The article discusses the challenge of saying “no” and offers solutions to avoid falling into the “yes” trap. It identifies four common traps: the fear of missing out, the fear of being perceived as unfriendly, the desire to be liked, and feelings of guilt. The solutions include offering alternatives, empathizing with others, setting boundaries, and asserting personal preferences. Additionally, a quiz is provided to help readers assess their susceptibility to the “yes” trap.

You’re standing around the water cooler minding your own business when your co-worker from the next cubicle starts pleading with you to organize next month’s holiday office party. Your brain does a quick game of connect the dots and realizes that between next weeks sales presentation and your Aunt Joan’s visit, the inevitable answer must be no. As you open your mouth to say “I’m sorry I wish I could, but I can’t,” you do a 180 degree turn around and out spills ” I would be happy to.” Why is it that such a small two-letter word can be so difficult to say?

The key is to learn to say “yes” to the right things and “no” to the wrong ones. That’s easier to do if you understand the following four saying yes traps and their solutions.

Trap #1: Good Candy

Remember when you were a kid and there was always one house on the block that handed out really good Halloween candy? Your plans always included a visit to that address. Even as an adult, no one wants to feel like they are missing out. Say you get invited to the movies, or you are asked to be part of a task team at work. Instead of saying I’m too tired or busy, you say yes for fear that if you decline you might miss an opportunity. Marjorie Brody author of Career Magic: A Women’s Guide to Reward and Recognition says, “We are afraid that if we say no, we might miss a chance to be recognized for our talents or seen as someone who is willing to jump in and help out. We don’t want to be the only one not going to the party.”

Smart Solution: When you want to participate but the timing or scope is wrong, you can always offer an option or ask for a rain check. Try saying “I’d love to be asked at another time.”

Trap #2: Bad Guy

Saying no is not just a problem of the willy-nilly and weak-kneed. Feeling an internal pressure to say yes has nothing to do with education, success or smarts. The fear is that if you say no, you might be perceived as unfriendly, uncooperative or not a team player. If you say no and someone gets angry, accept it and apologize for their hurt feelings, but not your decision to take care of yourself. Smart Solution: Let the other person know you empathize with their situation or feelings. Try saying, “I know how important this is and I feel bad, but I’m not in a position to say yes.”

Trap #3: You Like Me

Wow they want you to be in charge of the team ski trip to Mount Saint Helens. Of course you are flattered, who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to be liked and likes to be wanted. The opportunity to be part of a group is rewarding but even things that are fun can become a burden if you’re overextended. Smart Solution: In this 24/7 can-do culture the pressure to say yes to everything can be overwhelming. Create a boundary that lets other people know when you have reached your time, energy and attention limits. Try Saying “I have to many other things on my plate right now.”

Trap #4: Got Guilt

Sure your local church or synagogue could really use your help — and your sister in law definitely needs someone to watch the kids. If you find yourself saying yes because you are worried about hurting someone else’s feelings, or think your being selfish by saying no, you’re caught in a trap. “For many of us it’s a knee jerk reaction to be constantly thinking about the people in our life. When the requests come in we have been trained to say yes.” Says Helen Lerner author of Time for Me: A Burst of Energy for Busy Women. Smart Solution: When you are asked to do something you really don’t want to do, draw a clear line in the sand. Try saying “I don’t want to do that.”

Take The ‘Yes’ Trap Quiz

How often are you caught in the yes trap? You might be surprised. The more of these questions you answer ‘true’ to, the more you need to recover your ability to just say no and regain the balance in your life. Circle true or false:

1. I often say yes for fear of missing out on something.

True / False

2. I frequently worry that if I say no I might hurt someone’s feelings.

True / False

3. I often think if I say no I may be viewed as uncooperative or not a team player.

True / False

4. I frequently feel guilty when I say no, especially if I can see what is needed.

True / False

5. I want people to like me so I often say yes, even when I don’t really have the time or energy.

True / False

6. In general it makes me feel uncomfortable to say no.

True / False

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.