How to deal with “No” at work

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Oct 13

You’ve had it happen to you: you go see your manager with a fabulous idea that will make everyone’s work better — and get turned down flat with a “no.” Pretty disappointing, wouldn’t you say? And enough “no’s” in your life and you’ll start getting some serious discouragement about your work.

You shouldn’t. “No” is a part of life. As Forbes notes:

Too often we are tempted to throw in the towel and give up on doing something hard. The forces of “no” always seem stronger than the forces of “yes.” Those who lead upward, who effect positive change from the middle of an organization, particularly need to find ways to steel themselves against negativity.

The article notes three ways to cope with “no”: Put the “no” in perspective, size up your obstacle (you could persuade or wait for conditions to change), and make a firm decision based on what you know.

That is good advice for the big picture. But what about dealing with your manager who tells you “no” on your suggestion? That’s closer to home (or work….).

Your manager will think of your idea three months from now

I’ve had more than one manager who came up with a brilliant idea — three months after I presented it and was told “no.” There is a tremendous amount of “not invented here” still in the business world; if you manager doesn’t think of the idea, it’s not a good idea.

Now, you could be all offended by your manager stealing your idea. If you manager steals a lot of your ideas, you might even get furious. I wouldn’t. Most people — and smart managers — know where the good ideas are coming from. Instead, know that your ideas are good enough to get brought up at a later date.

Your idea can morph into something better

You might get told “no” on your idea, but the seeds have been planted. You might not know all of the implications of what you suggest — but your manager talking with other managers might have your idea be the start of an even better one for the business.

There is a reason brainstorming works — in the right environment, what started off as something simple and not able to work in the corporate environment, morphs into an actionable strategy far better than the original idea.

Work what you can control and influence

You may not be able to control what happens to your idea, but you can influence how it is perceived, presented, and benefits the business. Doing the work to show your manager your best proposal requires effort.

Working on how the idea is perceived, presented and shown business benefits gives your idea the best opportunity to get accepted in one form or another. Poorly presenting a proposal for making work better dooms good ideas. Yet, too often we attribute the “no” to the idea rather than you not doing enough to present the proposal right.

So give your proposal the best shot possible. It may still be rejected, but you’ll get lots of credit for thinking the proposal through and striving to make the business better.

Sometimes it’s better to not offer ideas

You can shout to the clouds all day long about how “Lean” is the best methodology to follow for your department, but your department head has already committed time and resources to “ITIL.” It’s tough to turn a battleship around once a decision is made — and big companies never (admit to) make(ing) mistakes.

Cubicle Warriors pick their battles and constantly evaluate if they will ever win the war. Once they decide the environment is not winnable — no matter your idea, the answer is “no” — they move on to a different place that actually values their work judgment and not just their work.

Getting “no” is a reality at work and in life. How you deal with “no” is a great job skill to learn.

What do you do when your idea is turned down?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.