How do you not get bitter at work?
June 3, 2020 11:43 AM   Subscribe

How do you avoid getting bitter at work when the ideas you propose are shot down by your management chain, and then a few months later, the CEO proposes a similar set of ideas, and the project is given to a peer?

-Senior Leaders: What's your proposal for what we should do next?
-Me: We should do X. Customers want this.
- [months of debate ensue where Senior Leaders counter that X is not exciting, and that we should pursue A, K, Z - very wildly different ideas. Time runs out.]
-Senior Leaders: You're working on P instead.
-Me: P is nice, but not really needed.
-Senior Leaders: P is essential.
-Me: Yes sirs.
- [months pass of me being busy with P]
-CEO: Hey why aren't we doing X+Y? Customers want this!
-Senior Leaders: Your peer now is responsible for X+Y. It's a great idea from the CEO.
-Peer to me: Hey just as an FYI, to do X+Y, we may need to cancel P.

I know I could've done a better job in terms of presenting X... thinking bigger - proposing X+Y. But senior leaders were so wrong about their counter proposals. And now my work may get scrapped - which I think makes sense for the company, but looks bad for my career.

Obviously I'm already bitter.

What are some other ways to look at this / reframe the situation? It's not like I can leave my job right now.
posted by FlatHill to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi! I always felt this way until I had a great manager who would fight for good ideas.

But, he fights for good ideas in a collaborative way. Instead of ideas being someone's property, it's a problem that needs to be solved - and then he asks senior management how best to solve the problem, and of course, the main recommendation is to do X.

An idea for something new is a Benefit, with a cost, and they will weigh both against their limited budgets.

A solution to a problem is a potential future cost, and they will weight spending above their budgets as an investment to prevent that future cost.

Usually, my ideas that are just a "What if we did X feature, consumers would like that" gets shot down, but ideas along the lines of "Our competitors are X and the market is Y, if we want to compete with where the market is going, we need a solution... what do you recommend?" do alright.

In general, as cliche as it is, if you are toward the bottom of the food chain, you probably DON'T see the bigger picture. Maybe they are planning to decommission your whole department or start cost cutting, but something changed. Maybe the CEO was saving the idea for a "big win" and couldn't remember exactly what person it came from.

In the end, you got what you wanted without credit. I'd encourage you to not seek for credit for your ideas, and be happy you were able to affect change in your organization. Plus, you can say in your resume you did it anyway.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:00 PM on June 3, 2020

Best answer: I've been in this situation before. Get yourself a new job. Your management sucks.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:05 PM on June 3, 2020 [22 favorites]

Best answer: I would take solace in the idea that the ideas you are proposing are good ones, and as long as you are employed doing something, who cares that much if you are implementing your ideas or other ones? That's one of the things your mgmt should be doing better, but whatever.

Also realize that unless you are an executive just below senior mgmt, that ideas that you propose probably have to go through months of analysis that you may not be privy to and months of funding allocations that are often preset months in advance.

As an example, my work had a unix to linux project that would save billions but still took several years to actually get around to implementing because of organization inertia. By the time we started working on it, the guy that suggested it had already retired. It happens.

I actually have a manager now who really understands the funding side, and can write up radical proposals for cutting-edge ideas and get them funded ahead of that cycle - but he's literally the only one I've had in 20 years of work. Everyone else just cruises on inertia and top down mindsets.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:19 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: -CEO: Hey why aren't we doing X+Y? Customers want this!
-Senior Leaders: Your peer now is responsible for X+Y. It's a great idea from the CEO.
-Peer to me: Hey just as an FYI, to do X+Y, we may need to cancel P.

Is there an opportunity (ideally with receipts) to say:

- Me to Senior Leaders: Hey, that's great that X+Y is in the pipeline! Back on [DATE] and [DATE] and [DATE], I initiated the idea of X so I am excited that the company sees merit in it. I'd welcome the chance to develop that idea and the project.

At the least, if it's clear that you introduced X (and they debated and rejected X but have come around to it) you should be on the team working on it.
posted by AgentRocket at 1:14 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is going to sound stupid, but when this happens to me, I chalk it up as a success and move on. You suggested something. Someone heard it and it stuck with them. It rattled around. It eventually came back out and dribbled back down. Be happy in the part you played to get things moving. To me, this isn't a red flag I guess. This is how a lot of corporate bureaucracies operate. I have known absolutely zero C-suite level people who are good at recognizing downward like this in my life. I'm sure it exists, but it is not common.

