Articles & Resources - Selling Your Ideas : How to Get Your Boss to Say Yes

Selling Your Ideas
How to get your Boss to Say Yes

By Gary Dichtenberg






During training seminars. I usually ask participants if they have ever had the experience of presenting a dynamite idea to their boss only to have it shot down out-of-hand. This question usually brings snickers and smiles of recognition. I've yet to meet anyone who hasn't at one time presented a sure-fire, can't-miss, terrific idea to the boss only to leave the boss's office wondering how in the world closed-minded people like that get promoted.

Then I ask the tough question: What do you suppose is going on in your boss's mind when you're presenting this sure-fire idea? The answers are predictable: Bosses are intimidated by their talented employees, and so will reject any suggestion from them; the boss recognizes the idea as good and later presents it as his or her own. Some bosses reject any idea because it did not spring from their own head, or because it requires a change.

However, often the real reason why ideas are rejected is quite different from the reason the boss gives or what the employee believes is happening. The boss may be thinking "Gee, this idea sounds interesting, but I don't have the conviction or information to sell this to the next level. And, frankly, I'm not comfortable risking my neck on this one."

In other words, the employee has presented the boss with a dilemma: Reject the idea and disappoint the employee vs. approve the idea, have it fail, and injure his or her own reputation. Given this scenario, it's no wonder many employees' ideas are shelved.

Decrease the Risk

You can increase the odds of selling your ideas by negotiating for commitment and support. Winning, in this case, is defined as getting your boss to say "yes."


  • Start small. Break your idea into small steps or parts. Think big but talk small. Don't reveal the entire idea right away. Downplay the concept. Use the negotiation concept of getting the other party to make a small investment – which makes the idea ours rather than "mine." For example, a training manager in a large organization wanted to implement an incentive program for hourly employees. Even a modest plan would have cost several thousand dollars. Despite the logic of her plan, if she opened with the whole idea – dozens of employees and thousands of dollars – the odds of getting it approved would have been slim. So she started small, asking for approval to test the idea on only one worker. Even if you don't need your boss's approval on this first step, now's the time to get him or her involved.

• Use power language. Words like experiment, test, pilot, trial, or prototype work like magic. You can minimize the risk when labeling your effort a test or pilot because tests are designed to be learned from, to be imperfect, to fail. In fact, when you run a test or trial, you win regardless of the outcome. For example, an office manager in a mid-sized office proposed to do the work of a clerk rather than incur the expense of hiring a new person. In exchange, he negotiated a 30 percent increase to be paid in a monthly bonus. He banked on the boss's concern about keeping the headcount low, and also presented the idea as a two-month trial, arguing that if the work was too much, he would be the first to call off the trial. His boss bought the idea in less than 10 minutes.

When working with engineering, manufacturing, computer, or other technically oriented individual, use "experiment" or "test." "Trial" tends to work better in office or service settings.

· Volunteer yourself. If you have a good idea, volunteer yourself or y our department to try it out. You can establish credibility by spending a few unpaid hours to see if the idea is worth pursuing.



· Do research. It's generally a good idea to avoid asking for money right away. Instead, propose doing a little research first. Ask for approval to call another department or company to get particulars on their program. It's usually easier for the boss to approve spending time than spending money.

· Invite, don't sell. People tend to fall in love with their own ideas and, in their enthusiasm, push them on people. Avoid "push" language when talking to your boss. Instead, use conditional or "pull" language like: "It may be helpful if we...." or "Perhaps we could...." or "I was wondering if...."                                      

Practice. Friends can be helpful for rehearsing your discussion, but don't bring them with you. After all, you're looking for approval on what's only a "small" item.

· Keep it casual. Make your meeting as informal as possible. Hallways are great places for these "stand-up" meetings. Remember, the message you want to convey is "no big deal."

· Move one step at a time. What you're after is getting the boss involved in the idea as painlessly as possible. This is done step by step. After you've gotten the initial go-ahead from the boss for a trial or test, collect some data on the results.

When you present these results, then ask the boss for something else – the next step – such as lending an additional person to help the project or budgeting some money for materials.

Very few ideas go from concept to implementation without some change. In fact, in many cases, the idea that's implemented looks quite different from the original idea. The challenge is to get your idea going; to get it implemented; to get some results. Many wonderful ideas remain just ideas because the boss was simply not handled effectively. Get your boss to say "yes" and everybody wins.


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