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Adaora Egwuonwu: The Art of Saying “NO”

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The word “no” is a very difficult one for many people, but over time I’ve realized it’s one of the most important words to incorporate if we want to excel as individuals, and in leadership. Nothing demoralizes a person when more than when being told ‘no’. Some people see it as being rude or impolite, and may take offense to it; but truth be told, you are actually exercising self-care. Finding yourself is not primarily what you add to your life, but essentially what you take away.

I vividly recall when I went for a job interview in the NGO I currently volunteer for. Being my first, although prepared, I was quite nervous. On arrival, having observed the interviewer was a free-spirited guy who knew just how to break the ice, I felt a bit relaxed. Then, he asked me a a totally unexpected question: “If you are assigned a task you are unable to carry out, how would you reject it?” Oh my! That sounded like a tricky question I didn’t want to fall prey to. I felt very uneasy. I tried to be very cautious with my response in order not to be denied the position, especially because I had come in very energetic – with an “i-can-do-it-all” kind of attitude.

I don’t quite recall exact answer I gave since I kept beating about the bush. I will never forget his response. “Do not be afraid to say ‘No!’. It’s part of setting your priorities straight and taking care of yourself. Whatever task given to you that you find uncomfortable, you have the right let us know and to refuse it” Pheww!! Just like that? That didn’t go as bad as I thought. Easier said than done huh? but all the same I felt a sense of relief which was all I needed at that moment.

There are so many opportunities and of course, responsibilities which present themselves as we succeed in life. The key challenge here becomes prioritizing the many opportunities we are faced with. We often try to do this without saying “no” conclusively. We still want to keep our options open. Although, this may result in a lack of clarity and most of the time, overcommitment, we end up disappointing people, exhausting ourselves, or simply just failing. To prevent this mishap, we need to learn to say “no” gracefully but firmly; maintaining the relationship while making it clear that this is one path we’re choosing not to pursue.

According to my Communications lecturer, Mrs. Gaboury: the first step to reject a proposal is by buffering it.  That way you don’t sound too harsh, mean or straight forward to the other party. Here’s a sneak peek of one of my course works on how we were taught to write an indirect letter.

We truly appreciate your enthusiasm towards introducing new features to the improvement of the project at hand. It’s indeed our utmost priority to render good quality services to our high esteemed customer like you. I agree with you on the introduction of these recent features but as it stands; it’s not favorably possible to incorporate the new requirements as a result of the limited time-frame

In this scenario, you have indirectly passed your message across and that message is simply saying ‘NO’. I’d say it’s like an interpersonal skill that develops overtime although it feels very discomforting at first. Be clear of your vision. Does this request help me to further my goals? If it does, that is the only thing you want to say “YES” to.

There are no laid down rules to follow on how to say ‘no’, but here are some helpful tips and phrases I do apply when I find myself in situations like this:

Pay proper attention and ensure they know they are being heard. Make them understand you likewise know the importance of what they are asking you for. In response, you can say “I know how much this project really means to you and I really appreciate you asking me but I’m sorry I can’t”.

Weigh your options
This is a very crucial part. At this moment, you know the implication of saying ‘yes’. You shouldn’t give the person an answer because your options haven’t been evaluated. Therefore, it’s wrong to commit yourself. Use helpful phrases like:
• I’ll get back to you.
• I’m going to say no for now; I’ll do let you know if something changes.
• I’m sorry, but it’s not just possible for me at this time.
• You can choose not to get back to the person at all. Silence is a form of reply.

Offer an alternative
By doing this, the person knows you really want to help in as much as you can’t be fully involved. Use words like:
• I think I know someone who can handle this much better. Do you mind?
• No I can’t do that but this is what I am able to do.

Follow up
This totally depends on you if you feel the need to. You can say: “I’m just checking to know the status of the work done”

Do not defend your decisions
“No” does not require any justification or explanation. It’s a part of success. Remember, each time you say yes to someone, you are actually saying no to your priorities. I’ve been in positions where I almost felt like freaking out. “What part of the NO don’t you understand?” Some people are just a pain in the neck. Of course, we are humans. We will feel that way sometimes. Success in this light is based on the ability to manage the emotions that come up when we close a door or extinguish an option. Consider if it’s worth the try. If it’s going to deter you from your purpose and utmost priority, let it go.

I’ll wrap up by saying this “It takes valor to identify your breaking points and refuse to allow people or circumstances use them to force you say or do things you don’t believe”- Assegid Habtewold.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Antonio Guillem

Adaora Egwuonwu, is the Founder and Editor of Royaliving. She is a writer, lifestyle blogger and author of several inspirational articles. Her write-ups have been featured in some of the most Nigerian leading online magazines. She is also a contributor for The Praying Woman, a Christian Lifestyle Blog designed for women of all walks of life. Ada is a  strong, energetic young lady with educational and professional background in Economics, Project Management and Banking. She is currently based London Ontario, Canada and an ardent supporter of non-profit organizations that help fight against poverty, hunger, health challenges, sexual harassment or any form of abuse. Through writing, she aspires to create more positive impact the best way she can to the society and be a source of encouragement to youths and young adults on how to succeed in life if only they believe You can follow her on: Facebook: @royaliving Instagram: @r0yaliving Blog:

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