That said, if you really want to work on X though, this is where you need a good manager. It would be awesome if your manager can connect the dots and see that X is what you were talking about before and you might be interested in X and farm off P to someone else freeing you up for X. Having a comfortable enough relationship with your manager where you can talk about that is really important. The answer may still be "Sorry, we need you on P" but at least they know. And if you get lucky and your manager is really good, they will have already connected the dots and will help you get on X in the first place.
posted by cmm at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Once I was in a meeting for a volunteer project and someone took credit for the idea, which was mine. It's a different situation, because she's a friend and a very decent person, and there was no benefit to her claiming the idea. We'd been brainstorming and pitching around ideas for months, and I knew she'd just forgotten how it first came up. I still got very frustrated.

But then I decided to reframe it like this: My super power is coming up with ideas that other people get so engaged with that they ultimately embrace them as their own. And for me that's a good thing, because while I'm great with ideas I am not great with follow-through.

It's happened a lot at work since then. I propose ideas, I get pushback, and several months later - even a couple of years - it's happening. No one remembers it was my idea. These are all small improvements that would be kind of annoying to work on, and I don't have to deal with them. I just smile to myself and move on.
posted by bunderful at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you have a good relationship with your manager or any of those other senior leaders, it may be worth having a conversation where you say and ask something along the lines of, "I am delighted that we will be doing X. You may recall I suggested something similar a while ago but we decided to go with P. Can you give me some insight into the decision-making process around this change from P to X?"

Sometimes good ideas occur to a handful of folks at the same time, and sometimes folks reject really good ideas until they hear it from someone above. We can't always know why or how, and it can be really frustrating.

Also (and I can't remember to credit who shared this originally, but I think it was someone on AskMeFi, and here I am doing the same thing - not crediting), this might be helpful advice: many of us bought the lie that what we do for money gives life meaning that it’s important to point out how hilarious that is on the face of it. Are there people out there with fulfilling careers that help them withstand the vagaries of a cruel world? Yes, sure. Do a lot of them come from families with enough money to withstand the vagaries of a cruel world? Also yes.

The vast majority of people have jobs that are boring, at best. I recommend cultivating a healthy resentment toward your work. Put in just enough effort to keep your job and no more. The fantasy that an exciting career is enough to sustain a life is one of the most harmful of the modern age—you were never going to find meaning there.

posted by bluedaisy at 1:57 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Management legitimately* thinking an idea is bad when it comes from an underling, but then turning around and thinking "OMFG best idea ever!" when the CEO proposes the exact same idea is a tale as old as time. Killing competing projects that let on that management once thought the CEO's great idea was the best is also just as old.

While some jobs have upper management that is less sycophantic than others, you will almost certainly experience some version of this anywhere you would go.

However, I agree with AgentRocket. If it turns into a big win, I'd make sure that everyone (especially the people who turned it down when it was your idea) knows who came up with it first, repeatedly.

*"Legitimately" in the sense they actually believe it's bad, not that idea is actually bad or not.
posted by sideshow at 2:01 PM on June 3, 2020

I once told a friend of mine that I feel like I cause or enable people at work to be more successful than I am. He said I was a Kingmaker. I'll never be the king, but my actions help more viable people be successful. When I get bitter at work I sometimes think about this. It helps, a little.

Honestly, I think kevinbelt's answer is the best. Even if you can't leave your job right now, you can still look around for an organization where you will be more appreciated and less bitter. I wish you much success no matter what you decide to do.
posted by Rob Rockets at 2:01 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

What are some other ways to look at this / reframe the situation? It's not like I can leave my job right now.

Other people have already given the only answer there is to this --- just try to think of it as a success for the company, which is a success for you. If it's any consolation, I doubt anyone is thinking of the situation as reflecting poorly on you. You were told what to do, you did it, priorities changed, that's that. It happens all the time in organizations like this. I really wouldn't suggest trying to remind people that it was your idea in the first place; that just makes you look petty.

As far as the implied question of "how not to get in this same spot in the future," the only remedy I've found is to really analyze my ideas/suggestions and present them in terms of literal dollar amounts. It's very difficult for anyone above you to say "No" to an idea when it's presented as, "Here's a way we can save/make money." And your detailed analysis will keep getting passed on up the chain, because it's so rare that anyone makes a data-driven decision about this kind of thing that EVERYONE wants to be the hero that brings the receipts --- which all have your name on them.

