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Stop Being A People Pleaser And Learn How To Say "No!"

June 16, 2015 3 min read

If you are anything like me, saying 'no' is incredibly difficult. It is such a tiny little word and yet, so difficult. Saying 'no,' is something central to your health and well being. If you are constantly taking things on, or doing things for the benefit of others, things in your own life could start to slip away. You could become overwhelmed and stressed out. The good news is, you can learn how to say 'no.' "Ultimately after saying no to a few things, you learn that other people will step up to take care of them, and that you do not always have to be the one to handle issues that come up," says Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Why is it so hard to say no?

You can't start saying 'no' until you start to unpack why you keep saying 'yes.' Kristen Carpenter, PhD, Director of Women's Behavioral Health at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, says it may be because you were conditioned from childhood to do what is asked of you. She says, "We're not socialized to say no... We're raised to be nurturing, cooperative, and sharing in ways little boys are not. This sets us up for life, and it's difficult for some women to be assertive." Women are often more agreeable than men. Markman says, "That refers to how much we want to be liked by other people. Agreeable people tend to say yes to requests, because that makes the person who asked like them in the moment. On average, women rank much higher in agreeableness than men." Men are pressured to be assertive because to be too agreeable, presents as weakness. One the flip side, assertive women are seen as 'bitchy' and 'difficult.' Who wants to be considered weak or a bitch? The desire to avoid such a label may make you say yes far more often than you should. "To assert oneself feels like the wrong thing to do," Carpenter says. "But you should be able to express your thoughts, feelings and rights, and do so in a direct, open and honest manner."

How to effectively say, 'no.'

If a woman says no, she is more likely to be asked why than a man. And women often feel guilty for saying no, especially at work where the fight for promotion can be much more difficult. Be strong and firm and know your value. Here is exactly what you need to do: Consider a request first. Don't respond immediately. "For women who are highly agreeable, it is important to thank people for asking for their help and to say that they will check their calendar and get back to them soon," says Markman. "Taking the time to think over a request gives the person control over when she responds rather than having to do it under pressure." Go straight to the source. Don't be afraid to tell the person 'no' to his/her face. Don't use a go between. "Take the message right to the source," says Carpenter. "The purpose of this is owning it. You have to own your response." Be very clear. Do not waffle. Do not muddy your words. Many women say things like "I don't think I can take that on right now" which leaves room for the other person to muscle you into it. "Women are more inclined to leave the door open, or end a sentence with a question instead of a declarative," she says. "Be specific, clear and direct." Do not feel the need to explain yourself. You don't have to explain yourself to anyone. Ever. Do not back down. If you start out saying no but give in later, you are establishing your no's as meaningless. You will be pestered after you've already given a response. "You have to stick with it," Carpenter explains. "When you say no, mean it." That doesn't sound so difficult. I think I will start today! How about you?

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