Do a "gut check." Think about how much you really want to do it. Sleep on it. Then, if you discover you really want to do it, your answer will be a "yes." If not, your answer should be a "no." Make sure that if you do say yes, it's because you really want to do it, not because you feel guilty or have a sense of obligation.
Be wary of tricks. Watch out for people who flatter you to get you to do something, guilt you into it, whine so much that you finally do it just to get them to stop whining or those who bully you to do something.
Practice. Be direct when saying no. Don't overtalk the point, and don't be wishy-washy. Some women make too many hedging statements, leaving the other person confused (e.g., "I don't think I can do it, but if something changes, maybe I can.") Be appreciative that they asked you. Look them in the eyes and speak up. Make sure your nonverbal cues match your words.
Remember that if others are used to you saying "yes" to their requests, when you finally start saying "no," they may get upset. Be prepared for this. While it may be tempting to give in, stay firm. If they are pushy, remember that you can be just as pushy back. And remind yourself that a "no" to one thing means a "yes" to something that is more important to you — your own time and priorities. This is one tradeoff that may be well worth it.
Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.