So, you were all set for the promotion. You were sure you had it in the bag. Everyone you spoke with agreed that it was yours to lose. You applied, your resume was strong, you interviewed, you wrote follow-up notes and it all seemed perfectly in order. Them, you get that dreaded message, “thank you for applying… although your qualifications are stellar… we decided to go in a different direction…” or something to that effect. First there is shock, then anger and, then there was denial. You thought, once they realize how great I am, they would call right away and make the offer. But the call never comes.
We have all been there and it is not an easy place to be. Rejection throws us into a very personal place where our self-esteem is impacted. However, after a denied promotion, there are healthy ways to strengthen your resilience and enact a “get back up and go forward” strategy.
A denied promotion is a setback that can threaten our identity. We have two choices to deal with identity threat:
- Fear driven responses
- Hope and desire driven responses.
Fear based responses tend to create a snowball effect and lead to a closed minded flight response – to run away. This response is called Threat Rigidity (Staw, 1981). You may wonder “Can I ever be successful or reach my career goals”? The answer is ABSOLUTELY, if you choose hope and desire over fear. Hope and desire starts by figuring out how you can make the promotion or role change happen with reality based, forward thinking.
If you follow these steps you will be better prepared for the next setback, if it ever comes. The best-case scenario is resilience; as Cher once said, “Snap out of it”. Although it’s not easy to do, there are a few steps to help you get over it and go forward:
A Go Forward Strategy
- Make sense of the setback situation.
- Share your story with friends and professionals whom you trust.
- Self reflect and gain insight
- Design a growth oriented plan.
Making Sense of a Tough Situation
The first Sensemaking step after a denied promotion should involve honest self-reflect insight. Self-reflection (Grant, 2002) involves looking into a mirror for an objective view. Self-reflection without insight can lead to rumination. To start the process, Vough & Caza (2017) (p. 107) recommend asking 3 questions:
- “Why was I not promoted”?
- “What does this denied promotion mean for who I am and who I can become”?
- “What can I do now to move forward”?
These internally focused questions will help you to gain control of the situation and your go forward plan. Externally focused questions can lead to naïve attributions and the blame game, which are unlikely to help you formulate a go-forward strategy. We can sometimes use externally focused questions to bolster our self-esteem and establish a reason for the set back. However, focusing on yourself and a solid go forward plan is the best way to take control of your future. After you answer the questions above, start telling your story.
Tell Your Story
Telling your story is important next step in the go forward plan. Identify people who you trust that can be objective and honest with you, not those who are likely to offer empty support such as, “how could they do this to you…” This reaction may feel good in the moment but it is unlikely to help you move forward. Instead, ask and listen to others who may have experienced a similar setback. Ask them these questions:
- What did they learn from the experience?
- Where are they now relative to the time of their setback?
- What specifically did they do to move forward?
Get support from friends for personal needs and mentors or other professionals for practical needs and feedback. Get others perspectives on their setback experiences and keep your mind open to ways that you can be better and stronger as you move forward. Throughout the go forward planning process, you should consistently self-reflect and gain insight to help guide you go forward process.
Self-reflection and Insights
This is a critical part of any growth process. To check your willingness and desire to self reflect and gain insight, Dr. Grant, University of Sydney Australia, recommends asking yourself a few questions:
- Do you think about the way you feel about things?
- Are you interested in thinking about your behavior?
- Do you have a clear idea of why you do the things you do?
In addition, ask yourself these questions as part of the self-reflection and insights and go forward process:
- Why do I want this (job) role?
- What do I need to do to get this job or role?
- How will I master the skills, competencies and knowledge I need to get this job or role?
- Who can help me along the way?
Your answers will help you to construct a go forward plan and think about your role in the current state. When you acknowledge the identity threat and confront it head on with hope and desire not fear, and use your self reflection and insights to develop you go forward plan, you will better prepare yourself for this and any other set back that comes your way.
Grant, A., et al. 2002. The self-reflection and insight scale. Social Behavior and
Staw, B. M, Sandelands, L. E. & Dutton, J. E. 1981. Threat Rigity Effects in
Organizational Behavior, Administrative Science Quarterly, 501-524.
Vough, H. C. & Caza, B. B. 2017. Where do I go from here? Sensemaking and the
construction of growth based stories in the wake of denied promotions. Academy of Management Review, 103-128.