The Herald Bulletin

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Local Business

April 3, 2013

Susan Miller: Knowing when to say no

Between the NCAA tournament and April Fools’ Day, my idea file for this week was brimming with topics. Nope; writer’s block was not a challenge this week.

But the best laid plans and newspaper columns have a way of being interrupted, and that’s what happened as I sat down to write.

I received an email asking me to publicize an award being presented to an accomplished individual and advocate. The project request unleashed a level of soul searching and introspect I thought I’d left behind in Philosophy 101 decades ago.

The individual whose achievements I was asked to promote turned out to be a polarizing figure who has created much dissent when it comes to matters of human rights and faith over the past three decades. Her efforts have fragmented an international body of believers and violated precepts I believe in.

We’ve all heard that business is business, but what about when business conflicts with one’s personal belief system?  It’s one thing when the matters of contestation are small, as in colors or taglines. It’s another when matters of business collide with thoughts on life, the soul and eternity.   

I’d like to say my convictions were so strong that I borrowed the country music line, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,” and immediately responded with a “no-can-do” reply. Instead, I let the matter fester until I went and asked my husband for some advice. Finally (I don’t always get the order right), I checked out what the Bible had to say on this topic.

That left me with the obligation to say no to a longtime friend and valued business partner. As in, “no” I would not promote this controversial figure. In an era that celebrates tolerance, saying no can put one in a particularly unpopular position.

Saying no can also have more practical (economic) ramifications, given the tight job market and the financial responsibilities we have to those who depend on us.

So how’d my situation turn out?

Well, here’s where I made another mistake. Instead of courageously picking up the phone right then and there to explain why I couldn’t accept the project, I put my thoughts into a carefully worded email.

Who knows how the situation will turn out and perhaps the email strategy I used is for the best. I might have wavered on the phone.

Whether we view various workplace requests as challenges to our ethics, core values or spiritual/moral beliefs, we’ll all encounter them. The answers aren’t always well defined as there are vigorous arguments both for submitting to authority and resisting via civil disobedience. There’s also that still small voice to consider.

This week, we’ll receive many requests at work that tempt us to mumble under our breath or roll our eyes and we’ll wisely just roll up our sleeves and do the work anyway.

But when “tolerating the unlikable” turns into “compromising convictions” it might be time to just say no.

Susan Miller is owner of Ewing Miller Communications, an Anderson-based marketing and public relations firm. Her column appears the first Thursday of the month. Write to her at susan@ewingmiller.com.

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