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They Want a Promotion: How to (Gently) Tell Them ‘No’

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Good employees fear rejection from their managers more than anything. When it comes to that raise, or an extra day off, or the idea they have, they want to hear “yes.”

Not surprisingly, most of us hate even more to be the “rejector.”

One of the more uncomfortable situations managers find themselves in is denying a promotion to an employee who’s applied for a higher position. Since the employee has shown an interest in improving his or her status, which also shows an interest in the company, it’s doubly hard to deny the request – even if there are good reasons for doing so.

You know the employee isn’t going to take it well. So, it takes some deft handling to deliver it.

Try these steps when turning down a current employee for a promotion.

1) When the Employee Asks, Take the Meeting

Do this even if you don’t think it’s a good fit from the start. The employee has gone out on a limb and dared to ask for more work and responsibility, or even just a change of pace.

So to reject the approach outright sends a demoralizing message. Be sure to have a complete and full discussion.

Avail yourself to what the employee might bring to the table. People rarely will ask for a position they don’t feel they’re qualified for. The employee may know something you don’t!

2) Don’t Get Too Hung Up on Prior Work History

This sounds counterintuitive, but it helps you keep a more open mind about the employee’s proposal – and the concrete reasons you’ve decided against it.

If the employee is your direct report, he or she might remember mistakes made in the past, and get the impression that this clouded your judgment in deciding not to grant the promotion.

Stress to the employee that you approached the request with something of a clean slate. Let them know you considered what he or she contributed to your team in the past and focus on the strong points.

This reassures your employee that you considered them fairly when compared to other applicants.

3) When the Rejection Comes, Do That in a Meeting, Too

When considering internal candidates, you don’t want the news that they didn’t get the promotion to come via an impersonal emailsays Alison Green, a writer for

Set aside a brief face-to-face to explain why the employee didn’t get the job.

Read On….

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