Trust on Purpose

Just Say No

June 13, 2022
Just Say No
Trust on Purpose
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Trust on Purpose
Just Say No
Jun 13, 2022

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Do you find it hard to say no? Are you compelled to say yes to every request, even when you know you can’t come through, or that it will take you even deeper underwater than you already are? Ila and Charles get real about the stories we tell ourselves about what saying no means, and how to do it gracefully and in a way that maintains, or even builds, trust. 

We want to thank the team that continues to support us in producing, editing and sharing our work. Jonah Smith for the heartfelt intro music you hear at the beginning of each podcast. We LOVE it. Hillary Rideout for writing descriptions, designing covers and helping us share our work on social media. Chad Penner for his superpower editing work to take our recordings from bumpy and glitchy to smooth and easy to listen to episodes for you to enjoy. From our hearts, we are so thankful for this team and the support they provide us.

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a message - we'd love to hear from you

Do you find it hard to say no? Are you compelled to say yes to every request, even when you know you can’t come through, or that it will take you even deeper underwater than you already are? Ila and Charles get real about the stories we tell ourselves about what saying no means, and how to do it gracefully and in a way that maintains, or even builds, trust. 

We want to thank the team that continues to support us in producing, editing and sharing our work. Jonah Smith for the heartfelt intro music you hear at the beginning of each podcast. We LOVE it. Hillary Rideout for writing descriptions, designing covers and helping us share our work on social media. Chad Penner for his superpower editing work to take our recordings from bumpy and glitchy to smooth and easy to listen to episodes for you to enjoy. From our hearts, we are so thankful for this team and the support they provide us.

Charles: Hello, I'm Charles Feldman

Ila: And my name is Ila Edgar, and we're here for 

Charles: trust on purpose, a podcast dedicated to exploring issues of trust and how to build it out to maintain it, how to restore it predominantly in the business world. But actually this can be applied in any domain of life. And we've hit a few other domains besides work, over the past, however long we've been doing these.

Charles: Today we're going to really kind of focus on one thing in particular, which is the relationship between one's ability to say no, particularly in the workplace. but other places as well, once ability to say no gracefully. And trust. And so just having that as a sort of starting point, what comes up for you?

Charles: ILA?

Ila: As usual, you know, we started the intro. I hear what we're going to talk about. We have our conversation before the episode and I'm giggling already because I know that this is a juicy topic. And I think really going back to what's our relationship and what's our story about being able to say no, The soup that I was cooked in the family home that I was raised in. Absolutely. You never said no, because we came from a place of service to others. So whatever their need was, of course you did it, whether it was the last loaf of bread in your fridge, the last shirt on your back, the last penny in your pocket, of course you gave it.

Ila: You just that's what we did. And so that floated into when I started my career. And started in the workplace. My inability to say no from where I came from plus often. Oh, this is really interesting. This just popped into my head. So some of my first roles were in administrative positions. So again, how do you say no to someone who needs you to type that report or to.

Ila: Oh, my gosh, this is a photocopy of myself dating and putting it in the mail and sending it to the 17 locations that we had. How do you possibly say no when that's your job? So I think about where we're going, and this is really juicy. 

Charles: Yes. And, that inability that you're talking about, and you, and I both know this as coaches can extend from that entry-level administrator all the way up to the executive vice president of. 

Charles: Even the CEO in some cases, although by the time you get to CEO, most people do know how to say no, but even people very high up in organizations are challenged sometimes with saying no.

Charles: And so are some of the consequences that you've seen for people when, in work life, when they don't say.

Ila: I'm actually thinking of a startup that I was part of that is now quite a large and very successful organization 25 years later. And the motto in those startup years was find a way to, yes, which sounds like a really, really lovely motto and on the surface and probably to the clients or customers that we were serving, it was fantastic.

Ila: But behind the scenes we were doing work that we weren't clear on. We hadn't paused to determine scope and, for the sake of why and how do we go about this? Do we have the right people in the room? We said yes to things that really didn't make sense. It caused us to pause projects halfway through, halfway through the execution to say, oh, hang on.

Ila: We're actually going in the wrong direction. We need to pause and course correct, and actually undo some of what we've done. And if we continue down that stream, I can tell you some of those first, early years we were working until 11 o'clock at night, we were exhausted trying to keep up with all of these, find a way. 

