my manager likes our competitor’s idea — the same one she rejected from me last year

A reader writes:

Recently, senior management has been trying to improve the morale of our office. One of their efforts was to collect anonymous feedback from staff about what their beefs are, and how they’d like to see processes and culture improve. I took the opportunity to air my frustrations with ideas/creativity being shot down because “we’ve never done that before,” outdated processes, and a general “no is the answer, what is the question” attitude from my manager.

Since then, management has rolled out many improvements from the feedback, which I am pleased with. In particular, they have been talking the talk about encouraging new ideas, telling us all to bring any frustrations to our managers so processes and morale can be improved, and even hired new staff to balance workloads.

A year ago, I wrote a large proposal on my own time for an idea I had. My manager very quickly said no, there was no budget for this idea that would not bring much value.

This week, a competitor rolled out my EXACT idea/proposal, and my manager sent me an email to ask me to research the idea and come up with a proposal to roll out something similar. My blood is boiling, and I feel devalued as I don’t think she remembers my proposal at all – proving that “no” culture.

I have a good relationship with my manager (personally and professionally) and usually let my gripes only be heard by my partner at home.

In order to not stir the pot, I could simply update my original proposal and send her that, saving myself doing the work again. But I am very tempted to use this opportunity to show her directly the kinds of behaviours that are causing the negative culture. For example, even if the idea wasn’t practical at that time, her response could have acknowledged my extra work and desire to be innovative.

Given the timing of management’s attempts to improve morale, is it appropriate for me to forward the email chain from just over a year ago that had my proposal and her immediate “no” response? I don’t want her to feel as if I am trying to say “I told you so” or rub salt in the wound after the negative anonymous feedback.

Or is there a better way for me to approach this, if at all? Maybe I should just appreciate the current attempts by management to improve culture and let this one go.

It’s totally reasonable to point out to your manager that you had this exact idea last year — not to imply she’s to blame for shooting it down then (things change, and she could have had good reasons then that don’t exist now), but because it’s relevant info that your manager should have, especially since it’s bugging you.

If I was in your manager’s shoes, I’d want to be reminded that you’d proposed the same idea a year ago and that I’d shot it down. I’d want to know because I’d want to give you credit for it, wouldn’t want you feeling the way you’re currently feeling, and would want the opportunity to explain why my thinking had changed.

But I wouldn’t recommend just forwarding the email exchange from last year; that’ll look a little weird and a little passive-aggressive. Instead, reply to her email and say something like, “I don’t know if you remember, but I’d actually made a proposal for exactly this last year! I’ll forward you the exchange we had about it so you have the context I’m thinking of.”

Then forward her that older exchange, and add a note at the top saying something like, “When we talked about this last year, your call at the time was not to move forward with it. I’d be excited to be able to implement it now though.”

The wording here matters, because you want it to come across as “this would be cool to move forward now and here’s some context on what I’d been thinking when it came up earlier” and not as “you suck for not remembering this.”

{ 101 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed

    This is one of those situations I think it would behoove you to adhere to Hanlon’s Razor:

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    She probably doesn’t even remember it – especially if she dismissed it quickly for whatever reason. But now the company has decided it supports innovation so it’s a different environment.

    This is a great opportunity to say something like “Oh good, I’m glad the company is moving forward with this! If you’ll recall I had the same proposal last year but there wasn’t an appetite at the time for trying new ideas, yadda yadda”

    This could work out really well for you.

    Also, I’m a little concerned that you refer to a coworker as a competitor – that doesn’t seem like a healthy work environment.

    1. TOC

      I think Alison misinterpreted OP’s e-mail a bit. I think a competing company is now doing what OP suggested her own company do a year ago… and now that a competing company is doing it, OP’s boss suddenly wants to do it too. OP wants her boss to see that their company lost out because they weren’t open enough to this idea the first time it was proposed, before a competitor implemented it.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Ooooooooooooooohhh.

        That changes things! Still not worth going all “neener neener!” to the boss, but that does change the context a lot!

      2. Mike B.

        I read it that way too! So telling that we see “competitor” and unconsciously interpret it as “colleague.”

        But it’s better for the OP this way, since she doesn’t have to worry about stepping on the toes of anyone other than her manager. If they have a good relationship, it should be no problem to remind her of what happened.

