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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Questions to Ask After Your Boss Shuts Your Idea Down (Again)

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I wish I could tell you that your manager will always love your ideas. But unfortunately, as you probably already know, that’s not the case.

And whenever she shoots something down, you’ll want to deliver a monologue along the lines of, “You’re missing the brilliance behind my thinking and should be taken to a hospital.” Or, you might let yourself believe that you’re a failure and that you should just quit now. Or you might even lash out and holler about how they “never” listen to you.

As cathartic as those reactions might feel, none of them are actually productive. To help you move on and learn from every rejection, make these phrases a regular part of your vocabulary.

1. “What Would Make You Say Yes to This Idea?”

Your idea is toast when your manager shuts it down, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. Your original thinking might’ve been off the mark, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth salvaging from it. And chances are, your boss would agree with with that.

So instead of accepting defeat, ask questions like “What would make you say yes?” and “Is there any part of the idea that did resonate?”

Those answers will help you understand what worked and what didn’t. Then, use that feedback to come up with something else that’s more impactful and even more difficult for your boss to shake her head at.

2. “Thanks for Your Feedback, Would it Make Sense for Me to Bring it Up Again in a Few Weeks/Months?”

It’s worth saying this again, so I will: You’re smart, you bring a lot to the table, and you have a lot of good ideas. But nobody on the face of the planet has ever had 100% of their ideas implemented. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad. I’ve lost count of the number of times my manager has said to me, “This is interesting, but we have bigger fish to fry. Let’s revisit this in the future.”

But why not now, right? After all, you haven’t presented something ridiculous. Why can’t your manager move things around to accommodate you? Re-read those questions and think about how they sound. Would you respond in kind to someone who made this much of a push?

Instead, simply thank your manager for the feedback and ask if there’s a specific time period during which she feels you could explore it further. You’ll be able to gauge from her response whether she’s genuinely into the idea or just avoiding shutting you down altogether.

3. “What Should I Focus on Instead?”

You could very easily shut down after you, well, get shut down. It might even feel like you don’t have anything else worth working on, especially now that your idea is off the table. But it’s also important to remember that you still have plenty of other things to do at work. And even though your manager said “no thanks,” I’m willing to bet that she has bigger priorities on her plate that she could use your help with.

So, instead of pouting, find out what you can be working on instead. This response will show her that you’re truly a team player, even when you’ve been shut down. And if and when there is a fit for one of your brilliant ideas, your boss will remember just how helpful you are and make sure you get the resources needed to accomplish it.

So far, we’ve talked about what to do when your idea gets shot down. And that’s a great start. But are you still feeling like you should keep your “big” mouth shut? Does it seem easier to keep your thoughts to yourself, especially if your boss always says no to your ideas?

I hope you don’t buy into that idea.

Raising your hand (either literally or metaphorically) takes guts. And every time you do it, it gets a little easier and a little less scary. So don’t stop speaking up. Instead, push yourself to turn every single rejection into a lesson. Eventually, you’ll get so good at pitching your ideas that they’ll be (almost) impossible to turn down.