Just saying the word makes me recoil in pain. The truth is, we experience rejection all the time, in all sorts of scenarios. You may be most aware of your experience of it in your romantic relationships because it involves expressing our most intimate feelings to somebody.
It also happens a lot in business and work. After the thirtieth interview for a training contract at several law firms, I lost count of how many times I was rejected. With every bland rejection email, a little piece of my future was slowly erased. I felt angry, sad and finally resigned to the fact that I would never amount to anything, until I was finally offered a place.
Rejection has been compared to the grieving process. It is essentially, loss or denial of an opportunity to improve your future in some way. In my case, I imagined the house I would buy once I became a qualified solicitor, the prestige I would have, the new clothes I would wear and the thrilling, international career I had ahead of me. Each time I was rejected, I’d think that those possibilities were no longer available.
Our Emotional Response
Anger, denial, disappointment, shock, curiosity, sadness. These are all normal reactions to rejection and self-esteem is very likely to be negatively impacted. We often blame ourselves for not being good enough, for not having tried hard enough or for failing in some other way.
When somebody rejects you, they are exercising their right to say no to you. When you automatically assume that they will accept you, it’s unlikely that you have thought of this person as having their own needs and desires and they do not believe, for whatever reason, that you are able to fulfil them. This is disappointing. It can really hurt. But you also have the right to say no and you probably have done hundreds of time.
Given the emotional reaction that rejection can provoke, it’s likely that conflict may follow. A person angry with you because you are not interested in their romantic advances may look at ways to criticise you or undermine you. If your manager didn’t accept your request for a promotion, you may argue with them about it and anything else you can think of because you feel angry and unacknowledged. Similarly, if that person you were dating suddenly stops making contact, you might angrily tell them what you think of them without achieving anything constructive from the exchange.
Here are six tips to help you feel more comfortable with rejection and to stop you from descending into destructive conflict with the person who has rejected you:
- Remember, we all have a right to say no. Rejection is just a recognition of our preferences, needs and desires. Seeing it in this way requires empathy and self-awareness.
- There is a time and a place for everything. Looking back at the law firms that rejected me, they were not employers I would have wanted to work for. The right one came along in the end!
- Get some distance. If you feel very angry, upset or disappointed, give yourself some time out to accept what has happened.
- Feedback can be appropriate but not always. If you are going to ask for an explanation, use your judgement about what kind of a response you will get. If you intend to punish or to heal damaged self-esteem, that will come across in your communication. If you think the response will not be genuine, then what good will your request do? Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve.
- See it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you didn’t get that job you wanted, ask yourself what lessons you can take away from it. Could you have done something better? Growth can come from suffering and if you see it this way, rejection doesn’t have to result in conflict.
- It’s not always personal. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that you were rejected because you were not good enough or that there was something wrong with you. The other person may not even have thought about this. It’s just that what you are offering in that moment does not meet their needs and preferences. You do have a lot to offer and it will be attractive to somebody and if that hasn’t been recognised by the person rejecting you, it’s time to move on to somebody who can.
As always, let me know what you think!