        1. Editor

          Your first line made me smile, Mike B. Reminded me of the day I covered a meeting for my reporter, who was unavailable. Someone mentioned a “scoop” type of item and I said I would pass it on to him, since this meeting was regularly his beat. At which point someone said “Unless you want to scoop [Reporter].” I realized that thought had never even crossed my mind … he and I are a team to scoop multiple competing area news media, not each other! I realized how refreshing that attitude was. And I did pass the tip on to him. :)

    2. Jeanne

      That’s what stood out to me as well. I’m actually getting the idea that another company has already implemented the change. The competitor “rolled out” the process. So I think she should do what Admin says. Remind her boss politely that she suggested it a year ago and then start working on a plan. You are right that it’s most likely the boss forgetting rather than saying she is out to get her employee.

      It is ok to be frustrated though. Definitely vent at home so you feel better.

      1. SJP

        I totally get how sometimes you wanna scream in your bosses face that how dare the not remember you idea, as really, a good manager should remember things that their staff come up with – even if it is just a small recollection.
        I know managers are only human too, but i’d be annoyed that if my boss, who I have a good professional relationship, (as OP says she does too) completely didn’t remember something i’d come up with. It just shows how dismissive and not listening that manager was a year ago..

        Although i like Alisons reply, as well as Katie The Fed’s – “Oh good, I’m glad the company is moving forward with this! If you’ll recall I had the same proposal last year but there wasn’t an appetite at the time for trying new ideas, yadda yadda” wording

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          It would be really hard not to add “and now we’re behind our competitor instead of ahead of them.” Because that is what the end result is — the competitor has something already implemented that they could have been first with, but now will look like copy-cats and doing catch-up.

    3. AdAgencyChick

      I didn’t know that “Hanlon’s razor” was what that principle was called, but it’s one of my favorites — and I thoroughly agree that that’s what’s going on here.

    4. Anna Smithe

      Your comment is exactly what I was thinking. Having been a manager in different industries, this is exactly how I think it should be handled. This is showing some emotional intelligence from an employee perspective, and professionalism.

    5. Alma

      This is horribly angry-making. OP can really shine if she presents the proposal again, AND since Competitor is doing exactly the same thing, add an update about doing it better than/in a better way than Competitor. You wrote the proposal: how has Competition cut corners, missed steps, acted tentatively (or moved too quickly)? Present strategies that will make your boss… ummmm, your company be ahead of the game because you continued to believe in your proposal, and didn’t just stuff it in a file and forget about it. You go, OP!

    1. Rat Racer

      I think that the OP is referring to a colleague. But the fact that the OP calls the colleague a “competitor” is very strange. Perhaps it speaks to the toxic nature of the workplace culture. But I’ve never heard of anyone call someone they work alongside a “competitor.”

    2. A Jane

      I caught that as well. I initially read it as a business competitor, but then was confused by the article title.

  2. Amtelope

    Hang on, the OP says “a competitor rolled out my exact idea/proposal,” and that her manager then asked her to research the idea and present a proposal. That sounds like another business that competes with theirs rolled out this product/service, and the manager’s now warmed up to the idea because their competitors are doing it. I don’t see a coworker in this story.

    This whole thing seems much more reasonable if “competitor” is the business’s competitor — the manager is tasking the person who initially proposed this idea with working on it now that there’s a reason for it to get more support from management. It would have been nice if the manager had explicitly acknowledged that, but I’d dust off my initial proposal, add “and our competitors are doing it!”, and be glad that it now might move forward.

    1. Rat Racer

      I read this as a co-worker with whom the OP is competing (for a promotion? for the boss’s favor?) because it’s hard to imagine a company taking organizational development advice from a competing firm. But I agree that calling a colleague a competitor is very odd. So maybe I’m wrong here.

      1. Amtelope

        Yes, but if the “competitor” is a co-worker, why would the OP now be expected to come up with a proposal for this idea — isn’t that what the co-worker just did? I think if that’s the case, we’re missing pieces of this story. But “rolled out” to me suggests something that was implemented, not a suggestion, so it seems more likely (and I hope the OP will weigh in to clarify) that the manager is being influenced by a competitor’s decision. Whether they should or not, many companies do tend to reason that “we have to do X, our competitor is doing it!”

  3. Iro

    I’ve been in your shoes (literally put up an idea and have it ignored/shot down but a 30-minutes later same idea different co-worker = golden oppurtunity).

