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Chioma Momah: Sometimes You Need to Learn to Say ‘No’



Learn to Say NoYou are checking in your luggage at London Heathrow when the pretty lady at the counter tells you rather curtly, “Sir, your bag is overweight, please step aside and sort it out, or pay for excess.”
“Ooh,” you moan in your head. You know the only reason it’s overweight is because your childhood friend Paul brought a “few things” last night for you to take home. The few things turned out to be several gifts for his mum and all of his six siblings. You knew the things were more than you had allowance for, but how on earth could you have said no to Paul?

One of the first words out of a baby’s lips is “NO”, and (much to our chagrin), our little ones relish using that word. Alas, if only we could all grow up understanding the virtue of this simple word. We learn about saying “please” and “thank you”, but as a former people pleaser, I wish I had learnt the virtue of saying no many years ago. The truth is that many times, we find ourselves in awkward situations simply because we cannot bear to say no, especially to people we love or look up to. Let’s look at a few different situations where you may need the strength to say no.

At work
It’s often said that the reward for hard work is more work. Hard workers definitely get more work done. This is one reason the boss just piles work on you. The other reason is that he knows you won’t give any excuses, a.k.a. you won’t say no. Now, while there is nothing wrong with being a hard worker or pushing yourself, there are times when you end up biting off more than you chew, and this could leave you all burnt out. Besides, if for any reason you are not able to meet all your deadlines when due, you will end up looking irresponsible. So what do you do? The next time your boss gives you “urgent” work that you know would be pushing it, how about saying, “As long as you don’t need it within a week as I also have to submit the other 5 reports you gave me next week”. Your boss may get the message and look for someone else to handle it, or be more generous with his timelines.

With your children
Children learn to manipulate their folks pretty early in life, and if you let them, they will always want their way. Recently I noticed that my 21 month old was loving TV a little too much, as whenever I turned it off, he would cry in anger. However, switching the TV back on will do him no favours. Saying yes to every request your child makes isn’t love – it’s spoiling them rotten. They could easily end up being self-centred if they are raised believing that they are entitled to getting everything they want. Remember that with children, what more important is your presence and not just presents. Yes, they may throw a tantrum when you say no, but for your own good and theirs, you must learn to stand your ground and say no when it matters.

With family
Uncle Rauf loves to send you to run all his errands. Meanwhile, his son Kunle (who has fair less responsibilities than you do) ends up doing nothing. Why? Because you and your uncle are as thick as thieves? Well, maybe, but it may also be because he knows you won’t say no. While there is nothing wrong with helping a friend or family member, the moment you begin to feel resentful then perhaps it’s time to say no sometimes. Remember, “No” should never be said rudely, but you could just say, “Uncle, I would love to help, but at the moment I am swamped. Abeg no vex, maybe at another time.” Yes, your uncle may feel bad for a moment, but as long as you have a solid relationship it should not be a problem.

With friends
You really don’t like going to loads of weddings with your friend, especially since you usually have no idea who is getting married, but because you find it hard to turn her down, you go every time and feel uncomfortable through it all. Yes, you should do things with friends, and yes, there are times you need to go out of your way and make sacrifices, but if it’s something that makes you truly uncomfortable, it’s time to say no. I know a lady that got married to her friend just because she felt sorry for him and could not turn him down! While that may seem extreme, the truth is that when you find it hard to say no to small things, you may find it even harder with big things!

Social and Religious activities
Everyone likes a performer, and if you are good at mobilising others, there is no doubt that you will keep getting requests to participate in different activities such as fundraisers, conferences and the like. While this is an honour, you need to be careful that you don’t take up all your time dealing with these activities and end up with no time for yourself or your immediate family and friends. If you are on several committees at your place of worship, or belong to several social groups, you need to be sure you are not taking on more than you can comfortably handle. The next time you receive an invitation to head yet another group, you may want to thank them for choosing you and ask for a little time to make a decision, or gracefully turn it down. It really is better to say no than to accept and then break down from stress, or do a shoddy job due to lack of time or interest.

So next time you feel the pressure piling up on you, remember you are not all things to all people, and you do have the power to nicely say one simple word: NO.

Photo Credit: | Nsoedo Frank

Chioma Momah is a public policy lawyer, author and a parenting and family life advocate. This mother of four is the author of the children's books “First day at the Big School” , “Fun Day at the Museum” and ''Fun Trip to the Village" as well as the Goals, Gratitude and Growth Journal and the Wisdom from Women series. Chioma is also the founder of Let's Encourage A Reading Nation" (L.E.A.R.N) which is aimed at improving literacy among children. She holds an L.L.B from the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, as well as an MBA from Anglia Ruskin University and an MPA from the University of Exeter (both in the UK). She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Follow her on Facebook at The Parenting Advocate, Instagram at chiomahmomah and read her inspirational posts for working women on . You can also watch her videos on YouTube and listen to her podcasts for working mothers at Chiomah Momah.


