“How can I diplomatically ask why I did not receive a workplace Award?”

Question: I have been nominated four times for an Honor Award at work but have not once been chosen. I wonder why this has happened in a repeated fashion, and this has led to considerable self-doubt.

I must admit that I am one to periodically challenge decisions made by others if I truly believe they are in error, and I believe, as well, that I am quite effective in my role.

How might I diplomatically raise this issue in an email to my superiors?

Dahlia
Melbourne, Australia

Answer: Dear Dahlia: Your question is a rather unusual one, yet one that I particularly appreciate receiving. You remind me of myself, several decades ago, and so I particularly appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and others.

1. To begin, let us first appreciate the fact that being nominated for an Award is, in itself, an acknowledgement of your value. I do not mean that your concern is without valid basis; far from it. However, no one should be completely disappointed – or doubt one’s abilities and worth – by repeatedly being nominated but not chosen. Some of our very best athletes do not gain entrance to the Halls of Fame, and some of the very best actors never receive the Golden Statuette. There is no shame, and a great deal to be proud of, in being among those who are nominated several times. So, first, see the brighter side of things with the “attitude of gratitude.”

2. Any inquiry to workplace managers that seems potentially “sensitive” is best expressed this way: “How can I better serve you?” In many workplace circumstances, employees need to request information, assurances, or other responses that might seem potentially “sensitive” to the recipients. I always encourage clients in such circumstances to do so in a way that sounds more like “How can I better serve you?” This is because when employees express in one way or another “I want, I need, I deserve,” the emotional response of the recipient often is “Everyone says that.” But if you “speak to” the person in words that are “sweeter” to their ears, the same question often receives a “sweeter” response.  

For example, if you are unhappy with your (a) small raise, (b) failure to receive a promotion, (c) a low discretionary bonus, or other such disappointment, “Hey, I got shortchanged!” does not work as well as “Is there any way I might be viewed as deserving that reward, and if so, I will strive to do that or achieve that for you.” It’s just a matter of human nature: we are all better tuned into our own welfare and happiness than the welfare and happiness of others.

3. In fact, you might start off your inquiry with a hearty “Thank you!” Though it might seem counter-intuitive, you might begin your inquiry with a “Thank you for the nominations, which I so very much appreciate.” As a young lawyer, I learned that I could get so much more from Judges if I began my request with a “Thank you, Your Honor, for the Court’s willingness to entertain my motion. In that light, might I request the Court also consider X, Y and Z,” when all along I was actually upset with the Judge in the first place. And, of course, I smiled, because “Smiles automatically and immediately increase your face value.” Yes, I found myself far more successful when making requests when I began my sentence with “Thank you” even when I felt something quite different.

4. Your inquiry can mention each of the outstanding contributions you have made, so long as it does not sound like “Hey, boss, you sure made a mistake.” Rather, I might suggest that you express, preferably in writing, something like “I always do my best, and in that light did accomplish A, B and C, which I thought would likely be sufficient to be provided the Honor Award. Might you suggest additional contributions that would likely be viewed as deserving of the Honor Award and, if so, I will strive to achieve them, as well.”

In this way, too, you are not saying “I deserve it,” but rather “Though I did contribute my best, what else might I do for you, which I would also do my best to do?” and in doing so you are making mention of your outstanding contributions in a more “welcome” and “palatable” way.

5. One common workplace dynamic that I do want to share with you: “achievers,” and especially “over-achievers,” are often viewed as potential “competitors” by Managers, who may fear losing their own jobs. I have seen it more times than I can count, and I have experienced it myself when I was an employee: Sure, your Managers want you to be an achiever, but they do not want you to be a “great achiever,” because that might just make them fear you as a potential competitor for their own jobs.

This would only be made worse if you are a person who is not afraid to challenge decisions of others if you believe better decisions should be considered, for the betterment of all. You did describe yourself in that way in your question.

If you do that, I would encourage you to continue to do that, because the world needs better ideas, better decisions, and better ways of doing things. But at the same time, temper it a bit, make your suggestions ones that your Managers might take credit for – Managers LOVE to take credit for employees’ ideas – and do a little more to “polish their apple” than to polish your own.

Recall the fundamental key to negotiation: what the other person seeks is more important than what you seek, because what they seek is THE KEY to your getting what you seek.

Dahlia, I truly hope this is helpful to you, and that at a very minimum, you’ll give it a good try, and in doing so bear in mind the dynamics of workplace negotiation. Please send my best regards to all of my blog visitors “Down Under.”

My Best,
Al Sklover

P.S.: Want to learn more about workplace negotiating? Consider viewing our Sklover On Demand Video entitled “Can I Really Negotiate with My Boss?” Just sit back, relax, watch and listen. To do so, just [click here.]

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