    I use to get very upset by this, and I felt like co-workers were stealing my ideas and management didn’t respect me. It was very hard for me to learn that this wasn’t the case at all, but that I was to blame for these ideas going unnoticed. I had to learn to really evaluate the motives of managers and my co-workers and really time my responses. I had to learn to actively listen to the entire meeting, and not just sit there thinking about what we had discussed 10 minutes ago.

    Alison is spot on. The last thing you want to do in this situation is say something like “That’s what I just said” or “I had this idea last year” in a negative fashion. Instead you want express excitement about the idea and then take the idea back by providing more in depth analysis/proposal that you already have at your fingertips.

    Good luck!

    1. AMG

      I think the issue is a combination of this and malice/stupidity comment that Katie the Fed made further up the chain. Delivery really is key. I have had to learn not only the right channels, the right timing, but also the right pitch when bringing up a new idea. This is relly a good learning opportunity for you if you can determine how to ‘stick the landing’ on these type of things going forward. Good luck!

    2. Artemesia

      I have seen good ideas by women ignored and then embraced within minutes when fair haired boys propose them, often within the same meeting. This was totally common during most of the years I was in the workforce. It was like constantly having to push rocks up hills while co-workers could just let theirs roll downhill.

        1. Ann without an e

          The solution to this is to punctuate what dude said by saying, “Yes thank you for agreeing with what I just said, so now that we have momentum how do we move forward.”

          Or, “Thank you for furthering my idea, what a great point you added.” even if he added nothing. Then you get credit for the ‘original’ thought and he get a nod for making it ‘better’. That way everyone wins, and eventually group stops ignoring you.

          Alternatively, you can joke to the room about people ears having low pass filters in them and thanking him for bringing your idea down an octave. I only do that one if I am getting annoyed b/c its the third time the group has collectively done that.

          1. Misc

            I had a particular coworker that used to do that to me all the time, and I think it genuinely was a hearing thing (I have a soft voice). I think they heard, didn’t really pay attention, then it triggered an ‘oh, why don’t we…’.

            I’d throw out an idea, then a minute or two later, they’d suggest it almost word for word… after a year or two, I just would say “I literally just said that” and everyone would nod and say “yep, they did”. Or other people would point it out as well. So it got to be quite funny.

      1. Iro

        This was something discussed in our company’s women diversity councils, and a key finding was that women were far more likely to use qualifiers such as “I think, …”, “I feel …” or worse “I’m sorry …”.

        All of which are qualifiers that are easily dismissed by leaders.

    3. puddin

      Iro – you make a great point about timing. I have to tell myself, and others at times, that timing has a huge impact on how an idea will be received. Millions of Xmas trees are sold every year. Does that mean stores should carry them year round? Nope, because timing is key.

      I also use this Xmas tree analogy when pitching an idea and I get the ‘we tried that’ response. When did you try it (time of year), how long ago?, how far into the budget year?, did we have the same tech/people/other resources?, has nothing changed since then?

      OP – maybe last year just was not the right timing…even from a ‘boss was having a bad day/month/quarter or she has learned a thing or two since then perspective.

  4. Adam

    From my reading I get the impression this might be another case of where business “isn’t personal” and yet it is. If I’m guessing correctly it sounds like this organization has had to be very stringent with limitations over the years due to budget and other legit constraints, but hasn’t been very good at acknowledging the staff’s attempts to improve things even when they run into those insurmountable walls. I know I’ve been frustrated when my above and beyond effort hasn’t been acknowledgment without even so much as a pat on the head.

    I agree with Alison that the best approach may be to be excited about the possibility of things actually changing around here and resurrecting your past work as part of your active contribution and consider it to now be the “right place; right time” to get it going.

  5. LBK

    I’d just try to reframe this as a good thing in your mind as much as possible. Your manager wants to implement an idea you had, and as a bonus you’ve already done all the work ahead of time, so less for you to do now!

    Ultimately, the outcome that you want is for this idea to be implemented because it’s a good idea for the business, not for the personal glory of being the one to propose it, right? Not to say credit shouldn’t be given where it’s due, but try to focus on the fact that this is about contributing to the success of the company.

