How to Deal with a Boss Who Shoots Down New Ideas

How taking an active role in understanding “why” can help you grow

Couresty of Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images
Couresty of Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images

Why is it that negative memories have a way of standing out? This is true for personal experiences as well as professional ones. I remember starting a new job many years ago. I was filled with excitement and energy about how I could contribute to the team’s success. But when I brought my fresh marketing ideas to the owner of the small tech company I had just joined, he quickly shut me down: “We do not do it like that.”

Those seven cringe-worthy words can turn a great day into a real downer — especially if you were eager to share a promising idea. It feels like a verbal smack in the face.

For me, it was not a one-time occurrence. I soon realized that my boss’s repeated dismissal of forward-thinking ideas — not just from me, but from colleagues as well — revealed plenty about the pace of progress at my new workplace. I knew I would not last long in a culture that rejected progress.

If you hear this phrase regularly, you may feel like throwing up your hands and quitting. But that would rob you — and your company — of an opportunity to grow. So, instead of wilting right there on the spot or slinking off to your desk to grumble, try this: Consider the reasons behind why the boss said that in the first place.

Sure, those words can feel like a crushing blow. But taking an active role in understanding “why” can help you grow.

You may discover your boss had a good reason for turning down your idea. Perhaps it violated some deeply held value of the business. Perhaps it was simply that the timing was poor, and another approach would have helped. Or it could be that your boss is afraid of change and always has been. But you’ll never find out if you do not try to understand the “why” behind the “no.”

So next time your boss shuts you down, take a deep breath and then reflect on the following:

Consider the goals
How does your idea fit into the business goals? Be critical and separate your feelings from the analysis. If your idea conflicts with the strategic goals of the company, then commit to better understanding those goals. When you do, your next proposal will be more likely to line up with what the company is striving towards. (And have a greater chance of getting past the boss.)

Ask follow up questions
If you cannot conjure up a valid reason that the boss turned you down, then go ahead and ask, “Why not? or “Can you help me understand why?” As long as you do not come across as confrontational (or a whiner), this will signal your genuine desire to understand their reasoning, and it will likely lead to a constructive conversation.

Make your case
If you hear a flustered “Just because! “or “We just don’t,” the boss probably does not have a compelling reason to torpedo your idea — but you may be threatening the carefully cultivated status quo. Tread carefully, but do not shrivel. Respectfully lay out your plan and offer specifics. When making your argument, be sure to tie in how your idea relates to the company’s goals.

Take it at face value
Your manager probably did not start off the day by asking, ”Hmm… whose dreams will I crush today?” That knee-jerk response may be a sign your boss is feeling rushed, preoccupied — or even afraid to upset the higher-ups. And yes, there’s a chance you may have simply caught them at the wrong time. Instead of taking it personally, consider your boss’s perspective and challenges.

You cannot change the way your boss responds to new ideas. But you can change the way you champion those ideas, accept constructive criticism, and fight for the ones that really matter.

You do not need to passively accept rejection — it is not the end. See it instead as a call to action on your part. Do not let a knee-jerk response from the boss keep you from learning, growing, or even convincing them to take a fresh look at your idea.

When you step up and take action, you can make progress — in spite of your boss.

How have you responded to “we do not do it like that” in the past?

Originally published on the Aha! blog

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