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What to do when you lose out on promotion, and how to say no

Published 7 January 2022 in Magazine • 3 min read

Welcome to the Help Desk: using the latest technology and research, our resident expert helps you to tackle your workplace dilemmas. 



I applied for an internal position posted by my organization and I didn’t get it; I wasn’t even shortlisted it went to another internal candidate. Should I quit?  

Hiring internal candidates within an organization can be an incredible way to access a talent pool of loyal individuals motivated to learn and grow. This also has inherent risk – a study of 9,300 internal rejections discovered that 14% of rejected candidates left the company (triple the normal turnover rate). Rejection hurts, and in this case, you can feel unseen and undervalued for all the time and hard work you’ve put in.   

Don’t make any decisions when you’re still experiencing the sting of rejection – there are usually many more internal candidates than positions. On the bright side, denied promotions can sometimes boost your resilience, triggering you to consider the path you’re on (and if its right for you), and to recalibrate and reenergize for the next potential role.  

I’d recommend having a meeting with your manager (and potential internal future managers), to brainstorm your development path and to understand what you can to do boost your chances. However, if over time you do feel your development is stunted and you’re pigeonholed in your role, eventually you may have to consider looking elsewhere (and maybe even return in a more senior role later – one of the best pools for hiring good employees can be former employees!)  



How do I learn to say no when I have too much on my plate? Related, but on the other side: How do I accept the no? 

You’re not alone. People generally find it awkward to say no to requests (even to strangers, and even for unethical requests). We tend to worry about what saying no might imply about our competence, dedication, or helpfulness, or worry that we might disappoint someone or damage a relationship. Maybe being overstretched or the go-to person has become part of your identity and it’s starting to take a toll. To get better at saying no, it’s essential to first reframe this dilemma: in the age of growing burnout and declining mental health, saying no can be seen as an act of self-preservation – an important investment in the quality of work you do, your mental health, energy and longevity. 

It may help to create a set of general guidelines you can refer to when receiving a request. Ask yourself some questions, such as:  

1. What type of requests and from whom can I categorize as “usually decline”, “maybe”, and “usually yes”?   

 2. How much time and energy do I realistically have to entertain “more” (even if you feel compelled to)?  

3. If I say yes, will I immediately regret it? 

4. How do I prioritize this (for example by using the Eisenhower matrix) – and based on this, what do I have to give up, eliminate from my list, or reschedule? 

Have a way to say no that you’re comfortable with. Develop a phrase that you can use such as, “While I’d love to help, I have to prioritize other tasks and I unfortunately cannot take this on”. Avoid giving too many excuses or being unclear in your answer, which might imply you’re willing to negotiate.  

Finally, let’s say you’re the manager getting the no. In this case, practice some empathy. Your employee may be struggling to keep up, to organize themselves, or to cope (particularly given so many of us are facing mental health concerns). With a curiosity, try to understand what competing priorities are consuming their time, and consider how you might alleviate some tasks or help them delegate or reprioritize. If this continues, perhaps you’re simply asking too much of one person. However, if you believe it’s not justified, you might mentor or coach the employee (or offer them a coach) to help them learn to better manage their time and priorities.


Picture: Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash


Alyson Meister - IMD Professor

Alyson Meister

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD

Alyson Meister is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior and Director of the Future Leaders program at IMD Business School. Specializing in the development of globally oriented, adaptive, and inclusive organizations, she has worked with of executives, teams, and organizations from professional services to industrial goods and technology. She also serves as co-chair of One Mind at Work’s Scientific Advisory Committee, with a focus on advancing mental health in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter: @alymeister.


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