    My manager can often be frustrating in this manner – questionable communication, forgetting things we’ve talked about, etc. However, he eventually does deliver on everything we work on together, so I’ve learned to just focus on the positive ends instead of the difficult means that are sometimes required to get there. It’s made my work so much easier and more enjoyable.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, OP, if this is the first time this has happened, I would not give up all hope. Yes, it is horrible to go through this. But it’s how we handle things when the chips are down that make us or break us in the work place. Not fair, but there it is.
        I think that Alison’s suggestion of approaching your boss is a good one. Get out your punching bag, or take a long jog, do whatever it is you do to get your boiling point down, then go in and try to talk to your boss.
        Think. You had the foresight to see this was the route to go. This means you have something on the ball. You can use your next move to build more credibility in your boss’ eyes.

        I have been though my own version of what you are saying here. So I do know about getting ticked and needing to cool down/ regroup. It’s not easy. But it does get easier if you decide that this is your new life habit and this is how you are going to handle this situation when you see it again. Because you will see it again.

  6. Ann Furthermore

    I read it as “co-worker” too, which now changes my response a little. Alison’s advice is spot-on, as usual. I’ve had this happen to me, and it has just made me seethe. And I have usually ended up saying nothing, because I didn’t think I’d be able to be professional and civil about it, which is no good either.

    Since it’s a competitor, you can re-forward your proposal (and your email string) to your boss and say, “Oh, this is awesome! I’m so glad we’re able to do this now! I did a bunch of research on this last year, so we’ll be able to jump right in and get started!” So the key is to put a positive spin on it, instead of just pointing out that you had the idea a year ago…no one likes being told, “I told you so!”

    I like Katie’s advice above about Hanlon’s Razor. Hee. I’ve never of that before.

  7. danr

    Some companies work like this. Nothing innovative is good until a competitor does it and gets good reviews. After updating this idea, your next project may involve looking ahead and actually doing something new.

    1. Artemesia

      Years ago I was asked to put forward an idea for a new program in a very conservative University — it had to clear several hurdles outside of the college in central administration and cross college committees. I was told to pitch it as ‘innovative, cutting edge, puts us out ahead of others’ — all of which it did and so I wrote it that way. I got it back from my Dean with the acerbic comment ‘this needs to be rewritten to emphasize that while it is cutting edge and we are leaders that all of our biggest competitors have been doing it for years.’ And I did and we got the thing approved and it was soon the most popular program in the University much to the surprise of those in central admin who had approved it, I think because they thought it would never amount to much.

      1. Sharon

        LOL! Cutting edge leaders but behind all the competition. That’s pretty rich, and amazing that it got approved described that way.

      1. Joey

        Goes with the culture though, no? Ultra conservative out of an abundance of caution with public funds and almost always looking to emulate best practices, not create them.

    2. Laurel Gray

      Isn’t this what killed the BlackBerry? I think they got very comfortable in their trackball-BBM utopia.

    3. MissDisplaced

      Ugh! I know! Unfortunately, a LOT of companies operate this way. Instead of leading the pack, they end up being copycats because they didn’t react to innovation with speed and efficiency, OR listen to their employees in the trenches.

      I’m going through this a bit right now. Suddenly all of sales is clamoring for an “App” and this was presented and soundly rejected by them 3 years ago. Why the sudden change? One of our competitors has it! (Of course).

  8. College Career Counselor

    Agreed with others that gracious reminder of prior proposal is the way to go here, plus excitement about the prospect of moving forward. You don’t want to give off even a hint of “you were stupid for shooting me down last year.” What I’ve come to learn is that you need three things (at least) for a proposal to move forward:

    The right audience
    The right timing
    The right resources

    The best idea in the world won’t go forward without those three things at the same time. Which I must admit has led to some weird moments when something I’d been proposing for YEARS suddenly gets the greenlight. It feels as if you’ve been pushing on a closed door when someone suddenly yanks it open, and you lurch through the opening.

    1. Not So NewReader

      This is valuable to know and keep track of- the stars must be in alignment. If they are not in alignment, put it on the back burner for later when someone, somewhere, has the big ah-ha moment and discovers “yeah, we need THIS.”
      Sigh.

  9. Shell

    I might even go one step further–when responding to your boss’s directive about researching into this project, you might even add “I remember I pitched this to you last year; I’ll forward you the exchange so you can remember the context. At the time, you said it wasn’t feasible…can you let me know what has changed so that it’s feasible now?”

    Maybe there really was a sound reason back then why it wouldn’t have been feasible, or maybe the powers that be just wrote it off too quickly. But you might find out some more information. And even if you don’t, you’ll probably still look pretty good if you ask about it in a way that lets upper management save face.