Charles: I can imagine I've worked with many, many clients that are kind of in that position again, no matter what their role is in the organization, they struggle to say no. And that creates for them way more work than they can actually do and relating it back to trust. Often, they can't deliver on some things, so they're actually breaking trust with some people, in favor of others, obviously, but even then, are they making the right decision? Prioritization choices. are they following through once it's to that, Got as much stuff as I could possibly do. And then more who do I say say no to after the fact after I've already said yes to them and are those the right people for me to have said no to, 

Ila: one of the other things, and this came up with a client last week, there was a realization that. When I keep saying yes, my leader, my team, my organization assumes that I'm, saying yes, because I can that I'm okay with it when really behind the scenes and what became very transparent and very real in this conversation was that this person was absolutely drowning underwater. And that it never even occurred to them to say, hang on. I'm at capacity. I can't do all of this. And often it's because the story that's in our head, or I haven't practiced how to do that. Or if we go, you know, who can I say no to? How can I navigate this potentially in a culture or organization where that's actually not allowed. 

Charles: Yeah. 

Ila: So how the hell do you navigate all that? 

Charles: Yes. Yes. In the sense of, yes, that is often a big problem, not just for the individual, but for the team, for the organization itself. and that's how organizations, that's how companies get behind on all kinds of projects that they're working on, people. Try to do work beyond their capacity.

Charles: And then things start falling through the cracks. People get burned out, they leave their positions, which is a very costly situation. 

Charles: So what are the reasons that people find it difficult to say no in their work? What are the stories we tell ourselves that make it difficult for us to say no.

Charles: And I can tell you for me, one of them, one of the stories has been, oh, I want to be. Needed. I want to be someone who can be needed and counted on, that's my ticket to being a successful employee in this company. And so in order to do that, I don't want to say no. To pretty much anything. that comes my way, and actually suffered from it as a consultant, as a coach at times, too.

Charles: but it's the, wanting to not say no, because I don't want to limit my possibilities within the organization, but there are a lot of other reasons or not a lot, but some other. Big reasons that people don't say no. What are a couple that you can think of?

Ila: oh, this was a juicy one that surfaced last week with another coaching client. And it was a triad conversation between my coaching client, his leader, and myself, and we were aligning on the goals that the coaching client wanted to achieve. And the leader said to him, You have absolutely been rewarded and recognized for the last 10 plus years on getting stuff done. So a positive consequence over and over and over again because he just kept saying yes and then got it done. So the conversation was that his self worth was tied to this incredible level of productivity. And if I'm not that, then what am I? And the juicy nugget here is that he's just changed roles from being an individual contributor to now he's a leader, so he's no longer the. Our lovely Simon Sinek quote, Leadership. Isn't about being in charge. It's about taking care of?

Ila: the people in your charge and supporting that transition. And so this was a really fascinating conversation and this person's like , I've never looked at it that way. I have had positive consequences for 10 plus years for saying yes. 

Charles: Yeah. Yeah. That reward system works well for most of us, if we get rewarded for saying yes, instead of saying no ever. and we see that happening over and over again. Yeah. Keep doing that until in your case, the guy's moving up. And so we'll see what happens for him in that situation.

Charles: But, often one of the other kinds of consequences is burnout and having to leave a job, leave a company because I'm just not able to continue. I've lost. My energy, my enthusiasm for this work, because I'm just exhausted. And I've worked with a number of people as a coach. A number of people again, in many different levels of an organization who hit that point.

Charles: because they didn't say no either because they didn't believe they could, or other reasons having to do with culture the organization, their own personal story, how they grew up One of the things that always fascinates me though is often not always, but often when a coaching client has, after having a conversation about it, gone to their manager and said something like, Hey, you know, one of the things I really struggle with is that I have way too much work.

Charles: I've taken way too much on In large measure because I don't say no very well. the manager has often understood and said, you know what? I hear that I didn't realize that. I wish you'd shared it with me previously. let's work on prioritizing so that, when I give you something, I understand what other things are on the table that I'm, adding mine to.

Charles: And also, what do I think you can take off the table? You can go back and renegotiate a commitment with that person and that person and that person or that team or whatever it is. I find it not unusual that bosses, once they understand what's going on, are understanding and they want to help because this employee is working.

