It’s hard not to get excited when you wake up with an idea that you think your boss will love. Not only will it add one billion dollars to your company’s bottom line and make everyone’s wildest dreams come true, but you’ll probably go on to become a company legend.
But then you present your idea at a departmental meeting and your boss responds with a curt, “I don’t think it’s worth pursuing right now.”
And it’s crushing, right? I know from personal experience that hearing “no” from your boss can be really hard to bounce back from—whether you’re pitching an idea, asking for a raise, or proposing a change to your responsibilities.
1. Ask Additional Clarifying Questions
At this point, you might be thinking, “Rich, I’m never going to suggest anything to my boss ever again. He is the worst!” And sure, I can’t speak for all bosses, but I can’t think of many managers who would appreciate that approach. One “no” rarely means, “Never, ever speak up ever again, you dummy.”
While your request for a raise might’ve been turned down (a little too fast for your liking), that doesn’t it will always be turned down. So, don’t be afraid to ask your boss if he has some time to discuss further.
It’s important to understand why you got a “no.” Was it bad timing? A tight budget this quarter? Bigger company initiatives you weren’t aware of? The answers to these questions will help you understand if it’s off the table for now or for forever. While you don’t want to sound like a child just asking “Why?” over and over again, you are allowed to probe a little bit.
It’s as simple as starting with, “I was disappointed to hear you say no [in the meeting/to my email/during our check-in], do you mind if I ask why?”
2. Look for an Alternative
When you really (really!) want something, it’s common to ignore many other things happening around you that that are bigger priorities. That doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track or that it was stupid of you to ask, but rather, at this moment, it’s not possible.
You can give up forever, or you can find an alternative. For example, let’s say you asked your boss to work from home on Fridays going forward, and then he put the kibosh on it without blinking. You might think that he has a no-tolerance policy for work-from-home days, but the reality might be that he wants you to be in the office for your weekly Friday status meetings.
Instead of giving up, ask why he said no (remember step one?), and then see if you can find another day that makes more sense for you to work remotely. Sure you wanted Fridays, but would Wednesdays be the worst?
Or let’s say he doesn’t trust you to get your work done—could you suggest trying it just for a few weeks to show him that you’ll actually acomplish more?
3. Find a Quick Win and Knock It Out of the Park
I know—the word “no” is one of the worst words you could ever hear at work. And maybe hearing it had made you doubt yourself a lot. Maybe you are just a no-good, mediocre worker who will never get a raise, and will never get a promotion, and will never have any good ideas.
Before you go down that road, stop. Instead, find something on your list that you can get done before the end of the day. You might not save the universe, but staying productive and being able to do something successfully after hearing that dreaded “no” will remind you that you’re good at your job and that eventually your hard work will lead you to getting a yes.
Getting turned down will never be easy—and it’s always going to sting a little more when it comes from your boss. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll make you think that everything at work is terrible and that it’s time to find a new job. But take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ve only been told “no” to one thing. That tiny little word doesn’t detract from your current value or your future success.