  10. Mike C.

    Bwahahahahaha, I had a manager do something like this over a year ago. He kept changing what he wanted twice a day until he ran all the way around back to what he originally wanted. Luckily I still had the old work so that I was a “genius” when the week before I “just wasn’t listening to his needs”.

    It was awesome and special.

  11. Ann O'Nemity

    I’m in a similar situation, except that my manager definitely does not want to be reminded (publicly or privately) that she shot down my ideas in the past. I admit that there’s a part of me that wants some recognition for the ideas and wants the higher-ups to know how my boss has repeatedly stalled progress. But there’s a bigger part of me that realizes that making my boss look bad isn’t going to help me at all.

  12. jordanjay29

    I think this is just a general human thing. Sometimes we reject ideas for some reason that we believe to be rational at the time. Come later, those same ideas start to actually look like good ideas, and we’ve suddenly come up with this brilliant plan, only to discover that we’ve forgotten the original idea maker along the way.

    This kind of thing happens all the time, in and outside of workplaces. I’ve had it happen to me a few times at a student group in college, a president hated an idea at the beginning of a year, and by the end of that same year she was making the suggestion herself. At that point, it didn’t matter who had suggested it, as long as it got done.

    In this case, it’s a good idea that the OP reminds the boss who suggested this last year, since I’m sure this isn’t a volunteer job for bonus point but a full time job for real money.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I have had that, too, where my idea was ignored for a long time. Then it resurfaces as a MIRACLE and somehow no one remembers it was my idea.

      I give it the “does it matter?” test. Some ideas are so badly needed that it no longer matters who thought of it. Just get turn the idea into reality and get it up and running. STAT.

      I am not sure this fits OP’s particular setting though. I think his idea had more complexity and work that came from his own talent.

      1. jordanjay29

        Quite so. I like the “does it matter?” test idea, that’s basically what I went through in my case. I figured it wasn’t worth bringing up the fact that it was my suggestion, so long as it got done it was a good thing. Then again, that’s part of my personality, too, I’m happy to stay in the shadows and know that my work did some good. I don’t need my name plastered over everything.

  13. LillianMcGee

    Your manager sucks for not giving you credit for all the extra hard work the first time around. What a great way to ensure poor morale!
    No suggestions from me, just sympathy. And thanks for the reminder to always acknowledge employees’ ideas and extra work, even when they aren’t exactly viable.

  14. Lily in NYC

    This is just like how my boyfriend will be all “meh” about me until some other guy checks out my butt. Then all of a sudden he’s like: hey, I remember you, sexy lady!

    1. BadPlanning

      Or when family members all the make the same suggestion, but it’s not a good idea until a distant friend says the same thing and suddenly, it’s brilliant!

  15. Beezus

    Just curious, because this is a weak point of mine – how do you develop the skill to turn things like this around and respond in an upbeat way, instead of getting lost in the GRR! aspect of it? I can see the value in doing so, but I have a hard time putting it into action sometimes. I’m sure it comes with practice, like so many things, but does anyone have any tips or tricks for switching off the negative response urges?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You’ve got to just take the ego out of it. I’ve written before that one way to do that mental shift is to think about how you’d respond if you were a consultant and your boss was your client — that tends to make the dynamic less personal and puts your focus more on how you can just make the client happy and get results.

    2. BadPlanning

      Go ahead and write the angry/sarcastic/GRR one. Then let it sit. Then delete it. (If tehre’s a chance of accidental sending, write it in a non-email format). Then try again.

        1. Coco

          Yes! I’ve trained myself to do this with every email because I’m paranoid about accidentally sending incomplete or poorly-composed emails. I always leave the To: line blank until right before I send it.

        2. Elizabeth West

          I do that too, but I use Notepad for writing it if I’m ticked off. Then I edit it and cut and paste. I am terrified of accidentally sending something like “We need to revamp the TPS reports to better reflect the figures. You miserable harpy.”

          The alternative is to wait until you’re not ticked off, but sometimes you need to send an answer right away.

      1. Coco

        This is a great strategy. I’ve had that happen to me accidentally and been grateful. For example, I’ve written a comment on a web page, and then I lose the tab before I’m done, and I think, “Hmm… better to rewrite that one anyway!”

