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March 2, 2017

3 things to do when your boss tells you 'No'

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on April 4, 2019.

    When your boss says "no" to a request—for resources, budget increases, additional staff—it can feel like a personal rejection. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Scott Sonenshein shares three ways to turn a denial into a step forward, not a step back.

    1. Quit dwelling and move on

    "Every minute we spend worrying about what we don't have is one less minute we spend actually doing something," writes Sonenshein.

    After disappointment or rejection, we often freeze up. In order to break through, Sonenshein recommends focusing on the resources you do have.

    "As you start moving, it will become easier to start meeting goals without a complete plan, an ideal team, or a bigger budget," he writes. "You'll realize you have an opportunity to enhance the value of what you already have."

    2. Get creative and resourceful

    If you get everything you ask for, "there's no need to get creative with how to use or maximize [resources]," writes Sonenshein.

    So when a boss or colleague says "no," it presents a time to shine. Sonenshein cites research that says that "when we're denied resources, we give ourselves a license to try new ways of using the resources we already have."

    3. Continue doing your best work

    Sonenshein warns that it's easy to lower your standards for work quality after getting a denial.

     "When we misinterpret a 'no' from the boss as an indication that we are undervalued, we end up sinking to those expectations," writes Sonenshein.

    Sonenshein calls this a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, when we believe expectations are low, we have the tendency to perform accordingly.

    Instead, Sonenshein recommends setting expectations higher. "Think about how hard work, the creative use of existing resources, and collaboration with others will enable you to meet project deadlines, sales targets, or any other objectives," he writes.

    Use the "no" to prove to your colleagues that you can perform well despite limitations (Sonenshein, Harvard Business Review, 2/6).

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