Charles: Not always I've had bosses that I was coaching say to me, no is not acceptable to me from my direct reports. can't say no to me. one guy in fact said he was very proud of saying when someone comes to work with me, I tell them that I own them 24.

Charles: And what I want them to do. They do. And they can't say no.

Ila: Whoa. Okay. That is wow. 

Charles: Yeah, I know. I just kind of mark myself back on my heels. And they said, oh, this is going to be an interesting coaching 

Ila: Yeah. Did you have to pick your chin up a little bit and go, okay. Wow. This is going to be super 

Ila: interesting to hear.

Charles: Well, thank you for sharing that with me. I know we're, we're starting 

Ila: yeah. 

Charles: You know, and actually it was interesting because, after our six month coaching engagement was over, he had a very different attitude about it. Not because I beat him up on it, but simply because he was. C a different perspective and see the value.

Charles: But anyway, that aside, there are people like that out there. There's that to consider so no, in some conditions, some situations can be a career limiting move, and if you're willing to make the trade off that I'm going to keep my career and I'm going to just work my butt off.

Charles: I'm going to be taking work home. I can be up at 11, 12 at night burning the midnight oil to get all my commitments completed. Okay. That's fine. Understanding that at some point, that's not going to work anymore.

Ila: I had another conversation this week, too, about. When did it become normal? When did it become okay? That many of us work on the weekends in order to keep up with our capacity and what we've committed to. I kind of look left and right across many different organizations, different industries, from.

Ila: Big motherships to smaller organizations and everything in between. And it feels like the boundaries of what's okay. And not okay. Have very much blurred. And where now it's like, oh Yeah. I'll just get that done on the weekend. But where do we put a boundary that says, actually I need that time to recharge. I didn't sign up for working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And how can I realign to put some boundaries back in place? Because I think again, over COVID for sure. And working remotely, those lines have become very blurry. 

Ila: I was working with a dare to lead group this morning and we were talking about values and I love how Brene Brown adds the, not just defining your values, but let's operationalize them. And I share. As an example, I have a value of generosity. And so often that meant again. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Ila: Yes. From the little munchkin that's selling chocolate mint cookies at my door to a volunteer commitment to a client that can just squeeze me in and realizing that when I hadn't operationalized them, I would often find myself at my desk Saturday morning. Super resentful. Like what the hell? Why, why? And it wasn't until I held up the mirror and went, oh shit, I actually did that to myself by not operationalizing. What am I saying yes to and what am I saying no to? And have I made that really clear for myself? so I think that also drives behavior, We know it does value drive our behavior. And so is that also something to take a look at? What are my values? How can I operationalize them, understand what they are in order to have more choice around what I do and how I live and come forward and bring that to life every single day, whether it's at work or it's home or everything in between. 

Charles: Yeah. And listening to you. One of the things that jumped out at me is, that there, you are sitting at your desk on a beautiful Saturday morning when other people are out sipping coffee on the back porch or whatever.

Charles: But Sitting at your desk and feeling resentment that's another outcome often of not being able to say no is we end up with all this work. And, all these commitments that we're trying to keep and feeling resentful about it, and that resentment is not conducive to doing our best work.

Charles: In fact, it really hobbles us. When it comes time to be creative, to be innovative, or even to be complete, like, okay, I'm just going to do this as quickly as I can get it off my desk. rather than taking a little care with each, 

Charles: I remember a colleague of mine one point in one of the companies was, it was a real eye-opener for me.

Charles: It's one of my moments of learning something. A colleague said something like, I really try to limit the amount of work that I take on because for me the most important thing is to do everything that I do really. Not just to do everything, but to do everything I do really well.

Charles: And that it took me a while, like a couple of months to really process through that and notice that I was doing just the opposite. I was trying to do everything. And a lot of it, I was not doing well. 

Ila: So this is, also really interesting again, working with this group and there's a couple of the, individuals that have a bent for perfectionism, 

Charles: Ooh, don't say no. And being a perfectionist. 

Ila: Oh yeah. Oh And then let's just also throw in there. The 80 bitty shitty committee has a strong voice around people playing. it's a wicked combination, it's a wicked 

Ila: combination. 

Charles: Ouch. Ouch.