      2. Beezus

        I do the secret nastygram draft! And I usually do it in Notepad, like Elizabeth West. :)

        My trouble is that sometimes I have trouble finding neutral quickly enough to get the real response out when it’s needed, or I revisit it and get all riled up again. I have learned that asking questions can be a good way to stall. Sometimes, thinking of a reasonable reason why I could have been ignored in the first place helps. Pretending it’s a client is a great way to quickly adjust my attitude. I have also tried picturing my emails being part of a documentation trail for getting rid of someone for being such a #&@%! idiot, where I play the part of a longsuffering saint whose trials make future readers facepalm with sympathy, but then it’s tempting to break the fourth wall and slip in a tiny bit of snark where they might find it entertaining (I should never imagine myself with an audience). A consultant is definitely better.

      3. Beancounter in Texas

        I vent into cyberspace. I find some random city on Craigslist and post to their Rants/Raves (changing names), because if I don’t ‘send off my letter’ to someone, it’s not gone from my mind. Plus, there isn’t an electronic document someone can find later that I forgot to delete. Then I write my actual email.

    3. LBK

      One thing that helps me with this is looking at track records – overall, does this person actually deliver in the end? I think a lot of the pain of dealing with someone who has a disorganized, frustrating process is that it feels like you’re constantly just waiting around for things to fall apart. It adds a lot of anxiety and pressure on you since you feel like you’re constantly on guard, preparing to deal with the inevitable fallout.

      If you can look at their history objectively and recognize that they probably will deliver in the end, you can then give yourself permission to not carry the weight of preparing for the worst. You can just let them run around in circles in the corner while you focus on your own work instead of anxiously watching them and wasting your own time in the process.

  16. justine

    You got great advice from Allison!

    I recently suggested something to my new manager and she said no.

    Then the supervisor asked for suggestions weeks later and i mentioned mine. He loved it and we’re looking into it. When he praised my idea in a meeting i totally wanted to look at the manager like ‘told you so’ but i had to restrain my face!

  17. Lisa

    If someone says ‘aren’t we just copying them’, I am the person that would say ‘while it may look like that, I had discussed this exact idea last year with Manager, but it was not feasible at the time for various reasons’. If asked what the reasons are, let the manager talk. Or say I don’t remember exactly, but I can forward you the email exchange. (Smiling of course).

  18. Tomato Frog

    This is actually really a great opportunity — you can do exactly what your boss requests of you while simultaneously vindicating yourself and looking like a forward-thinker. I get the OP’s anger but I think it’s blinded her to the fact that this is actually a situation where she can get what she wants just by being straightforward and gracious.

  19. J.B.

    Story of my life. That, or “where is x?” “on your desk (for months)”. If she’s otherwise good it’s just a thing. I would definitely reference past work, but sometimes you have to accept that some things are shelved for a while. However, do pull it back out and see if there is anything to add based on new information. Can you analyze what competitor is doing and propose a tweak that might work best for your firm?

  20. Sandy

    I’m curious to get folks’ take on what to do when an issue like this has already escalated?

    My admittedly crazy boss pulled this one on me earlier this year. BUT (and it’s a biggie), she used my previous suggestion as an example of my apparently poor performance in my performance review last year. Apparently, my suggestion was evidence to her of how out of sync I was/am with her goals as my manager and the goals of the organization.

    Then a few months ago she saw one of our competitors roll out exactly the same proposal, and sent it back to me with not only a “put together a plan to roll out something similar” but also “why have we not been doing this all along?!”

    She’s obviously not going to go back and retroactively change her review. And obviously “are you @&$&@ing kidding me?!” would not be the most career-preserving response.

    Is there anything to be done this situation, short of grinding my teeth to stubs?

    1. Iro

      I’d go back to the review and read exactly what she wrote. It could be you are remembering it as “This idea is so bad …” when it really read “The way this was delivered/handled was so bad…”

      If it turns our that her review actually did trash the idea, then it sounds like you have a manager who is trying to throw you under the bus and I’d get away from that role asap.

    2. puddin

      I would let her know that I am frustrated and confused – without any sarcasm – spoken in a tone of cooperation. I would start by telling her that I want to do a good job and I certainly want to be thought of well by her and others at the company. It is important to understand what this role really takes and that you want to absorb all you can to not only make yourself look good, but her as well. (Yes, this might get brown on your nose, but approach it matter-of-factly and not in a groveling way. She will see that it is a truism.) So, of course you are confused by what appears to be a change of heart. Tell her that you think the competitor plan looks a lot like the plan she used as the example that you were out of sync and that you want to learn how the two are different. Again, like a lot of advice on AAM, it is all about the tone. Do not challenge, but inquire with a true desire to be open to any answer – maybe it IS you. Is certainly IS you from her perspective and really that is what is getting in the way right now. So the more you can empathize with her, the better.

