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To keep your options open, decline promotions tactfully

When an employer offers you a promotion you decide against, you could just walk away. Don’t. This situation presents an opportunity for you to keep doors open for other opportunities in the same company or industry.

Timothy Wiedman, now an associate professor of management and human resources at Doane College in Crete, Neb., accepted two promotions when he was the manager of one of his firm’s top regions in Toledo, Ohio. The third promotion would require moving to the much pricier Washington, D.C., market. He could handle the initial 65-hour workweeks, but without a raise, his standard of living would plummet.

“I met with my bosses and presented concrete examples of why a raise was justified,” he says. “I showed that by streamlining D.C. operations as I had in Toledo, I’d save the company 10 times my requested salary increase. But since I’d gotten a merit raise a few months earlier, my bosses weren’t in a mood to negotiate and turned me down. I had to decline the promotion.”

A year later, someone else in the firm offered him another promotion, which he accepted.

When Scott Kiefer turned down promotions in the defense and oil industries, he left the organizations. Today, as partner/vice president at The Oliver Group Inc., a Louisville, Ky., consulting firm, he says self-awareness is essential to making the best decision for yourself — “knowing your competencies, skills, education and experiences — and understanding the work environment, types of bosses or teams” where you’ll flourish. He describes these as “elusive” to many people, accessible only through trial and error. He wanted to be engaged in his work and knew he wouldn’t be if he accepted the promotions. Kiefer opines that many people lack the courage to leave organizations after being offered a promotion they don’t want.

“I tactfully let the hiring managers know and gave them my reasoning,” he says. “The promotions they offered were not the direction I wanted to go. I didn’t burn the bridges. I thanked them in person for the opportunities and for thinking of me, and then I moved on.

“Some of these individuals (later) sought me out for consulting work,” he adds. “They’d been able to find better fits for those organizations than I would have been.”

Transition coach Shelby Griggs works primarily with women through GALS Inspired International, which she founded in Dallas. After 20 years in corporate, she advocates treating a promotion turn-down delicately.

“You are an internal candidate and the hiring manager either knows you directly or is familiar with your work and reputation,” she says. “Every now and then, executives decide to handpick people for key roles. But, chances are, that you applied for this position, which showed interest.”

You want to keep your reputation pristine and don’t want to appear wishy-washy, she says.

“Base your decision on your career goals and be transparent,” she says. “Explain your professional (not personal) reasons for refusing the promotion” without getting lost in details.

Also, she says, make certain leadership understands your logic.

She says that by doing this, you assure continued respect in your workplace and retain your candidacy in the future.

Griggs used this method herself and found it successful. Offered another promotion later, she says, “I accepted it. It was a much better fit.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at © 2013 Passage Media.


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