulty just saying no, particularly in the workplace. How do you tell a boss or a peer that you simply cannot take on another project, stay that extra hour, or attend a weekend event that would cut into precious time with your family?

Patti Breitman, coauthor of How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, offers advice for saying “nay” the graceful way.

Remember that less is more. Don’t give excuses or reasons for why you can’t do something; just say you can’t. It’s nobody’s business why, and providing a reason gives others an opening for talking you out of your decision.

Whenever possible, evoke a “personal policy.” Gracefully decline by making statements like “It’s my policy not to…,” “I never take on other projects when I’m in the midst of another large one…,” or “I can’t work overtime tonight because I have dinner with my family every Friday and they’re counting on me.”

Avoid the superwoman syndrome. Who’s really driving you at work? Is it your supervisor—or you? Many women rack up overtime, extra work, and job-related obligations because they’re overly eager to please or think everything will fall apart without them. Take a breather, and give yourself a break.

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