Delivering Rejection The Right Way

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Being a leader means spending a lot of time saying “no” to ideas, but leaders don’t always spend a lot of time also thinking about what that “no” requires of them. As a small way of fixing that, it might help to consider what’s running through the mind of those who’ve just had their ideas torpedoed. There’s a good glimpse into that in a recent Fast Company article titled “Your Boss Just Rejected Your Idea? Ask These Three Questions Right Away.”

Bosses know when they’ve delivered a blow, and as an employee, you’re undoubtedly stung at least a little. Anything done immediately, however well-meaning, will almost certainly be interpreted as something done in the heat of the moment. But using rejection as an opportunity to better understand your professional relationship is good advice—you certainly shouldn’t do nothing—and the article proposes three solid questions to ask: “What would make you say yes to this idea?” “Would it make sense for me to bring it up again in a few weeks/months?” And “What should I focus on instead?”

It may help to think of those awkward moments of rejection as a check-in opportunity. From the perspective of the CEO, these questions are valuable prompts. They suggest that the people who work for you want transparency about the quality of their thinking, about the structure and plans of the organization, and about their job roles. In short, the employee—or board member, or other stakeholder—wants feedback from you. And every rejection is an opportunity to deliver that feedback.

All the more reason, then, to treat those moments of rejection not as fraught and storm-clouded but as ways to further a conversation with somebody who’s eager to contribute. Ultimately what everybody wants is good ideas in your organization—being open about what works and what doesn’t is one way to make sure they emerge.

Megan Van Petten
CEO & President
Van Petten Group, Inc.

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