What to Do When the Boss Says No

Whether you’re the rejecter or the rejected, you’re familiar with the sting that can occur when ideas are shut down. Luckily, there are best practices for dealing with a no answer.

Workplace consultant Susan Heathfield identifies five steps for effectively coping with workplace rejection yourself, or for guiding your employees through a thumbs-down.

1. Bolster courage. If you are feeling down about the situation, give yourself a pep talk. If you’re a boss, maybe you should be doing the pepping. Rejection can be fair and impartial.

2. Manage emotions. Make sure that you—or your employee—can receive reasonable feedback. “[Employees should] try to get over taking any sort of a rejection personally, because 90 percent of the time, it’s not personal,” Heathfield says. “Seek feedback and information. Fully understand the decision.” As a boss, it’s your duty to clearly explain things.

3. Realize a learning opportunity. “For example, if you applied for a promotion and you didn’t receive it, there are reasons why you didn’t receive it,” Heathfield says. “Current employees should get much more information than someone asking from outside your organization.”

4. Take positive action to develop or change. Make a plan for yourself or your employee. As a rejected employee, you should “let people know how your behavior is changing as a result of the feedback, that you’ve taken some self-improvement steps,” Heathfield says. “Attach it directly to the feedback that they gave you. They may not see the changes unless you inform them.”

5. Move on. Heathfield suggests the importance of mentors in the workplace who can lend a sympathetic ear to an employee’s disappointment. But, she says, “no one likes a whiner, so move on. That next opportunity is waiting just beyond your current field of vision. Be ready when it arrives.”

We all experience setbacks and failures, so take the opportunity to learn from yours. Find out how to diagnose disappointment, adjust and move forward with Plan B.


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