Most people hate saying no. Nobody likes the idea of disappointing others, but knowing when and how to say no is one of the most important skills you can cultivate. Done right, "no" can help you build better relationships and free you up to do the things that are important to you.

Here are some ways to start building your ability to say that difficult word:

Acknowledge that you can't do everything.

Trying to say yes to everything is likely to leave you trapped with no time or energy for yourself--and unable to give your best to any of your commitments. Start by selecting the things you genuinely want to say yes to--the things that build relationships with important people in your life, that align with your values, that bring you joy--and stop accepting responsibilities that don't meet those criteria.

Define your personal boundaries.

Boundaries define the emotional and mental space between yourself and another person. Think of them as the gatekeepers of your personal space, and make sure that you're clear about how much you're able to take on. Setting boundaries, especially with people you care about, can be difficult and may make you feel guilty at first, but remember that caring for yourself helps assure that you have the energy to be there for others.

Identify your priorities.

To make good decisions about what to say no to, you need a clear idea of your own priorities. If you've left them undefined, sit down and spend some time thinking about what's most important to you. Learning to prioritize effectively can help you become more efficient, save time, and decrease stress. Once you know what's most important, it's easier to decide where to focus your energy .

Practice saying the words.

Whether you're declining an invitation to a party or turning down a new project at work, you can say no while still being friendly and respectful. Give yourself some ground rules and practice what you'll say. Give a brief reason if you wish to, but don't falter or back down. Be direct: "I'm sorry, but that's not something I can take on now."

Never compromise on your integrity.

Your integrity sets your standards and gives you a code of morality and ethics. Use it to guide you in saying no and you'll always make consistent choices that are grounded in your beliefs.

Know that you can't please everyone.

Trying to make everyone happy is a recipe for stress and frustration--and it's literally impossible to do. You may fear that people will disrespect you or be disappointed if you say no, but most people won't think any less of you. Remember too that in saying no you're modeling good self-care to those around you.

Here's the bottom line: Knowing when to say no takes learning. Hone your skills so that you're able to more easily recognize and deal with the situations where it's your best response.