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What to Do When You Don’t Get What You Want at Work

What to do when you don't get what you want at work Red Cape Revolution

No matter how experienced, talented, and valuable you are, I know one thing for certain about you. There will be a time in your life when you don’t get what you want at work.

when you don't get what you want at work

Maybe it’ll look like this:

  • You thought you were primed to be promoted . . .but were passed over. . .
  • You took on the the new project as a career booster . . . but the staff you were promised quit  . . .
  • You anticipated a big bump in annual pay . . . but were awarded the same average increase as everyone else . . .
  • You wanted your job to happily stay the same . . .and then a merger, new manager, and/or industry adjustments made it change–fast.

Or maybe there was something else that you expected or thought you’d earned.

But it doesn’t happen.

What DO you do when you don’t get what you want at work?

Sure, you could curl up and weep. Maybe that feels good for a while. But it’s a huge energy drain for you and those who love you.

Or you could get furious, pound pillows, and start plotting your evil revenge.

revenge doesn't work | Red Cape Revolution


Again, that’s also exhausting and far from productive in the long term.

So what can you do?

When you don’t get what you want at work, it’s time for the AND strategy.

What to Do When You Don’t Get What You Want at Work: The AND Strategy

Often when we’re hurt or feeling defensive, it’s natural to start saying “but:”

  • BUT I’d put in all that extra effort for the project!
  • BUT I’d sold twice as much business as the person who got the promotion!
  • BUT I’ve been here longer and deserve the opportunity, dammit!

When things are on an unexpected slide downward, BUT isn’t your friend.

It’s often the verbal equivalent of putting up your fists.

fists up

So let’s change our vocab to AND.

The AND strategy reminds you of three steps to take any time you realize you’re not getting what you want at work. The steps are:

  1. Ask
  2. Notice
  3. Decide

Step 1. Ask

The best way to show strength in the wake of defeat is to face the issue head-on.

face it head on

Okay, you don’t have to get all Braveheart about it, but if your expectations weren’t met, there’s something out of sync.

It’s your job to face it and find out.

How? You need to ask bigger questions of your leaders and other decision-makers.

And then shut up and listen.

What kind of questions can you ask?

Some of the simplest, yet most powerful questions start with these magic words: “help me understand.”

Help me understand . . .

      • . . .how my role in the project went awry.
      •  . . .the factors that led to turning me down for the promotion.
      • . . . how my pay was determined.
      • . . . where you see my role fitting into the new priorities.

Asking helps you open up the conversation and get the data that you may have been missing—-or not hearing-—earlier. We all have blind spots, so asking helps you see around yours.

Speaking up and asking also send a professional, mature message to your leader that whatever happened was not what you expected. Too often in my work as a coach, I’ve seen strong, successful people assume their leader knows–and they wait for them to address it. And wait. And wait.

This broken thinking is called the “illusion of transparency.” (I talk about this in more depth in the Ask for What You Need chapter of my book, “Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job,” affiliate link)

Never assume your leader knows! They’re human, too.

I’ve seen too many situations where a busy leader was totally unaware that the thing that happened  (or didn’t happen, like a promotion) upset their associate, until that person stepped up and started asking questions.

Don’t make up stories or rely on assumptions about what’s going on. It’s your job to ask.

For more scripts to jumpstart your tough conversations at work, go here.

Step 2. Notice

With data in hand (assuming that after you asked, you also listened), it’s time to pay attention in new ways.

Not to others—but to yourself.

What are the things in your control that influence the outcome you want? Remember, you only control three things:

  • Everything you say;
  • Everything you do; and
  • Everything you think.

(More on those three things here.)

When you don’t get what you want at work, these three things are the levers you can pull to get different results.

What are you—or aren’t you—saying, doing and thinking that you now notice may be getting in your way? Here are a few things that my private coaching clients have discovered after going through this process:

  • I’ve stopped having regular face-to-face check-ins with my team because I assumed we’re all too busy, but perhaps that’s contributing to the perception I’m not on top of things. Let me get those back on my calendar.
  • I’m working at home a lot more than I was a year ago, and when I’m in the office I just hide behind my computer. I need to plan ahead for more meetings, lunches and catch-up conversations on the days when I’m in the office and limit my heads-down work to my work-at-home days.
  • My mindset is that “the harder I work, the more I’ll be recognized.” But I realize that’s not working today and I’m working hard on things that I’m not sure are really valued in my organization right now. I need to get clearer on what’s valued and what I value and think differently about where I spend my time and energy.

You will never be successful if you’re waiting for others to change.

Focus on what you say, do, and think—the only three things you control —and you’ll feel more confident and clear immediately.

Step 3. Decide

Now that you’ve gathered information from others and from yourself, it’s time to decide.


  • Is the thing you thought you wanted something you still want?
  • Are your reasons the right reasons for you long-term–or is it just your bruised ego talking?
  • If the thing you wanted is still important, what will it take to get it?
  • Is it possible to achieve where you are?
  • Is the next most important step clear?
  • Do you need some unbiased help, like a professional coach or external mentor?

The worst thing you can do is to NOT make a conscious decision about what to do next.

What’s next may mean having bigger, more difficult conversations. It may be asking specifically for something you need or want.

Or it may be doing the work to decide whether to stay or leave.

(Check out our on-demand course that helps you learn how to make this decision in the way that’s right for YOU.)

Here’s a promise. When you don’t get what you want at work, it hurts. If you don’t take action and use the AND strategy now, you’ll get hurt again.

No one wants that for you.

Put the AND strategy to work today, and start soaring through your career once again.

dan pink endorsement of Red Cape Rescue by Darcy Eikenberg
Honored to have “Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job” endorsed by bestselling author Dan Pink. Available in paperback, ebook, and Audible.