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The Champion Forum Podcast

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What to do when you can't give them a promotion

Thank you for listening to The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! Have you ever missed out on a promotion? Or have you ever been the one to deliver the news that someone did not get a promotion? This conversation is typically emotionally charged and can greatly impact your employee’s career, both personally and with your company. In today’s episode, we’ll talk about what to do and what not to do when you are telling someone they did not get the promotion. As uncomfortable as these conversations are, they are a great opportunity to help your employee improve and meet their career goals in the future. 


What To Do

  1. Prepare them for the conversation.

Prepare the employee mentally for the conversation. Send them an email or other private message asking if they are available for a one-on-one meeting to discuss the outcome. Be clear that they did not get the promotion, but also tell them that you want to talk about what made them a strong candidate. Allowing them to process the news alone will help them ensure they respond appropriately and can approach your conversation objectively.

  1. Approach the discussion with high empathy.

Tell them you intend to be straightforward while leaving room for their input. Don’t apologize for them not getting the promotion, but do listen to their feelings. Remember that the people who get upset will be upset because they really care. 

  1. Use “I” statements.

I statements are a great way to communicate your perspective. Instead of stating how your employee acts or feels, talk about what you notice. 


What Not To Do

  1. Don’t use the compliment sandwich.

Employees can tell what is coming when you use the compliment sandwich, and it leaves them questioning how sincere the compliments were.

  1. Don’t turn the conversation into a performance review.

Employees don’t like performance reviews to begin with! Focus your discussion on why the employee was not promoted, not to pile on reasons why they are inadequate.

  1. Don’t lecture them.

Avoid speaking constantly. You have a lot of feedback to share, but ensure you include plenty of questions to allow them to speak. Try asking, “Is there anything you need me to clarify?” “Is there anything you’d like to add?” “Do you have any feedback?” or “How are you feeling about what I just said?”


Make sure that you prepare ahead of any conversation you have. It’s hard to be objective in a meeting, so make sure you write down your talking points to stay on task and say things the way you want to. Being transparent and specific will help your employees take your feedback seriously and improve.


Application Activities:

  1. Evaluate your feedback culture. The more accustomed your team is to receiving feedback, the better these conversations will go. If you want to improve your culture of feedback, try taking the time to ask your employees for feedback! By setting the example, you will show your team members what the expectation is in your culture. Try to get feedback from everyone on your team in the next 1 to 2 weeks.

  2. Empathy is a great way to make your employees feel understood and heard, but it works best when they already know that you care about them and their goals. Think about how you can show empathy to your team members individually over the next week. Showing empathy can be as simple as asking your team members about their goals and their lives outside of work. If you have to deliver some negative or constructive feedback, take the time to ask the question, “How do you feel about what I just said?”

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