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Do you know when and how to say no? 

Susie Timlin, Chief Operating Officer, UK Government Investments


Strategically managing your career involves knowing when and how to say no.

If you are good at your job and have reached a certain point in your career, you will soon get noticed and naturally new projects will fall on your desk. However, in order to build on your success you have to accept that you can’t do everything and you can’t please everyone. It’s about making a considered decision as to whether or not it is beneficial for you to get involved in a new project or not. If it’s not, you must say no. But in the right way.

Here’s what to consider


When such requests falls on your desk, it’s important to take a step back and consider a few factors. You must resist the temptation to say ‘yes’ right away, however eager to please you may be, especially if the task falls outside of your remit. Give yourself some time to think by politely telling the requestor that you need to consider your current workload and will come back to them shortly – don’t put pressure on yourself by responding to them straight away.

Once you’ve done so, consider the request in light of these factors:

  1. How relevant is the task to your role?
  2. Does it fit with your current priorities and objectives?
  3. Do you have the time?
  4. Who’s asking? How senior are they and why are they asking for help?
  5. If you say no, how would this be perceived by the business?

How to say “no”


After you’ve made the considered decision to say no to the request, then comes the hard part – actually saying no. There are many reasons why you may find it hard to say no, some of which I can sometimes be guilty of:

  • You want to exchange a favour
  • You want to be liked
  • You don’t want to burn any bridges
  • You are fearful of conflict
  • You feel guilty
  • You have unreal expectations of your own ability

You must overcome these reservations, both at work and in your personal life. If you say no in the right way, you won’t have to feel remorseful. Saying no is your prerogative, and your colleagues should always be respectful of your decision and time. Just make sure when you’re turning down a request for help that you’re doing so in an honest and transparent way – this is the easiest way to keep your workmates on your side.

Here are some simple and effective ways to say no:

  1. “Unfortunately, I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities to attend to”
  2. “Now isn’t a great time I’m afraid, how about we connect again on [date]?”
  3. “Sorry but that’s not my area of expertise. I think [name] would be better suited”

A final thought


As previously stated, if you are good at your job then you will sooner or later be recognised for it. With this recognition will come an increasing amount of requests for your help. However, saying yes to too many requests will only overwhelm and frustrate you further down the line. You must learn to say no, otherwise you risk hindering your own career progression.


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Susie is Chief Operating Officer (COO) at UK Government Investments (UKGI). UKGI’s purpose is to be the UK government’s centre of excellence in corporate finance and corporate governance, working across government on some of its most interesting and complex commercial tasks.

In her role as COO, Susie works to ensure that the business has effective operational management, optimal organisational design, and that UKGI are able to hire, develop, manage and remunerate their people in the best way possible.

Prior to joining UKGI, Susie was Global Director for People and Culture at Hays Talent Solutions.



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