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How to handle rejection at work

It sucks to have a great idea shot down at work. Here's how to accept and learn from it, and not let it demoralise you.
 

How to handle rejection at work

Photo: Tim Hester / 123rf.com

Most of us know what it’s like to have an idea rejected at work, and are familiar with reasons like “That can’t be done” and “That’s outside of our budget” to “We just don’t have the time or manpower to execute it properly”. 

Taking “no” for an answer isn’t easy, especially if you always have great ideas and make the effort to contribute them. If you’re constantly rejected, you may even reach the point where you’re so demoralised that you stop sharing ideas altogether. 

 

Why rejection is hard

Some of us take rejection more personally than others. The reason: We closely associate our identity with the work we do. 

“We spend more time in the office than in any other setting,” says Adrian Tan, a career coach with Careerladder, a career coaching and career planning agency. “Some people see their job as a natural extension of themselves and are defined by their work. When something negative happens, they perceive it as a personal attack.”

“It’s human nature,” adds Paul Heng, an executive coach and founder and managing director of Next Career Consulting Group, Asia. “Most of us want to be respected and accepted by the people we work with, so when our idea, feedback or suggestion is rejected, we see it as a rejection of ourselves as individuals. It’s difficult to separate these emotions when working in a team.”

 

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Don’t take it personally

The trick to not letting rejection get you down is to stop counting the number of times it’s happened. Once you start keeping tabs, you will not only feel resentful towards your boss, but angry with yourself as well. These emotions may hold you back from contributing ideas in the future, especially because you expect them to be thrown out, too. 

“Every situation is different, so don’t take that ‘no’ to heart,” advises Paul. “Just because your idea didn’t make the cut this time around, it doesn’t mean that all your ideas are bad or that the boss is out to get you. It also doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and should never pitch an idea ever again either.”

Paul says that what you should do is recall the times when your ideas were accepted and implemented to remind yourself that you have pitched good ones before. 

“At the same time, ask yourself if you articulated your idea well enough. Did you miss out any important points? Can the idea be implemented if you tweaked or refined it a little? Can you hold on to your idea and bring it up again in the future?” adds Paul.

 

How to handle different scenarios

There are many reasons why your boss might turn down an idea. Here are a few ways to deal with her rejection and, in some instances, turn it around in your favour.

 

 

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• She is threatened by your idea

You can’t change the way your boss is – and you do have to accept that she will always have the bigger say. To feel better about herself, she may even write off your idea as being unworkable or not good enough without any explanation. 

Yes, it’s unfair. But that doesn’t mean you should leave things as they are. Paul says to politely ask her to share her reasons for rejecting your idea.

“Be careful not to come across as challenging her,” he says. “You need to understand her point of view, too. If she still doesn’t think your idea is up to scratch for whatever reason, thank her for sharing her views. Accept that this is just how some people are, and try not to take her rejection personally.”

If possible, Paul advises discussing your idea with your team members to see if you can get their support. If everyone agrees that it’s worth exploring, pitch it again to the boss as a team this time. 

Tell her everyone believes the idea is worth reconsidering and ask if she would please think about it again over the next few days.

If she still won’t agree to your idea, find out if another supervisor is willing to listen to you. If not, accept her final answer and move on – or find another company to work for, says Adrian.

 

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• Your idea is truly not good enough

This is an opportunity to reflect on it. Why did you believe it was feasible, and could you have spent more time refining it? Paul suggests asking your boss or the rest of your team why it wasn’t liked, and get feedback on how to make it work. “Try not to be defensive as this only make things worse. Once you have everyone’s feedback, learn from the experience and keep pushing ahead.”

 

• It is great but no one has time to explore it

“A ‘no’ is not forever,” says Adrian. If everyone else likes the idea, save it or work towards implementing it in the future. See how colleagues can contribute to bring the idea to fruition. 

“You should feel proud that you contributed an idea everybody liked,” says Paul. “Accept that great ideas sometimes have to be put on the back-burner and, hopefully, you’ll be able to revisit it next time.”

 

 

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• There’s no budget 

It’s upsetting to be told that your idea is great and doable – but the company doesn’t have the money to proceed. Instead of abandoning it altogether, Adrian suggests looking for more affordable ways to execute it. 

Can you get a few sponsors on board or see where you can cut costs? Or could you produce it just as successfully on a smaller scale? If your idea guarantees excellent financial returns, can your boss somehow convince her bosses that it’s worth the investment? 

Don’t be discouraged, says Paul. The fact remains that you pitched something everybody liked. It’s just a matter of having insufficient resources, which you can still try to find a way around. 

 

 

 

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