Ila: And when we were unpacking this, there's also a distinction around what does need to actually be excellent and what can be good at.

Ila: And when we have these behaviors driving us that are always about perfection, it's gotta be perfect. It's gotta be this. It's gotta be that on top of, we don't know how to say no. Wow. That's a train wreck, we are going to empty that tank in a nanosecond. And so it was interesting to start to pull apart. Where can I lower my standard because in this case, good enough is good enough. Like a first draft of something doesn't need to be perfect. 

Ila: The end product needs to be excellent, but can we learn the muscle and the clarity in how much effort do I need to put in? 

Charles: Since we're on this topic I think it's pretty clear some of the reasons why we tend to fail to say no, when we probably should. and I do want to note that there's something about this saying yes.

Charles: So there's the idea of, uh, trustworthy commitment, which is a yes. That you can trust, and a criminal commitment, which is a yes. That you should not try because I know darn well, and then there's something probably in the middle there, which is, I think I can do it, but I'm not sure, but there's also that heroic commitment, like my, yes. Is predicated on me being the hero and pulling that all nighter, pulling that all weekend or, but one of the things that's, I think, lacking in, people's vocabulary, with saying no is just ways of doing it. As I said earlier, as we said gracefully, 

Charles: One of the things that I have worked with people around is having conversations with different people in your organization about knowledge and what that means. Is it okay to say no, here and under what conditions? First, maybe with your boss, maybe with your teammates, what do we do around that?

Charles: What's our norm in our culture here around saying no. We socialize the idea of saying no or not. Do we get a sense of what the expectations are around that? it was very clear that one guy, I coached anybody who was on his team knew what they were saying? And, after a while some people left his team just because they didn't want to be anywhere near that.

Charles: But at least you can make choices. When, you know, when you don't know, you're kind of stuck in this story that you have in your head, which is what we've been talking about. The stories that we create are difficult. If not impossible to say no. So first thing is help each other, understand that.

Charles: What, no means. And is it okay? And how can we do that under what conditions we get to say no to? And are there people who can in fact make non-negotiable demands of us, or conditions under which people make non-negotiable demands of us? so that's one of the first things that I think it's valuable for people to do, 

Ila: I was just thinking actually, even a step before that, going back to our trust framework is, as a team. How are we managing our commitments with each other, to our internal stakeholders, to our external stakeholders. And can we start to have conversations about what we say yes to what we say no to, So it's almost even a precursor to, can we start to get clear about how we manage our commitment? 

Charles: Yeah, that's actually a very good point that conversation naturally flows into the conversation about who gets to say no to who and when and under what conditions and all of that stuff. So, yeah. understanding as a team, What our value is around that and what our commitment as a team is because often teams do, get requests from outside the team that appear non negotiable on the surface of it.

Charles: the CEO is demanding that we do X, the general manager wants us to do Y and, so how do we as a team. Do we work with that? And who do we rely on to be our intermediary in those situations, but also just as you were saying among the team, how do we manage our commitments with each other?

Ila: And I think we've woven this throughout many of our podcasts, but the importance of rewarding vulnerability. say you've asked me to do something in my mind. I'm screaming. I don't know how I'm going to get this done. I really want to say no, but I don't know how to do it.

Ila: And so maybe it's. Charles, I hear your request. Can we talk about how I might navigate this? Because I have an awful lot on my plate and I don't want to drop a ball. So delivering accountability is important to me. And so your response back might be, I'm really glad that you put that on the table for us to do.

Charles: Yeah. And that's, that is the kind of conversation often that is valuable between an employee and their boss. If it's peers, it might also be a useful conversation, but what sounds a little bit different? and if your employee comes to you and makes a request. It might still sound different. 

Charles: But in any case, I think there are times when it needs to be said. And so how do we do it? We've talked about this in other podcasts, but when someone comes with a request, there's no. Which almost anybody in their right mind finds difficult to say, especially if the power dynamic is I'm at a power level than the other person. so what you were just talking about, help me, prioritize. This is one good way of dealing with this. Here's what got on my plate. can't do all of this and I want to commit, want to meet the commitments that I make. How do I work through this? 

Charles: Another one of course is to just check that I'm the right person to be. just simply saying I've got a lot to do. Am I the right person to be doing this, given all that I'm doing?

