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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Reasons Your Boss Said No to Your Perfectly Reasonable Request

Remember the last time your boss told you, “No?”

Maybe it was a response to your request for a raise, or perhaps it was when you asked if you could expense a professional development class. Regardless of why your ask wasn’t met with approval, it sucked, right? Being turned down is not only disappointing, but it can also feel like a personal rejection, which can really sting.

While it’s inevitable that you’ll be occasionally hear “No,” when you’re looking for a “Yes,” (or at least a “Maybe”), there are things you can do to reduce how often you hear it.

See if any of following reasons are getting in the way of you hearing, “Yes, of course!”

1. You Forgot to Check the Calendar

You really shouldn’t underestimate the power of timing. Maybe when you burst into your manager’s office with the announcement that you wished to be included on the latest marketing project, you caught her at a particularly bad time. Her tense phone call with the executive team didn’t go as planned, and now she’s in no mood to hear your proposal.

Or perhaps you didn’t consider that his mood takes a turn for the worse in the last hour before lunch and it’s really not ideal to approach him until after he’s finished eating.

It’s an easy fix: Use your office’s scheduling tools—whether it’s Google calendar, Outlook, or pen and paper—to find a time when your boss isn’t slammed. Even if you’re totally pumped about what you’re planning on asking (and want to ask ASAP), take a second to think about how important timing can be—will approaching him or her right after the budget planning meeting really be the best time to ask about expensing that class you’ve had your eye on? Probably not.

If you want that thumbs up, plan ahead (and be patient!).

2. You Didn’t Do Your Homework

Another likely way to get a flat “no” is if you fail to support your case. Say you want to work from home once a week. Well, you should be prepared to answer the five “W’s (who, what, when, where, why) that are bound to come up.

If you come prepared with facts—maybe it’s studies stating productivity increases after working remotely—and details on execution (“I’ll be online during office hours and provide a daily completed task list before signing off for the night”), you’ll make it easier to get your idea approved.

Along with answering the 5 W’s, you need to brainstorm possible objections or questions and formulate how you’ll answer them and how you’ll turn a refusal into an approval. The last thing you need is for your boss to agree to all points of your proposal, only to tie you up with one pointed question (that you aren’t prepared to answer) like, “How will you complete your monthly analytics report that requires sensitive data that’s not allowed out of the office?”

Maybe the answer is as simple as creating a mock schedule to show how you’d make your work from home days compatible with your responsibilities, but the point is you should be prepared to address any potential pitfalls to your plan and any objections before you begin the conversation.

3. You Didn’t Leave Your Bubble

You may think that keeping your request private is best practice–and in some cases you’d be absolutely right. But, for some things, it can be beneficial to talk to your co-workers before you ask.

If you don’t directly work with other teams, you may not realize that the marketing project you’re trying to get underway is being addressed in two days at the company-wide meeting. Speaking to Stan, who’s on the engineering team (instead of marching into your manager’s office with your ask), would have given you much-needed information.

And that raise you’re after? If you’d confided in your work wife, you may have learned about the hiring freeze and financial issues that your department is struggling with right now.

Getting out of your bubble and listening to outside perspectives from co-workers (or even friends and relatives) can help inform your plan on how—and when—to approach your boss and get a yes.

Maybe you’ve tried approaching your manager using the advice above and still got turned down. It’s frustrating, but before you attribute the negative response to him not liking you, or because he’s being a bad boss, think about how you can best handle the rejection.

Let your manager know that you’re disappointed (without sounding like you’re complaining), and ask her if there’s anything you can do going forward that would change the decision. Sometimes there’ll be nothing you can do, but it never hurts to ask. And it definitely doesn’t hurt to stay professional and respectful while you’re doing it.

Photo of man with clasped hands courtest of Sam Edwards/Getty Images.