The downside is that that kind of analysis is really hard work, and it can be hard to fit it in around your regular responsibilities.
posted by slenderloris at 2:20 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Management legitimately* thinking an idea is bad when it comes from an underling, but then turning around and thinking "OMFG best idea ever!" when the CEO proposes the exact same idea is a tale as old as time.

Yeah, this is what I think of as "the wrong messenger." If I say such-and-such, nobody wants to hear it out of me, it will not be listened to, etc. But if it comes out of someone that others actually have to or want to listen to, then suddenly it's awesome. You have to find some person to be the Christian to your Cyrano if you want the thing to happen. If you want credit for thinking of the thing, I have no bloody clue how to help you there.

I'm a woman, I'm used to this shit though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:21 PM on June 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

I think I'm a little bitter too, and have been there enough that there were a few years where my team tracked how long it took from my presentation of strategy to our (male) VP for him to develop his strategy that was exactly the same, usually 3-4 months.*

but after pouring my career into publications that (mostly) ultimately died and a few other things, I've sort of adopted a mantra that working with humans means dealing with a lot of human fraility, and at the end of the day I work really hard at work and present ideas and things...and ultimately, if things don't go "my" way even if I was right, the fundamental exchange of my labour for my business's money is what it's about at the end of the day.

I used to have a boss that needed to see three things before she knew what she wanted. So two were always wasted. I learned a lot doing them, and I was paid...that kind of thing.

I try not to care more about projects than my CEO does. My mantra is "I'm here to present ideas and to implement plans and meet goals within the current environment." Not to "win," not to be a guru.**

I don't think it reflects badly on you, it's just the reality of how things went down.

*That was outright sexism, and it still rankles, so no Zen there.

**Health and safety are exceptions to this.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depends on what you want - credit or outcome. You got the outcome.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:56 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is completely a case of “they don’t like you.” Good ideas from the wrong person get shot down. Ask me how I know. A woman in tech. Who speaks plainly. Oh gawd how I know. Two weeks later they’re doing the thing they eviscerated me for even mentioning, like I was a dumb fuck at the prom. Fuck You.

I’ve learned to work through others (like said above, find my messenger), and in some ways work on my presentation (while shaking my Fucking Fist at the Sky of Patriarchy that wants to put Baby in a Corner). “Has anyone ever considered” instead of “what we should do is” kind of phrasing. And pay attention to the times I hate other people’s ideas - so I know if and when I do the same to others, to better understand why it might be done to me.

Also a big point is - when I meet resistance to my idea, Immediately stop pushing and put on my listening ears. Don’t try to explain again thinking my logic will win them over. Listen to the resistance, they’re usually concerned about or valuing something completely different than me (schedule or customer relationship vs technical for example) and work with their concerns. Then let it sit. Then try again. Weeks later. Wait for my open moment.

And let it go. You want ideas? I got five more. Don’t like that one? Here’s another. Honey I’m made of ideas. I’m good.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:30 PM on June 3, 2020 [12 favorites]

I like the idea of looking for a new job, but also, check out this assessment of your political skill at work. If you can do better at the things on this list, you'll have more political power, which makes it easier to get people to listen to you and go along with your ideas.
posted by pinochiette at 4:58 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m sorry, but if you need to consciously focus on developing political skills in order to have people listen to you, you really need to find a new job.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:26 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I used to feel like this, when I was keenly trying to Do My Thing at work, but still quite junior in my role, and not empowered to actually effect change. It was absolutely THRILLING on the very few occasions when I had a good idea and someone senior picked up on it and ran with it straight away, but it almost never happened and mostly I'd just stew and get bitter.

Then I got a better line manager, who listened, gave me tons of opportunities to Do More Of My Thing, and ultimately helped me move up the chain until I'm now in a much more senior position. Now, when I have an idea, people listen and things happen.

It shouldn't work like that really - junior people's ideas should be just as valid and heard. But they're not, and there's also the confidence thing that they don't always feel up to pushing them. You say yourself, perhaps you should have pushed your idea a bit harder.

But I think you need one or more of the following:

- A manager who supports you, pushes you to do the things you're good at, and uplifts your ideas and goals

- A promotion, or a clear line to one, so that you have more power to action your ideas and initiatives

- A confidence boost, this may need for you to do some training on presenting and communicating effectively at work

- A new job, where more of the above are likely to be available to you.
posted by greenish at 2:59 AM on June 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

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