How Using Your Voice To Say No Expresses And Protects Your Identity

Because It Shows What You Stand For and What You Stand Against

Learn Through Stories
Learn Through Stories

A Case Study: Aisling’s Story

In making the move from being employed to setting up her own business, Aisling felt she needed support to understand how to do this well. By well, she meant establishing a company that earned a good reputation because it delivered good work. By good work, she meant work that made a positive impact to people’s WorkLives, because it served their learning wants and needs. 

You see, Aisling is a WorkLife Learning Practitioner. Her purpose and passion is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, purpose, passion and pride, by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes and resources that are accessible to everyone. Actually, that’s her guiding statement that, well, guides everything she does as a WorkLife Learning Practitioner. Her inspiration in creating her work comes from a lifelong passion for learning. Her work has taught her that the one thing in life that can never be taken away from you is your learning.

Aisling has a strong sense of identity. She is very clear about who she is and what is important to her. She is very values-driven, which has always helped her to know what is right and what is wrong for her. That was about to stand her in good stead as she began to work with a ‘Specialist’ to help her establish her business. Aisling was about to understand how she needed to use her voice to say “NO” to express and protect her identity. To show what she stood for and what she stood against.

Aisling had been accepted onto a government-backed programme helping newly established businesses to grow. The initiative was overseen by The British Business Bank, whose aim is to increase credit supply to small and medium enterprises and provide business advisory services. Aisling was applying for a £10,000 startup loan. To help her work through the application process, she was given the support of Barry, who, if her application was successful, would then become her mentor in helping her grow her business.

Barry’s support in helping Aisling create her Business Plan, Cash Flow Forecast and Personal Survival Budget ahead of submitting her application was invaluable. She was grateful for his input. Without it, she wouldn’t have submitted a successful application because she really didn’t know how to do it.

The £10,000 loan gave Aisling six months to focus on getting her business off the ground without having to worry about how she was going to meet her monthly living expenses. She believed this timeframe was sufficient to begin to generate enough income to be in a position at this point to cover her monthly outgoings from her income.

Ahead of her first meeting with Barry, he had asked her to write her first goal for her business. He asked her to do this by following the SMART goal setting strategy. He said her goal needed to be outlined in a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and anchored within a Time Frame.

Aisling’s first goal was:

Within six months, I want to be earning a minimum of £1,500 p.m. To achieve this, I will promote the learning resources I’ve created. My target audience is both individuals who want to self-manage their WorkLife learning and companies who want to support their people in this self-management learning.

In their meeting, Barry asked Aisling to talk him through her proposed action plan and how this would help her achieve her goal.

Aisling had created a series of 27 learning programmes. They were designed to help people continuously fine-tune their learning, development and growth in the areas that are most important to them. 

Each programme tells real WorkLife stories of the struggles and successes people encountered in their WorkLife. These are presented as case studies. Each programme also includes the exercises that helped navigate these situations, presented as assignments for people to work through and adapt to their WorkLife situations. Each programme was available in e-book format priced at £10 and as an e-learning course priced at £30. The online course included instructor-led assignments. 

Aisling had created a spreadsheet that demonstrated different combinations of sales that would allow her to achieve her £1,500 p.m. goal – i.e. 150 e-book sales, or 50 e-learning courses, or a combination of 60 e-book sales and 30 e-learning courses. She also had a fallback plan to provide one-to-one coaching at £400 p.m. for 4 hours of coaching. Working with four clients p.m. would help her achieve her goal. The reason this was her fallback plan was that her longer-term goal was to reach more people through her work. There was only so many people she could work with through one-to-one coaching, which meant it wasn’t scalable in the same way her online programmes were. But in the short term Aisling was willing to do what she needed to do to achieve her first goal. She was experienced, established and respected as a coach. She wasn’t experienced, established or respected as a provider of e-learning – yet. 

Barry asked how Aisling was going to promote her e-learning. She said she planned to create free content that was helpful to people in managing their WorkLife learning. She would share this on her website and other platforms that supported the sharing of helpful content. This, she believed, would help to create awareness of her and her work and help to establish herself as being knowledgeable in her field.

Barry believed there was a better way to establish herself as a respected provider of e-learning. He suggested she needed to start winning awards for her programmes. Instead of focusing her time on writing content, she should focus on entering her programmes into the ever-growing awards programmes. 

Immediately this didn’t sit well with Aisling. She didn’t create her programmes to win awards. She created them to help people. Helping people was the greatest award Aisling could ever hope to achieve. And so she said NO to Barry’s suggestion.


Aisling followed her plan to achieve her 1st goal. In the end, she decided she would take on four clients for one-to-one coaching. She allocated a half-day each week for this work. There were two reasons behind her decision. 

  1. It was guaranteed income which gave her peace of mind because it enabled her to cover her living expenses.
  2. She came to realise that it would take time to establish herself as a respected provider of e-learning.

However, by the end of the six months, her e-learning programmes were bringing in monthly revenue of £750 p.m. – so she was halfway there. Within 12 months, she was achieving her target of £1,500 p.m. And within two years, her e-learning programmes were bringing in £5,000 p.m. in revenue. 

Three Questions to Help You Understand Why Something Isn’t Right for You and What to Do Next  Assignment

There will be times when your gut instinct will let you know that something isn’t right. It has been said that the gut is faster than the mind. The more you pay attention to understanding your intuition, the better your decision making will become.

To check in with your gut instinct in the moment, ask yourself these three questions:

Do I feel good about this choice?

Does this suggestion or idea give me or take my energy?

Will doing this make me feel respected?

The responses you receive may inform you that you need to say an immediate NO.

Or they may inform you that you need to take time to think it through.

Or they may inform you that you need more information.

The important learning is your gut reaction in the moment has allowed you to know something isn’t right.

This has prompted you to ask three questions from which you’ll get immediate in the moment responses.

Then whichever response you receive informs you in the moment what you need to do next – To give an immediate NO – To ask for more time – To ask for more information.

A simple in the moment decision making strategy that will serve you well throughout your WorkLife.

Words of Wisdom 

It takes courage to use your voice to say NO. But that one word allows you to express and protect your identity. Because it demonstrates what you stand for and what you stand against.

If you found this post helpful, you may also like to take a look at The School Of WorkLife books, which are designed to help you fine-tune your learning, development and growth in the areas that are most important to you.


Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.