You’re presenting your latest and greatest idea to a small group of internal clients, when suddenly the top decision maker jumps in. “It’ll never work,” he says. “Our customers couldn’t care less about that, so let’s not waste time or money.”

Crickets. Everybody else slowly nods in unison, and that’s that. End of story. End of meeting. And maybe the bitter end of your idea — unless you do some fast talking.

After all, you’ve done your homework, and you know the idea will work, and you have facts to prove customers do care.

But unless your big boss is low on ego and high on ethos, setting him or her straight in front of others is probably not the right tactic. Better to hold your fire for the moment and save your best shot for a one-on-one encounter.

When Donald Keough was Coca-Cola’s president, his international operations team presented a plan requiring a major investment in Eastern Europe. According the New York Times, Keough killed the idea right then and there.

Not long after the meeting, the head of international operations went to Keough’s office and asked him to rethink his decision. He explained that Keough had not recently spent time in that part of the world, so perhaps he didn’t appreciate recent developments there.

Impressed by the manager’s explanations, Keough agreed to go and see for himself. Three months later, he approved a billion-dollar investment in Eastern Europe.

When a top manager flatly rejects an idea in front of others, and you’re convinced he or she is making a mistake, try following these guidelines:

  1. Be patient — If she or he categorically shoots down the idea and leaves no opening for discussion, take a deep breath and move on. Give yourself time to regroup and plan your response.
  2. Be discreet— Meet with the client or manager in private so there are no face-saving or embarrassment issues.
  3. Be respectful — Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.
  4. Be credible — Stay focused and stick to the facts.
  5. Be positive — Acknowledge the manager’s concerns about the idea, then offer your reasons, alternatives and solutions.

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