What to Do When Your Ideas Get Ignored
It’s demoralizing to put yourself out there just to get shut down. Here’s how to handle it.
At the time he was hired, Daniel’s manager said the company and team were looking for a fresh perspective. But after six months of having his ideas and suggestions shot down, Daniel was beginning to suspect that they didn’t actually want to change anything.
According to Gallup research, only one in four employees strongly agree that their opinions count at work. Never having your feedback solicited—or asking for it then rejecting it—can be an employee engagement killer.
It’s important to remember that the reasons your ideas aren’t getting picked up probably aren’t personal. “The instinct to immediately shut down ideas comes from the amygdala, the part of the brain whose job is to keep us safe from perceived threats,” says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Your manager may be overwhelmed with work, incentivized to keep the status quo and achieve short-term results, or hesitant to sell something to upper leadership. Or the company culture may just be less innovative.
But that doesn’t make rejection any less frustrating. Here’s how to handle it.
Reflect on what the idea means.
Whenever you pitch an idea, you should know the goal behind it, the solution it offers, its potential value to the organization, and whose support or influence you need. If it doesn’t gain traction, are you willing to let go of it? Or are you so passionate that you have to pursue it? “Be sure to think through what the idea will require from you, the team, and the organization,” Olson says. “All of the above need to have the bandwidth for implementation to be successful.”
It’s also important to reflect on what the act of having ideas means to you. If you’re a person who enjoys coming up with ideas for their own sake, but you don’t feel appreciated for them at work, find an alternative setting to play with them, like a side gig or a hobby.
Ask why your ideas aren’t getting picked up.
Depending on your relationship with your boss or colleague, share your concerns and inquire why your ideas aren’t being well-received. Career experts say to ask what’s putting them off and why, specifically, they aren’t moving forward with your idea. They may just be caught up in day-to-day tasks and haven’t even noticed your frustration.
Mention that you may not yet have found the niche where you can use your strengths, and see if you can take on some tasks that require a creative thinker. Ask to jump in on a project that has stalled in momentum, or let leaders know you’d love to brainstorm with them in their next whiteboarding session.
Present your ideas in the right context.
If you lob an idea into a group meeting after a decision has been made, there’s a low likelihood that it’ll get picked up. Suggestions need to be presented at the right time, in the right way, to the right audience. And, unfortunately, not every idea is a good idea, or an actionable one. “Just because you have ideas doesn’t mean everyone else is going to jump on your bandwagon,” Olson says.
Find out what your boss wants from you.
When you start somewhere new, you’ll likely have a lot of ideas for change and improvement, but it takes time to get to know the company’s processes, procedures, people, and product or service. “Jot down your insights in a notebook as they occur to you,” Olson says. “Once you have enough time under your belt, revisit the list and present stakeholders with the ones that will have the most impact. That way, you can weed out things they’ve already tried.”
If leaders still aren’t receptive to your suggestions, career experts say to get clarity about what they hoped for when they hired you, and what they want you to offer. Consider looking elsewhere if, ultimately, you don’t feel like your creative tendencies are a good match for the environment you work in. Many idea people make good entrepreneurs or consultants.