Have Something To Say? When the Answer is No

by Sharlyn Lauby on March 2, 2010

Even when you do everything right, the answer can still end up being “no.”  You can have a great idea.  You can present it beautifully.  It can be perfect timing.  And the answer might still be no.

There are lots of reasons for this:  company doesn’t have any money, the employees aren’t skilled enough to implement the suggestion, managers can’t embrace the change, or maybe even senior leadership feels threatened by your idea.  Regardless of the reason, you have to deal with the answer.

It’s possible that, at some point, the company will have an epiphany, realize the error of their ways, beg for forgiveness and implement your suggestion.  Please don’t hold your breath for this option.  It doesn’t happen often.

What usually happens is you’re faced with making one or more of the following decisions:

Let it go. Yep, just drop it and forget about it.  Sure, you might be bummed that the organization didn’t listen to you but you’ll get over it.  This is usually a good option when the suggestion isn’t major – like where to hold the company picnic or the team shirt color.

Going on the record. This is where you make the declaration that, if something goes kablooey in the future, it’s because they didn’t listen to you and it will be all their fault.  Be careful with this option.  Think about the probability of something going wrong.  And, the impact to you if (and when) it does (or, um, doesn’t) occur.

For example, let’s say you make a suggestion which will save your company $50K and senior leadership doesn’t listen.  You feel if the company loses $50K, people will think you were somewhat responsible and it could hurt your reputation.  So, to hedge your bets, you go on the record to say the company is being stupid for not implementing your suggestion.  Later on, if the company doesn’t lose the money…you look like Chicken Little.  On the other hand, if the company does lose $50K – as you predicted, well…while that’s too bad for them, your street cred is intact.  Senior leadership then takes the hit for not listening to you.

Which leads me to the last option:

Make some major decisions about the organization. I know, the labor market it tough right now.  But the bottom line is, if your organization isn’t listening to you then you need to decide if this is a good place for you to work.  Now if they don’t listen to you about shirt colors, I wouldn’t suggest packing up your desk.  But if they’re willing to lose $50,000 over listening to you…maybe it’s time for some self-reflection.

That goes for companies too!  If you’re always saying no to someone, ask yourself why.  And don’t act surprised if an employee leaves because you don’t listen to them.

How a “no” is handled says a lot about the suggestion, the decision and the people involved.  By handling rejection the right way, you can define yourself as a leader.

P.S.  Thanks to Workshifting blog for publishing my guest post, “7 Considerations for Setting Up a Home Office”.  If you’re not familiar with this blog, definitely check it out.  The blog is maintained by New Marketing Labs and Citrix and the content focuses on the nuances of working from your home, out of coffee shops, hotels, and airports every bit as much as in a physical office.  I’m very appreciative and excited to be a part of this group.

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Mike March 2, 2010 at 10:40 am

This makes perfect sense to me, logically. But speaking as a the stereotypical Gen Yer, this was (and continues to be) an incredibly difficult lesson to learn. Reading things like this definitely helps the message to sink in though. I’ve been in the position of feeling unheard, and I’ve come to the conclusion that more often than not, that first suggestion is the only thing you can do – just suck it up and move on, but keep coming up with more ideas in the meantime!

hr bartender March 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Thanks for the comment Mike! Keep in mind, good ideas are not bound by age. Any suggestion that is well planned and articulated, and can be logically supported, has great merit in any business. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is to make sure I when I’m presenting an idea that I already know what kind of reaction I’m going to get (pretty much.) Don’t know if that’s a result of age or just I got tired of being shot down. Ha! But I did find when I took the time to get people invested into the idea, the result was much better.

Louise Fletcher March 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Great points.

I’d add that sometimes it’s a good thing that your idea is shot down. I know over the years I’ve had some good ideas turned down, but I’ve also had a few that seemed great at the time, but that actually wouldn’t have worked. In those instances, the people who said ‘no’ knew more than I did (even though I never would have believed that at the time!)

Sometimes ‘no’ is just a good lesson learned.

Great post – thanks!

hr bartender March 2, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Louise – thanks for sharing. You’re right, sometimes it’s a good thing our ideas weren’t put into motion. Everything does happen for a reason.

Barry March 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm

This may seem a little cynical but I believe you have to earn the right to make suggestions, especially the good suggestions. Find the person that you think have earned the right and give the idea away. This is good in many ways. You get to articulate the idea, get feedback and earn respect. As long as you are not whining. If you gave the idea to the right person you will get acknowledged as the source.

hr bartender March 4, 2010 at 9:23 am

Thanks for commenting Barry. I’d encourage you to reconsider that. I can certainly see the importance of knowing the organization in order to present solid ideas. Many times, that only comes after spending time with a company. But I’d also like to think if a brand new employee had a viable suggestion to either increase revenue or decrease expenses, the company would consider it. Any CEO I’ve ever known is focused on results – regardless of where they come from.

dabeefcake March 4, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Terrible post but great comments. I’m actually impressed by the GenY’ers comment. Good persepctive Mike. i actually have the oppertunity to work in a career where i get to say ‘no’ to people and i am continually entertained by their reactions. In my exerience, the very few that can take a “no” and the critiques that come with it are also the ones who are most successful.

as my friend in a prior life once said… “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ” T.Edison

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