Charles: Or is there someone else, could suggest that you talk to Ella she'll chill off and say yes to stuff she's generous. She says yes to everything. 

Charles: Uh, no, I wouldn't suggest trying to pass the buck that way, but yeah. Is there someone else that you can think of who might actually. In a better position to do it either because of what they know how to do and their capability or because they have more time or whatever. so be able to make a suggestion.

Charles: another one that's really valuable. counter offer, which is, yeah, I can do this, but not that given all the things that I have to do when you're talking to your boss and say, help me prioritize when you're talking to a peer, it might be simply, I can do. Some of what you're asking me to do, or I can do it in a different timeframe or whatever it is.

Charles: one thing that I found many people have difficulty saying has no real value is the idea of committing to commit. So you'll, I'll get back to you at four this afternoon and let you know whether I can do this or not. I have a few things I need to check on that gives me time to take a breath, take a look.

Charles: what my workload is, who I might need to make requests of myself in order to get this done, all that stuff any, and also just sort of center myself. So I'm not showing up to say no to you in that off-centered way, because you just asked me and my automatic response yes, my automatic response. precludes my ability to say no, because the yes is just always there.

Charles: What else can you think of here, net?

Ila: Yeah, well, I think one of the things that I drew the framework on my notepad here is even prefacing a conversation with, I want to build trust. I'm coming from a place of care. I really want to be reliable and sincere with what we're taking on. Can we just have a conversation about what might be possible, what might be, you know, tighten this. Or extend the deadline. So a little bit of that negotiation, but I think prefacing it with, I care about the outcome. I care about what we're working on and I want to be held as reliable, which is why I'm having this conversation. 

Ila: So not necessarily coming from, I need to say no, but I want to be reliable.

Ila: And I want you to know that I care. Can we start the conversation there because here's my curiosity or my questions or my concerns. 

Charles: Yeah, that's great. and it also triggered something else for me, well, you were talking about coming to it from a place of care and what do we care about? And one of the things you're obviously saying in that is that I care about what we're doing here together.

Charles: We have shared care and therefore what I do, I want to contribute to. To that, that project or that piece of work that you're asking me to do as part of our taking care of our shared care, 

Ila: I've got Dan newbie's voice in my head again. 

Charles: sort of bad voice to have in your head.

Ila: It's a good voice to have in my head. And I'm super grateful that he shows up when he does. I think the other thing that we often feel like when we're saying no or receiving a no, is that it's a decline to us, the person and not a decline to the request or the. And he was quite amazing at how he brought this to life for me. And it was like, oh my gosh, I never thought of that. That by saying, uh, grounded, thank you for asking me to do that. I'm not able to do that. And in that clear, no. And Brené Brown is now in my head too. So clear is kind, unclear is unkind in that clear note. It gives you the opportunity to have that need taken care of somewhere else. we talk about the reliability, the further to the deadline, we break the promise. The more trust is broken. The further out we say, I can't deliver, or no, I'm not able to do it for you at all. You've got now space and time to have that need or that request taken care of somewhere. And when he framed it in that way, it was like a big light bulb for me about, oh, I don't have to feel bad that I can't physically do that. I'm not declining the person I'm just saying I can't help you with this. It was a really important distinction for me to hold. 

Charles: yes. And I think that would be the case with many, many people that somehow saying no is a personal rejection of the person, or at least they're going to perceive it that way. And then possibly in turn, reject me as a. that's not at all what's going on or it shouldn't be, and we can, if we do make that graceful grounded decline, then.

Charles: That can be the outcome. Is that okay? I get it. Thanks. and now I can go look for some other way to get this done, maybe we can negotiate something different out of this that will allow you to at least be partially involved in this and move it forward.

Ila: I think there's also the actual practice and maybe you do this in person, or by yourself, maybe you do it in your car. Maybe you stand in your backyard and actually say the word out. And feel how it feels to just say no. Oh, see, like can be cringy, like, this is still a thing for me. I get cringy. Cause I don't want to say it. I don't like to say it. And yet the practice becomes, what are tiny little things that you can say no to, to build the muscle of it's okay to say no. So it may be, my kids saying, Hey mom, can you make me a sandwich? 

Ila: No, 

Ila:  Even though I was like, of course I want to make you a sandwich. But at this moment I need to practice building the muscle of saying no, so I need your support. 