  1. "changing moniker "

    April 1, 2016 at 11:23 am

    No is a strong word that every successful person needs to know how to say…

  2. Ami

    April 1, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    So annoying when everyone you tell you are travelling tells you to carry ridiculous stuffs. I have stopped telling people when I am travelling and i just act like it is a surprise. Lol

    • Bebabe

      April 2, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Abosutely right. I remember my first trip to Nigeria, only for people to send me stuff and I end up leaving my own stuff. I told myself it would never happen again. I am more wiser. I am not taking anything for anybody, and I am not bringing anything for anybody.

  3. AsMyself

    April 1, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    “No” is a complete sentence.
    “No” is not a curse word.

    I had to learn this very early in life. I also learnt to say “no” without feeling the need to explain myself.

    Thanks for sharing, Chi.

  4. Uzodinma olanike

    April 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Saying no is safer than doing it grudgingly. Nice one Chiomah

  5. Roli

    April 1, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    True talk! Especiallyi n our society where saying no would be seen as rude. We need to teach ourselves and our kids that saying no is not wrong.

  6. Ufuoma

    April 1, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    My stance not to burden myself with things that are not necessary has just been reinforced by this write. Thanks.

  7. Chineze

    April 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Well said Chioma. Its better to say NO than regret later. Well done!

  8. Lulu

    April 1, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    No leaves u with less friends but what the heck? At the end of it all, u actually have meaningful relationships when you can learn to say no nicely and don’t have to explain yourself. Life is too short to do the things that inconvenience you so badly all because u want to please anyone. Nice one Chioma

  9. Chiomah Momah

    April 1, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    I’m glad many of us can relate to this. Honestly the word “No” when used in the right circumstances can sometimes be so liberating! Thanks guys!

  10. Stige

    April 1, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Chi, you didn’t remind dem ladies who see saying no to some specific guys as being proud. Maybe I missed it while reading it. But some ladies need to learn not to accept every offer from guys indiscriminately. Thank you.

    • Chiomah Momah

      April 1, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Do you mean toasters?( or whatever term people use these days) Ah that’s a whole different write-up, but it’s mentioned briefly in the story where a girl married someone just because she couldn’t bear to hurt his feelings and end the relationship. Very true a confident woman will learn to say No especially when the guy is supposedly all that and thinks she should be happy he is asking her out.

  11. chikodi

    April 1, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks Chioma. Very great write up

  12. Sabifok

    April 1, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    I say no everyday:

    – No to drugs
    – No to people with unsolicited opinions, who have a view on everything and anything that does not “consign” them
    – No to friend requests from people who add no value to other people’s lives, and are all about that shallow life
    – No to people who take advantage of my kindness and goodwill. Never mix business with benevolence; you might end up regretting it
    – No to people who offer me unhealthy greasy food, even though they know I am trying to up my fitness and expunge my orobo ways.
    – No to public officers who ask for bribes or favors just to do their jobs. “No, I cannot dash you that “shoe” or “box of chocolates”” There is a reason why it is packed in my luggage. I didnt purchase it for you

    • Amaks

      April 1, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Lol! Made me laugh but very true!

    • AsMyself

      April 1, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      ??? this cracked me up real good!
      Unsolicited opinions and advice… These things should be punishable by something very painful or lethal. I cannot deal, I swear!

  13. Nammy

    April 1, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Nice read

  14. Ayo Itoya

    April 1, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Well said Chioma, I need to practice my NO skills

  15. Joy

    April 1, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    I think our culture makes it all the more difficult to utter that word. “no” I find out that oyibos have no qualms with using that word and they quickly follow it up with “I’m sorry”
    Great article Chioma.

    • Amaks

      April 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Ah Oyibo no dey waste time with that.. A very polite no.

  16. azuka

    April 1, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    I totally agree Chi, I didn’t realise why I had so many friends in the past was cos I said yes to asked and unasked help, it wore me out, once I stopped saying yes, they all moved on! Lol

  17. Tasha

    April 1, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Finding the courage to say NO is an important aspect of emotional intelligence. Saying NO is self-love. Thank you Chioma darling … Always proud of you

  18. Jennifer Olatunde-Thorpe

    April 1, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I am on a NO journey not yet there but slowly and surely….but this makes alot of sense..

  19. Chi

    April 2, 2016 at 11:47 am

    You got it, dear. NO – 2 letters, a word, a sentence! One of the easiest recipes for the balance we work so hard to achieve.

  20. Lim

    April 2, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks Chioma. Great write-up. I used to be a pleaser too but I certainly had to learn to say no in recent times. With family and friends it might get awkward sometimes though….but the relief you eventually feel later is liberating.

  21. femilowo

    April 2, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    We are all products of our choices whether we realise it or not. One of the tools of making those choices is ‘no’. The use of ‘no’ in decision making is neither negative nor positive in its outlook and the same goes for ‘yes’. The duo only serve their purposes in the process with NOTHING in the harm’s way. We will fare better in life if we put into use the right tool at the right times. If you say ‘yes’ when you are suppose to say ‘no’, you have just killed a part of YOU. Well said Chioma.

  22. Ijeoma

    April 4, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Saying No is liberating, kudos Chioma

  23. bose

    April 12, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    So saying No is a problem? I did not know this.

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