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What to Say When Only One of You Gets Promoted

Apart from being fired, being passed over for a promotion is one of the worst feelings at work. And it’s even more painful when the person who DID get the promotion, is someone you work with.

On the flip side, sometimes you’re the one who gets promoted and you’re now the boss of the person who got passed over.

Here’s how to handle both.

  1. When you get passed over

To get over the “everyone walking on eggshells around you” feeling, you’ll need to congratulate your coworker. After congratulating it’s ok to acknowledge the fact you wanted it too. You don’t have to fake like you didn’t care.

You can say something like:

Congratulations, I heard about your promotion to Mid-Market Director, congratulations!

Obviously, you know I was competing for the same position. I won’t lie, I’m disappointed. But I wanted to let you know I support you 100%, and I truly wish you the best in your new role.

Make sure you end on a positive note, with the utmost of support for your colleague. Your colleague will feel relieved knowing you’re not going to sabotage them.

You should also consider alleviating awkwardness with leadership. One option is writing a letter outlining some of your major accomplishments, asking for feedback on where you can improve, and asking to be considered for future opportunities.

Case in point, many years ago my husband was passed over for a big promotion. He was devastated, but he spent the weekend regrouping. He went in strong on Monday morning, congratulated the person, and wrote a great letter to leadership. The seniors were so impressed, three month later he got a big promotion. The big boss cited how impressed he was with the way my husband handled a setback.

  1. You got the promotion and your peer got passed over

Congratulations. You spent the evening celebrating with your family, and all morning being congratulated by your managers and colleagues. But you know your coworker wanted that promotion too. So, what do you say? Do you act like nothing ever happened? Do you never speak to them again?

First, allow the person a cooling off period.

Monday morning is not the time to walk up to their desk and ask them about their weekend. Don’t be overly avoidant; just don’t go out of your way to engage with them.

Later in the day, or in the next couple of days, acknowledge the situation without saying “I got promoted, yay me.” Instead say something like, “Hey, I know you were after that promotion too.  I’ve been there, and it’s hard.” Then, compliment the person. Don’t blow smoke, find something sincere and true.

End on a high note by saying you’re looking forward to continuing to work together, or that you really value their insights. Brevity is vital here – the person might be choking back tears or anger at the mere sight of you.

Be empathetic, but don’t be sorry.

This situation might require some more time to heal because it cuts deeper than a disagreement in a meeting or a nasty email. Give this person some space, and remember – you got this promotion because you deserve it.

Life is a long thing. You’re probably going to be on both sides of this at one point or the other. How you handle yourself in challenging situations determines the level of support you get from your colleagues.

Establish yourself as someone who handles difficulties with grace and confidence.