      She also needs to know that her actions come across as a mixed message. Can she please clarify it now? Does she still consider the plan ‘out of sync?’ She will probably say yes, because most people will not back down from previous statements. But you will have communicated, albeit passively, that you are not ok with this kind of flop – it causes strain to your work role. And perhaps she does indeed think it was not in sync then, but it is now. At any rate, you can get some sort of response to your confusion, and perhaps gain some understanding of her and your role as she perceives it.

      Not knowing how/what flavor of crazy your boss possesses, this may all be in vain. She may just say it was a bad idea and not retreat from that or clarify in any way. Be prepared for that…keep some gin, ice cream, or angry mix tapes to work out to at home for that evening. Whatever you do, do not grind your teeth to stubs. That will make them practically useless and unattractive to most people’s standards.

      1. Sandy

        For context (aka flavour of crazy), this is the same boss who was “featured” in the crazy Christmas stories post- “I gave everybody else a gift but not you”.

        1. Not So NewReader

          You can’t reason with insanity. I am so sorry you are dealing with this.

          I will say though, all these ideas that bosses throw in the garbage- we learned, we grew and we developed in the process of building those ideas. When we leave we take all that learning,etc, with us. A smart boss will see what we have done with our abilities and thinking.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius

      That’s a wonderful way to make sure people don’t contribute new ideas. I once had a boss say that the questions I asked showed how out of touch I was and five minutes later, she said I never asked enough questions.

      Okay then.

      What you should do is review you evaluation and make absolutely sure it was the same idea and note her objections. Did she give you any other feedback that didn’t pertain to your performance?

      Then, ask for a meeting and get her to clarify what she wants. Then, and this is key, approach it by saying you’re confused. You suggested X and it wasn’t a good idea then and you want to make sure you’re aware of what has changed so nothing goes awry. Don’t accuse her; be collaborative.

      Doubtful your review will get changed though.

    4. AMG

      You boss sucks. You may want to consider finding a new job. In my experience, people like this don’t change and pointing it out (however diplomatically) doesn’t help in the least.

    5. Barney Stinson

      Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

      I worked for a VP and this happened:

      1. I suggested that we notify another VP we were about to implement a program.
      2. In front of witnesses, she said, “ABSOLUTELY NOT. DO NOT NOTIFY THE OTHER VP.”
      3. I complied.
      4. When Other VP sent Our VP a note complaining about not receiving notification, My VP forwarded it to me wondering WHY IN THE HELL DID YOU NOT NOTIFY THE OTHER VP???? HOW COULD YOU BE SO STUPID????
      5. My immediate manager remembered numbers 1, 2, and 3, as did my peer. However, I was told that we could not tell Our VP had given the order that no notification be sent.

      There was a parting of the ways soon after.

      Don’t play with these people; they’re crazy.

  21. Snarkus Aurelius

    I read an article many months ago about how American work culture lives in this ongoing contradiction: we say we value independent thinking and innovation but when faced with it, we say no and revert to the devil we know.

    As someone who has been frustrated out of jobs because of this lip service, can managers weigh in on the predisposal to say no? My gut tells me the Boss doesn’t want to be shown up.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        Fair enough. I feel like most bosses already have their minds made up, and they’re just asking for feedback so it doesn’t look so unilateral.

        When I was an intern, my boss would hold two hour meetings to discuss decisions she’d already made sometimes days before. It was definitely weird.

        1. Ally

          I know what you mean Snarkus, my boss is similar, but I think it is because they are risk-averse. My boss will often not even consider a good proposal or updating anything because they are worried the next higher up won’t like it. I’d rather suggest an idea and get shot down rather than staying quiet all the time. My job is judged based on certain outcomes so it’s helpful to have a little say in how we can become more efficient.

  22. Ally

    This happens to me ALL THE TIME. Usually my boss asks or suggests to me to research or develop a proposal on something specific. I spend a ton of extra time on it and in the end there is no interest. Usually it’s not even looked at. It’s incredibly demoralizing. Then a year or sometimes years later another coworker or competitor comes up with something similar and I get asked again to research/develop a proposal (deja vu!).

