In the Black: Stuck on the sidelines - Michelle Gibbings

In this article for In The Black, Johanna Leggatt and I discuss how to handle the setback of being overlooked for a promotion.

You have been sidelined and missed out on a promotion. Quite naturally, you feel unappreciated and confused.

Most frustrating of all, you have the skills, the smarts and the drive to pull off the role with ease. Then why, you may be thinking, did they promote someone else over you?

According to workplace expert Michelle Gibbings, every professional is sidelined at some point in their career. “I’ve been passed over, and what I can tell you is that it is the step towards the next good thing that is going to happen in your career,” Gibbings says.

The first point to keep in mind is the importance of being a consummate professional, which means resisting the urge to vent to your boss.

“Talk privately to someone you trust, so you can work through your emotional responses, as the last thing you want to do is look like the sore loser,”
Gibbings says.

“And remember, there is a reason they haven’t given you the job, so ask for feedback.”

The feedback should help you grow and develop resilience, so you can learn from the experience, Gibbings says.

“Often, in hindsight, you remember the moment from the vantage point of a much better role, and you will be glad you were passed over,” she says.

Career management coach Jane Jackson argues it is important to temper your disappointment with some soul-searching – especially if you are passed over for promotions regularly.

“It’s important to have a reality check and do a self-assessment as to what your skills are, your level of competence and level of workplace enjoyment,” Jackson says. “You may have wanted the job because it has more money, but it may not have been right for you.”

Jackson also recommends asking yourself why you wanted the promotion and what the new role would have given you, as well as what you may have lost had you been promoted.

“Ask yourself what the values are that really drive you…and would you be moving into an area that prevents you from satisfying those values,” she says.

You may, for example, value the kind of freedom that would be less possible once you received the promotion.

“Society tells us that a promotion is great, as it involves more money, and you’re going to receive more recognition,” Jackson says.

“But if recognition is not a driver for you, it doesn’t matter if you get it or not.” Of course, it’s hard to stay philosophical when the person who receives the promotion moves from being your colleague to being your manager. In this instance, Gibbings advises not to let envy overwhelm you.

“They’re likely to be feeling awkward about it too, so be the one to approach them first and be genuinely happy for them,” she says. Jackson also suggests looking at the skillset of the person who was promoted to see what is valued by the organisation.

Sometimes the reason you are sidelined has more to do with your boss, who, as Gibbings puts it, may have “a fixed view of who you are, what your skill is and how far you can progress”.

This is a sign it’s time to move on, she says. “You might get to the point where you think, ‘I’ve been capped in this organisation and I’m not going to get any further, so I need to look outside this department, this division or this organisation’,” Gibbings says.

Jackson notes that it is only natural for some decisions about promotions to be political.

“People tend to gravitate to people who they think will work well with them,” she says.

“But if it is blatantly obvious that it’s always going to be political within the organisation…then you need to assess all of the aspects of the scenario and lay the foundation for looking elsewhere.”

Some bosses, Gibbings says, are not true leaders and may stymie a star employee’s career progression.

“The leader’s role is to help develop someone’s skills so the organisation doesn’t lose them,” Gibbings adds.

Whatever the reason for being sidelined, at the end of the day, it’s up to employees to take charge.

“And remember, if our careers went in a straight, upward trajectory, how boring life would be.”


  • Ask for feedback, so you can grow from the experience.
  • Talk privately to someone you know and trust.
  • If your colleague is promoted over you, be professional and congratulate them.
  • Ask yourself if you can continue to grow in your work environment, in which case it makes sense to stay.
  • Assess whether your boss has a “fixed” idea of you and if you are likely to ever get promoted. If not, consider moving on.

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