07/16/2014 01:24 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

The Best Way to Say No (While Saving Your Sanity and Your Soul)

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Have you ever said yes to someone and then immediately regretted it? Like giving away that yes stripped away a part of your soul that you can never recover again?

I may sound a tad dramatic, but some yes' do have serious long-lasting consequences.

Like when you're 15 years old, in love for the very first time, and your boyfriend is pressuring you to have sex... before you feel ready. And you say "yes" even though every cell in your body is urging you to wait.

Or like when you're 35 years old, and your soon-to-be husband says, "Having kids really isn't a priority for me." And you say, "Oh, yes. I totally agree. Our lives our full enough as it is without kids in the picture." Even though your heart is crying out, "That's not true. I want to be a mom."

Saying yes when you want to say no is like swallowing a sip of poison. Or in some cases, a big gulp.

And that goes for your professional and public life, too. Not just your personal realm.

As a media coach, I've heard dozens of horror stories from clients and workshop participants who got booked in the media, signed a promotional contract or landed a book deal and then got asked to do things that made their heart sink and skin crawl. (Like pose half-naked on a book cover, for example.)

Whether you're a business owner, public speaker or author, it is vital that you learn how to say no, even when there is an incredible amount of pressure to say yes.

It's very simple to do. You just say (without shrinking or puffing up or taking a "tone."): "No, I'm not comfortable doing that." Or: "No, I'm uncomfortable with that."

And if they push back, take a calming breath and feel your feet on the ground, solid and still. Then, in a neutral tone keeping your eyes, face and body soft and relaxed, say:

"Actually, this isn't open for negotiation. And... here's another possibility that I came up with ... [and then describe an alternative solution]."

That's it. You're holding to your principles while offering an elegant solution that serves everyone. Don't back down.

Remember: You don't owe anyone an explanation for feeling the way that you feel, and you don't need to keep repeating yourself. No is a complete sentence.

Safety expert Gavin De Becker says, "When a man says 'no' it's the end of a conversation. When a woman says 'no' it's the beginning of a negotiation."

By saying something just once, you're making it clear that this is not a negotiation.

Speak your mind. Stand your ground. Sing your song. Show people that you are not someone who is easily swayed or pressured. Someone who is to be respected and honored.

Need a little encouragement?

Check out these powerful public figures who have said NO even when there was intense pressure to say YES:

  • Bestselling author and TV actress Mindy Kaling has said no (repeatedly) when red carpet stylists try to drape her curvy body in gigantic muumuu-style dresses. She wants to wear form-fitting gowns that show off her body, not hide it!
  • America's bestselling poet Mary Oliver, almost always says no to media appearances and interviews. Her reason? She finds them unnecessary. She prefers her poetry to speak for itself. (One of her most famous poems is called Wild Geese.) It starts out: "You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your kneesFor a hundred miles through the desert, repenting."
  • The 40 CEOs profiled in this book each had to make touch calls in the face of tremendous pressure -- often with billions of dollars on the line. In each scenario, their call was a career-making decision.
Saying no isn't always easy, but in the long run, it's always easier than living with the pain of a yes that you shouldn't have given.

What's the hardest no you've ever had to give?