    I probably spend 50% of my time on proposals that will never get read or revising ones done a year before. It is the number one reason why I hate my job. It’s the revising part that drives me nuts; not only was the first time a waste, but now a second time. Every now and then we will revisit something done years before and it will get implemented (and the outcomes have all been quite successful). So I have that at least.

    I liked Ask a Manager’s response to the OP.

  23. Barney Stinson

    Honestly, I’m a manager who is so swamped I can barely remember yesterday some days. If my team took it personally that I forgot they’d put together a killer proposal last year they’d have to kill me and get it over with.

    And it’s not just me: my boss asks me for a list of all my accomplishments before he writes my performance appraisal, so he doesn’t miss anything.

    I would respond very well to the suggested action.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      I see what youre saying, but a forgotten propsal isn’t the problem here. It is a culture of chronic no to the point that it took a competitor to get an idea noticed.

      It is one thing to just say no. It is quite another to explain the specifics of why something can’t be done either because of money, timing or staff. The LW sounds like she’d be a lot more forgiving if the latter was the case because the oversight wouldn’t be so hurtful. When you feel heard, you tend to be more forgiving.

      Whenever I said no to my staff, I always explained why. Being on the receiving end of so many noes, I start asking myself why I’m working here in the first place if nothing I say is considered.

    2. Katie the Fed

      “Honestly, I’m a manager who is so swamped I can barely remember yesterday some days. ”

      Yup. I feel like I have ADD since I became a manager.

  24. Revanche

    I’ve had this hsppenamd worked for people to whom this happened at an executive level and got to listen to some spectacular griping about how “I had this idea FIVE YEARS AGO AND ONLY NOW is it a good idea???!!”
    Not hugely professional but it was hilarious to watch. And instructive: the griping only happened behind closed doors. Openly we were “thrilled” to execute this proposal! ;

  25. Rae

    I work in an environment where proposals for new ideas are thrown around like candy at a parade. The management eats it up like greedy kids but also expects it to be well researched and feasible. From time to time projects are selected that explode and go crazy. Some important projects get ignored.

    I’ve had this scenario happen to me. Two years ago I spend quite a few hours (of my own time) researching an idea and putting together a proposal of the who’s why’s and hows of Abnormal Teapot buyers. Now that the market is constricting and there are more Teapot Makers in the mix and less teapot buyers we should go after Abnormal Teapot Buyers. So two years later I edited to update dates and sent it off as I’d written it.

    And what’da know. It was a hit and they used that as a key in building an entirely new Abnormal Teapot creation team.

    I could of been miffed because we missed out on things and because Doofensmirts Evil Teapots has started to attract Abnormal Teapot buyers. But as one of the above people stated timing is everything.

    I agree with Allison, just communicate with your manager. Unless your job is only to generate ideas, things like this happen.

  26. Pucksmuse

    I left my first “grown up” job over an issue like this. My boss was a jerk of the first order, who had occasionally down-right-scary outbursts. One of these outbursts followed a project I’d been working on for six months. He saw something from one of our competitors, which was very very similar to what I’d been working on, and sent me a looooong email demanding to know why I wasn’t doing something similar. Why did I let the competition beat us to the market? Why was I so lazy? Why didn’t I have any initiative? Why was I so happy to do the bare minimum? It was unprofessional and personally insulting and it was the last fricking straw.

    So I wrote a PAIN-STAKINGLY polite email response, expounding on every single detail of my own project, including the fact that we’d beaten our competitors to the market by a month. I included a timeline noting every single contact I’d made with him about said project, including email conversations we’d had about it, drafts, release dates, etc.

    I didn’t come out and tell him, “It’s not my fault you don’t keep up with your own company’s products.” But the implication was pretty heavy.

    And a week later, I resigned.

    Since you don’t seem to want to leave, I recommend sticking with the painstakingly polite email.

  27. Kathlynn

    I had something similar happen at my current place. We have an out door display case where we put window wash. In the winter we also sell sand bags (which weigh about 50lb thawed, way more when frozen). Soon after the display cases arrived, I suggested that we use the bottom of the case for sand bags. It was turned down. I told a few other coworkers “betcha we will start do it next year” and we did. (otherwise we would have to pull a trolly with 6 sand bags inside every night, and there is a large step up into the store). And the manager played it like it was her original idea. (yeah, it happened with other things as well).

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