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The Nice Girl's Guide to Not Being a Doormat

Are you the person your boss calls to come in over the weekend? Are you the go-to girl when your sister needs a shoulder to cry on? Are you the friend who always ends up covering the tip, being the designated driver, in charge of buying group gifts, and apologizing any time anyone's feelings get hurt? Are you just so nice? As women we're taught to always be cooperative, empathetic, easy-going and accommodating. While those are all good traits to have, it also means we're more likely to be taken advantage of. But there is a balance between being the nice girl and being the doormat.

Pscyhotherapist and Life Coach Jan Graham, of Live a Little Coaching, says that women can learn to be more assertive without feeling selfish or losing our natural gifts for diplomacy, flexibility, and skill in finding "win/win" solutions.  "There is nothing wrong with being nice!" she says, "We just have to get more, well, strategic about it." Here's how to get what you want without losing who you are:

Perfect Your Posture
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This is not about being able to balance a book on your head or looking thinner in your pencil skirt. This is about asserting your power through your stance. In her TED talk "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are," body language expert Amy Cuddy explained that studies have found that when women adopt the "power postures" we typically associate with men, the ladies were not only perceived as being more powerful, but that they felt that way about themselves too.

Graham advises women to make eye contact, use a reasonably confident voice, and resist the urge to cross your arms and legs or scrunch your body up in order to take up as little space as possible.

Practice Makes Perfect
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Being assertive comes naturally to some women, but if just the thought of standing up for yourself makes you want to lay down, then you need to practice, Graham says. "Challenge yourself more often to put yourself out there and stand up for yourself, but to do it strategically—not in a way that's going to overwhelm you." If work is where you often feel put upon, start by standing up to a coworker and then work up to your boss. So, if your coworker asks you to look at something she's done, you could say something like, "Jill, I'm really excited about the presentation on Friday and launching our new product. To make sure it goes as smoothly as possible, I need to put all my energy there—but I'd be happy to look at your paper next week." The key is to focus on what you can do, not what you can't.

Nix Negative Self-Talk
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You've always been shy. You can't do this. No one wants to hear your dumb ideas. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, especially when it comes to how we talk to ourselves. "Often, we know intellectually that we are judging ourselves by higher standards than anyone else, but we still tell ourselves harsh things anyway. This can make us afraid to take opportunities that could really move us forward," Graham says.

Say No
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"Many women feel that if someone asks a favor, the default right answer is always yes, no matter what the favor is or who is asking, and they are being selfish if they do not automatically agree," Graham says. One trick to learning to say no is to remember that saying "yes" to one thing automatically means saying "no" to a lot of other things—like loved ones, pets or free time. And if you have trouble saying "no" outright, at least learn delaying tactics. Graham says it's perfectly okay to excuse yourself with a "maybe" and then take more time to evaluate whether you really want to commit yourself. Her favorite? "Sounds like a possibility, but I really need to check my calendar first."

Speak Up
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In conversations with others, you can speak your mind while still retaining your natural grace and diplomacy. "You don't have to be blunt or rude," Graham says, "But if you are dealing with guys who frequently talk all over you, you may need to learn how to interrupt just like they do."

Get Mad
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We're often told that anger is unproductive but sometimes you need a little fire to motivate you to do something. Graham says if you are being unfairly overlooked, trivialized, or taken advantage of, don't just sulk or complain to a sympathetic friend or family member. "Take those unpleasant feelings, and if they are justified, turn them outward rather than inward," she says.  "Come up with a plan for one small thing you could do to stick up for yourself more." For instance, the next time your friend invites herself over for dinner, let her know you already have other plans but you'd love to set up a time for brunch next week. 

Surround Yourself with Other Strong Women
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"There is still a double standard, in which women are judged differently than men for sticking up for themselves," Graham explains. "But weirdly enough, often it is women themselves who are first to apply the 'bitch' label to powerful women!" Instead of competing with each other, find other strong, confident women to band with. Not only will they help you feel more natural about standing up for yourself, but you'll also be less likely to care if clueless others call that bitchiness.

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