Want to pitch an idea to your boss? There are specific irksome phrases to avoid if you want an enthusiastic yes. Before becoming an independent consultant, I worked in big organizations with big visions, big egos, and big pants (cookies were brought in for nearly every meeting longer than 15 minutes.)

Employee autonomy eroded over the years as a result of the C-Suite's effort to control risk. The impact? Nearly everything needed a boss's approval. Senior management power was often wielded in the form of supporting or squashing (and occasionally snagging) ideas from middle managers and staff. In spite of the gauntlet, speaking up and pitching ideas was important. It was one known, widely respected way to see career advancement, expanded influence, and, generally greater work satisfaction.

In my view, bosses exist to both cheer and control. The best have a truly open door and an open mind. They're evenhanded and avoid (most days) letting others see the emotional ups and downs they're going through to get their own work done.

I learned how to refine my internal pitches through trial and error and error and error. Had I read this piece on how to get your idea approved, I might have saved myself some frustration, rework, and occasional coffee station venting. Later as my team grew, I couldn't help but notice staff pitching me and making similar mistakes.

Here are four common pitch killers to avoid with your boss:

  1. "It says in my performance review that I should..." There are two problems with this statement. It's about you, and it seems that you're treating your development as a "check the box" exercise. Both are a near-immediate turn-off.
  2. "I know you said 'no' to Matt, but my case is different." There are always varying circumstances, but don't make the choice to have different rules for different staff so obvious.
  3. "I was thinking in the elevator this morning that..." Unless your idea is about where to eat lunch, there are few big pitches that are sufficiently mature to share with your boss after a lift from the garage--even if you work on the 42nd floor!
  4. "I heard about this great new tool. I'm not exactly sure what it does but we have to get ASAP." Uh, no. Related to number 3, I always surprise myself with the frequency this phrase comes out of my mouth--and I know I should know better. There is a balance between capitalizing on the excitement of the idea and showing that you've done a little research, talked to an expert, read some case studies, or something. Anything to show that you have an idea of what exactly you're pitching.

Will Yakowicz offers several more practical tips in The Fine Art of Getting a Big Idea Off the Ground that can be easily applied when approaching your boss. Avoiding these phrases, which simply cloud the real intent and purpose of your pitch, will help you yield a higher success rate when it comes to your big ideas.

Published on: Jul 13, 2015