Taking a 鈥淣o鈥?in Work and Life

June 18, 2019

As an agency with a sales team, we are no strangers to hearing a 鈥渘o.鈥澛營t鈥檚 never easy. Sticks and stones may break bones, but that two-letter word can shatter spirits. Rejection is a bitter pill to swallow, and while there鈥檚 no easy way to erase the icky feelings鈥攂e it from getting passed over for a job, denied a sale,聽fired, broken up with, or hearing a critical comment from a loved one鈥攊t is possible to take the 鈥渘o鈥?as graciously as possible. The challenge is to resist some of the negative beliefs about ourselves that are stirred up by these events. 聽

Rejection has far-reaching implications. A 2002 study found that feelings of rejection temporarily lowered intelligence. After study participants were told that they would most likely end up alone in life, they scored significantly lower on an I.Q. test than those who did not receive the rejecting message.

Another study from the same year found that rejection triggered self-defeating behaviors, such as taking irresponsible risks and聽choosing unhealthy foods over healthy ones. To be fair, it was already common knowledge that people tend to favor sweets and other "comfort foods" over healthy options聽when feeling down.

Unfortunately, rejection is an unavoidable part of life. The following tips can help you graciously handle hearing 鈥渘o鈥?at work and in life.

Tip #1

Make sure it鈥檚 not your own misperception. 聽

Individuals who are especially sensitive to rejection sometimes interpret neutral cues as a sign of disapproval. Consider the following example:

Amy: 鈥淚 really loved your presentation. I think it was your best one yet!鈥?/p>

Beth: 鈥淥h, so you didn鈥檛 like any of my other presentations?鈥?/p>

Amy was clearly not saying that she didn鈥檛 like any of Beth鈥檚 other presentations, but Beth鈥檚 sensitivity to rejection colored an otherwise innocent comment as a critical one. 聽

There鈥檚 a name for this type of distortion in thinking: Confirmation bias. Scott Plous, a social psychologist, writes in his book The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, that confirmation bias is聽characterized by a 鈥渢endency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses" (p. 233).聽If one鈥檚 pre-existing belief is that they are not good enough, everything will be seen through a lens of rejection and failure. Contrary evidence is inadmissible in the court of a low self-concept.

motown tress wigs shows that individuals who are especially sensitive to rejection perceive it more often than others, even when presented with the same cues. For example, if two people look at a picture of a person with a blank stare, one might say, 鈥淭hey look tired,鈥?while the other might say, 鈥淭hey look judgmental.鈥?The difference in the two perceptions has a lot to do with the perceiver鈥檚 beliefs about themselves and other people. Sometimes we think we鈥檙e being rejected or disapproved of when that is not what is intended by the other party. Responding as if we are being rejected鈥攖ypically by becoming angry or withdrawing鈥攕ometimes occasions an actual rejection via a positive feedback loop, known more commonly as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tip #2

As much as possible, be honest with yourself.

Sometimes when we experience rejection, we tell ourselves sweet鈥攁nd not-so-sweet鈥攍ittle lies about why it happened. For example, if we apply to a job and do not get it, we may say, 鈥淚 didn鈥檛 really want that job anyway.鈥?or 鈥淚鈥檒l show them, I鈥檒l find an even better job and make them rue the day!鈥?These attitudes bulwark against feelings of rejection by preserving one鈥檚 ego. As hard as it is, it might be better to say, 鈥淚 really wanted this job, and I didn鈥檛 get it, and that sucks.鈥?Bearing disappointment is a part of life, but if you deny these feelings and instead try to pretend you鈥檙e not disappointed, what you鈥檙e really saying is that the disappointment is TOO painful to take straight, it needs to be diluted with self-deception. Tolerance for disappointment, without resigning yourself to self-pity, is a worthwhile goal.

There is an opposite extreme, and that鈥檚 where rejection is seen as confirmation of some defect in ourselves: 鈥淥f course I didn鈥檛 get the promotion, I鈥檓 stupid. Joan is way better than me so that鈥檚 why she got it.鈥?These lies twist an objective event into cause for self-flagellation, which ultimately serves no聽purpose other than to make you feel bad. It can also give someone an illusion of control over their fate. For example, if the rejection was because of a personal defect, then future rejections can seemingly be avoided by correcting the defect. Unfortunately, this is based on the faulty assumption that all rejection is based on a defect. Life involves a lot of randomness, and efforts to bend it to our will cannot guarantee any outcome. No amount of self-improvement, brilliance, beauty, or anything else can reliably prevent someone from experiencing the blow of a 鈥渘o.鈥?As the old saw goes, "It happens to the best of us."

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Sometimes a rejection coincides with an act of self-sabotage. We may have been late to a job interview, talked incessantly about our ex on a first date, been overly pushy while soliciting new business or showed up to a presentation disheveled and unprepared. Self-sabotage assures an unwanted fate by effectively saying: 鈥淚鈥檓 not going to do my best and take the chance that I still get rejected. Instead, I鈥檓 going to trip myself up so that if it doesn鈥檛 work out, I鈥檒l know exactly why.鈥?The frightening reality is that we can put our very best foot forward and still come up short. Again, no one is immune from rejection. But making a committed effort toward something in the face of possible rejection shows courage. Courage is the only antidote to rejection. It will not keep you safe from it, but it will encourage you to show up and try again.

As Susan McCarroll pointed out in our last blog, pushiness is a surefire way to sabotage a sale. Pushiness聽is a misguided strategy for preventing rejection. The thinking goes, 鈥淭he harder I try to make this happen, the more likely it is to happen.鈥?This is where being persistent must be distinguished from being pushy. The desperation of a pushy person stems from a fear that if they are rejected, they will not be able to handle it. If someone had confidence that they would be alright no matter the outcome of a situation, it is unlikely they would feel very desperate (and pushy). Persistence, on the other hand, is not giving up when things get difficult.

Tip #3

Give Yourself Time

Allow yourself room to experience the disappointment. Despite similar spelling, there鈥檚 a big difference between allowing and wallowing. The latter is falling into a total rut of self-pity, while allowing gives yourself space and time to feel crummy, without falling back on distortions of the truth, like beating yourself up for not getting the outcome you wanted. Life is rife with opportunities. There will be plenty more successes鈥攁nd failures鈥攖o come.

Somewhere between rushing yourself through the difficult experience and wallowing in it for too long lies a happy medium you want to find. Process what happened, allow yourself to feel disappointed, account for what you learned from the experience, and try again.

In Summary

Rejection can activate deep-seated beliefs about ourselves. The fear of rejection stems from doubting our ability to handle the disapproval of others. Whenever possible, remember that 1) Rejection is an unavoidable聽part of life. 2) Sometimes we perceive rejection where it isn鈥檛. 3) Self-condemnation only makes things worse. 4) Self-sabotage might be contributing to the problem. 5) Trying again is a sign of courage.

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