‘Yes, that’s’ fine.’ But what if it isn’t? What if the minute you said those words, or even before you said them you started to feel resentful or overwhelmed, and knew you should be saying no?

This happens to a lot of us. Maybe we were brought up to be nice and kind and think that means that we should always do what someone asks of us. Or maybe we’re worried that the person will reject us, if it’s a personal relationship, or not give us any more work if it’s a professional one.

Saying no does not make you a bad person

But saying no does not make you a bad person, or a rude or unhelpful one. In terms of work, any employer would rather you said no than that you agreed to take something on that you didn’t really have time to do well. And saying no can give the impression that you’re in demand, rather than desperate.

If you find yourself agreeing almost against your will, get into the habit of always asking for time to think about it. This will give you the opportunity to really consider if it’s something you want or need to do. If it’s work, it will also give the chance to think about what you’d like to be paid for doing it, so you can negotiate more effectively.

Equally, learn to sit on your hands when someone is clearly looking for a volunteer (and you don’t want to or can’t do it). Remember, ‘whoever speaks first loses.’  It’s also a golden rule for effective negotiation.

Question your worries

If you are worried about upsetting someone, or not being offered more work, question how realistic those thoughts really are. Nine times out of ten, they’re about your own fears or insecurities. If you think there really is a risk in saying no, then you could try making a counter offer. ‘I really can’t help you with X, but I could do Y.’

Sometimes people advise you not to give any reasons for a refusal, but I personally don’t feel very comfortable with that. However, be careful about making up excuses if what you really mean is that you don’t want to do something. The other person might counter by asking if you can do the favour or the work at a different time.

Finally, remember that you are probably nowhere near as indispensable as you think you are. It’s nice to feel needed, but is it worth overloading yourself and feeling stressed and even ill? And how much use to anyone will you really be in that state?