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“Nadia is nothing short of amazing! She continues to work with us on Our Restorative Justice a 501(c)(3) that seeks to disrupt the school to prison pipeline at as many points as possible using time honored restorative justice practices. Nadia has helped us in innumerable ways. She has coached our ED and me as board chair. She has helped us with fundraising work, grant writing work, board governance and development strategy issues. She is highly creative and finds all kinds of informational resources that extend her help cost effectively through things you and I can read. She takes her strong corporate world background and disciplined skills, and uses them to support the efforts of the nonprofit world. Enormously importantly she has excellent judgment and a keen sense of when to support and when to allow those in the entity who should lead to do exactly that. She works with perseverance, good humor and humility. Nadia’s heart is enormous and it shines through in everything she does. And, so far (which is the better part of a year), I have not detected anything that a 501(c)(3) might need that she can’t do or help to do. Nadia is a rare and precious gem nestled into the stones on the beach of life. If you have picked her up from among the others, do not put her down!”
by Professor Susan Maze-Rothstein Northeastern University School of Law/Founder, Our Restorative Justice

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No is a Complete Answer!

Nadia Prescott

Yet not many of us think that way either in our professional or our personal lives. We are too concerned about how we may be perceived by others. Will we upset or offend the other person? Will they no longer like us? If we are at work, how might this influence my next promotion?

Saying no is one of the most important skills that we can learn. It means that you respect and value yourself first. Remember what they say on the airlines, “put on your oxygen mask first before helping others”. The same applies to life.

The importance of living a life according to your values and setting boundaries cannot be underestimated. If you don’t take care of yourself, your physical and emotional health will bear the consequences. If you consistently say yes, when you really want to say no because you are exhausted or other things are a priority, at some point, you will feel resentful. This will ultimately impact your relationship in a negative way with the other person.

Another reason to say no. We train people how to treat us. If my client knows I will pick up the phone at 9 PM every night, when he or she finally has time to call, I am a part of the problem. I have trained that client that I will pick up the phone whenever she calls. Why then should she make it a priority to call about her business problem when she knows I will pick up after regular
hours? Our words and actions send a powerful message to the people on the receiving end of our communication. What is the message you want to convey? Think carefully because once you have trained someone, it takes a while to break a habit.

As a baby boomer, I started working in a time of no email or voicemail. Work and messages (taken by a receptionist) were still responded within 24 hours. It’s a boundary that so many of us have lost in our 24/7 world of computers and smartphones. After working in the 24/7 world of Silicon Valley, I constantly have to be conscious and remind myself of boundaries. Time away
from the phone.

Learning to say no in a business context is equally important. Start-up organizations (nonprofits and businesses), typically in my experience, have a big problem saying no. At the start-up stage of an organization when energy and passion are at their highest, there is a willingness to do almost anything to prove that they should exist. But clarity of purpose or business is essential to
success. It’s very easy to sow seeds, but how will you cultivate and maintain all that you reap from those seeds?

In the nonprofit world, how often do we see mission creep in well-meaning organizations looking to help those in need? In my experience, a lot of the time. Funders are a good example of an entity that says no. Probably more frequently than many in the nonprofit world would like to see! But they understand they cannot fund every program and they say no to organizations that fall outside of their funding guidelines. Even if you fall within the guidelines, they want to see a business plan and other support as well as financial commitment from within the organization before they will support the idea. Employing a tool like a strategy screen with preset criteria on whether is key to determine whether to say yes or no to an idea. Top of the list of the strategy screen: mission fit and financial viability.

Often when individuals move from the corporate world to a more entrepreneurial setting, there is a tendency to accept any potential project to secure income. And to work constantly. Sometimes around-the-clock. One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you can set your own hours and take care of your health and spend more time with your friends and family. It’s one of the reasons so many of us move into an entrepreneurial role. But then we forget. Before answering any requests, ask yourself: if I say yes to this, what am I saying no to? There is always something!

And remember, a request is just that. It’s a request. This response can be yes or no. If you find yourself upset at the response that you get, circle back and ask yourself was this really a request? Or was I “demanding” that person did what I asked? There is a big distinction between a request and a demand.

Saying no can mean what I call a “qualified no”. No, I can’t look after your child tomorrow until 7 PM but I can look after him until 4 PM. Why might you say that? That way you can help your associate or friend, and still honor your value of working out at the gym or meeting a project deadline for example.

Hearing the word “no” from a business associate or even a friend or partner can be disconcerting. Very often the receiver of the word “no”, can get upset because they assume it is something personal about themselves that has made the other person say no. It could simply be because the other person is too busy! Do we ever think about that? Perhaps they have better boundaries than
we do! And if you have any concerns, you can always ask a follow-up question to clarify.

What are the boundaries you need to set to ensure that your business is successful and sustainable? And what or who do you need to say “no” to?

If you want to learn more about how executive coaching can help you learn to say no, contact