Ila: So help me build that. 

Charles: yeah. 

Charles: You can also say something depending on your audience here. Like, well, I think that I really do have confidence that you can make your own sandwich, that you have the skill, the capacity, you know, where the things are, I'd love to do it for you, but right now I don't have time.

Charles: So. I'd offer that you can make it yourself. Thank you very much. 

Ila: So I think my invitation at this moment is for those that haven't had a lot of experience or are incredibly uncomfortable saying no. The first place to try isn't, with your senior vice-president and declining a project. So what are the one or two things that you can start to practice that are smaller, that you can test drive it.

Ila: It's okay. If it doesn't go well, the risk isn't high and to build the muscle and the ability to go, oh, I have a choice. I don't have to say. So at this moment, I'm going to practice saying no in order to build that muscle for myself. 

Charles: Yes, that's great advice. I think for anybody who is trying to learn something new, try it out where the stakes are low and keep working at it under low stakes conditions until you have the muscle and you're able to go out and try it in higher stakes situations. And again, remember you always have, well, if your story is you have no other options, then of course you're stuck.

Charles: But what we've said over and over and over again our podcasts is in reality. We all have a choice. There are consequences to our choices. Understanding what those consequences really are. Not the ones that we might imagine are there, like all of a sudden we're going to be friendless, we're going to be without a job.

Charles: We're going to be on the street with a little sign. There's that story that people build somehow that if I say no, whatever that story is, interrogate it. How real is it? and like you said, part of the practice thing is to realize that, oh, maybe that story isn't real as I thought it was, I can say no, and it's going to be okay. so building the muscle in terms of our own bodies and, being able to get it out, out into the world. I once coached someone who was overworked and also overdone at home and everywhere in his life. Partly because he couldn't say no.

Charles: And as we dug into it, what he realized was that he couldn't say no without actually getting angry. That was the only way that he could get no out of his mouth. And he, of course, didn't want to be angry at people. so we practiced him doing it first with anger and then backing off of that. But there is, uh, body. Of no, of a decline that's graceful, that's grounded and honest. 

Charles: So we talk about trustworthiness. Yes. We can also talk about trust. No,

Ila: I'm seeing that we've covered a lot of territory today. And so I'm planting a seed. ' cause I think maybe the next episode can be about managing commitments when we need to go back and renegotiate. 

Charles: yes. That's often the work world as important as the initial commitment. because there's so many things going on, things change, stuff comes in from left field and catches us unawares. Yeah, I think that's a great one. Well, thank you, Isla. a couple of the takeaways. I think that is important. And really understanding what that choice is and what, are the consequences of that choice and being realistic about that? and recognizing our story behind saying no why is it that it's difficult to say no, for me, You might have a different reason.

Charles: The other person in the room might have a different reason, whatever it is, but really understand what that reason is or the story there. And then, with that in mind, practicing saying no low stakes saying no in different ways saying simply saying no. declining and saying, here are some other possibilities or the Yes. And help me prioritize, commit to commit. I'll get back to you. I need to take a look at some things. Can I get back to you by whatever time, which is a simple commitment? It's a, yes, I'll get back to you, but I may get back with a no after I really had. Figure out what I have to do and would it be possible?

Charles: Also I think one more piece that's kind of important for me is recognizing what my value is around producing stuff. Would I rather get stuff done because I've made all these commitments just to get it done or do I want to create a situation in which I can do things with.

Ila: The piece I'd like to add that really landed with me today was actually having a conversation with your team about how we want to be accountable. So when can we say Yes. and no? What does that look like? And, under what conditions let's just socialize this possibility. As a precursor to one of us actually going, so I need to decline.

Ila: I really love that. And there's, I think, a team I'm going to introduce pretty quickly. I think it'll be really helpful. 

Charles: Yeah, that's great. 

Charles: So for now, thank you for listening. And as always, if you have a topic that you would like us to address, or if you have a specific situation that you would like us to talk about, Relating to trust. We would love to hear from you. You can contact 

Ila: Or you can contact me at ILA.At big change Inc. Com. We'd be delighted to hear from you.

Ila: So Yeah, as always, Thank you, for a great conversation. 

Charles: Thank you, Ila.