Rejection sucks, that’s just the way of life. Nobody wants to feel as though their best isn’t good enough, and the fear of rejection often causes people to avoid trying new things and gaining new learning experiences.
In fact, MRI studies have shown that rejection actually activates areas of the brain in the same way that physical pain does, meaning that even the traditional concept of a “broken heart” may actually feel physically painful.
In business, the same thing occurs. In fact, it occurs much more often. Businesspeople are rejected every single day, whether the rejection is for a loan, sales pitch, new idea or concept, product, etc. The list goes on and on.
Why Does Rejection Hurt So Much?
In my book The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life, I give a lengthy and detailed approach to why rejection hurts us so much – I’ll summarize it here.
Rejection is painful to humans mostly because of our herd-mentalities. Evolutionary psychology assumes that rejection from a group of humans is mentally symbolic of one’s own death due to a lack of safety, resources, and defense. At least it was thousands of years ago.
Nowadays, we carry the pain of rejection with us still, yet we find ourselves in far less actual danger. Nonetheless, rejection remains one of the most painful human experiences, especially due to our innate ability to feel empathy and sentimentality far beyond that of animals.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for social belonging is designated as the third (of five) tiers. Despite basic physiological needs, the need for belonging marks the shifting point between these respective physiological needs, and emotional ones.
Whether the rejections we face are business-related or personal makes little difference. Today, I will be explaining my 7 key steps to dealing with professional rejection and how you can utilize it to make you a stronger and more resilient person!
1. Accept Rejection with Grace (even if you’re not feeling remotely graceful)
We’ve all heard the metaphor “never burn your bridges,” but I argue that this is a far more important consideration in business than it is in our personal lives.
The secret to a consistent and profitable business is trust. Therefore, it goes to reason that your reputation as a businessperson is the foundation upon which trust can be leveraged without having to provide immediate results.
Consider this: If you were searching to add a new employee to the foundation of your organization, would you hire the employee with great remarks from previous employers, or the employee with poor remarks? Obviously, you’d choose the employee with great remarks.
Despite whether all other merits are the same, our reputation is what establishes the first impression, especially in business. It goes to show that, even during rejection, keeping the business relationship professional and courteous will go a long way in the future.
In fact, I’ve heard many success stories from entrepreneurs about how they’ve been actively sought after simply because they hadn’t ruined their relationships with those who have rejected them. This is a matter of professionalism and acceptance.
Rejection is never permanent, after all. It is not rare for an employer to reject many candidates for one position, yet offer them another.
Ultimately, you will never regret accepting a rejection with grace and tact. Often, I will send thank you notes to businesses or employers even after they’ve rejected me. Ending on a positive note will always get you further in life.
2. Give Yourself Ample Time to Gather Your Thoughts
I remember perusing google with a specific question in mind that I wanted an answer to. The question was, “Why do small, unimportant, issues seem so big the moment that they happen?”
It’s a question that I’m sure many people have wondered, merely because everyone experiences this phenomenon in some way or another. There is always a time you will look back and wonder why you became so distraught at something so inconsequential.
For example, my first business deal that fell through felt awful and life-shattering, yet I can look back on it with fondness and realize that is was not nearly as important as I thought it was. This occurs every single day.
As I skimmed through the various blogs and posts regarding the answers to that question, I found one that summed it up perfectly.
Take a penny, and throw it as far as you can. It will likely disappear from your view completely. Now take a penny, and hold it right up to your eye and watch as that penny blocks half of your field of view. The penny didn’t change in size, it is your PERSPECTIVE of it that caused this to happen.
Problems act in the same way, specifically rejection. When the rejection is fresh, we have a lot to lament. However, give that rejection time and you’ll notice that the emotional trauma, the feelings, and the regret seem to fade away because they become less and less present to you.
This is why it is important to give yourself time to gather your thoughts after a rejection. Acting on your immediately pressing emotions is a huge business taboo, and would probably also ruin your professional connections and reputation.
3. Identify What Went Wrong (and right)
Once you have gathered your thoughts, now is the time to analyze. Identifying what went right and what went wrong is the first step towards leveraging rejection to make you a stronger and more resilient person in the future.
After all, the definition of insanity is “doing something the same way and expecting a different result.” Without improving yourself or your position, how do you expect the results of the next trial to improve alongside you?
Identifying what went wrong can be tricky because we often don’t want to admit that we played any part in our own destruction or failure. It is far too easy to pass the blame to somebody else or become victim to the circumstances as opposed to practicing the power we have to alter them.
Yet, this is a necessary step because it allows us to practice accountability. Every successful person in the world will tell you that they had to practice personal accountability for everything in order to take full control of their failures and convert them into successes.
Becoming comfortable with being a victim is more debilitating than anything else, and practicing the discomfort of learning from your failures is more necessary for success than anything else.
Search for your weak spots, and how they contributed towards the rejection. What are you going to do to fix them?
Also, search for your strengths, what went right? How can you leverage those strengths and make them work even better for you?
4. Identify What Is (and is NOT) Within Your Control
Too often do people try and change things that they have no business in changing. And, occasionally, you may be professionally rejected for reasons that are entirely outside of your zone of influence.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t try to improve, you should ALWAYS learn from mistakes in order to improve, but one of the most important (and painful) lessons about rejection is what happens when you don’t get a definitive reason for it.
That is to say, you don’t know exactly WHY you were rejected.
The reason I call this painful is for a few reasons:
1. It opens the door for self-doubt and projection of your own insecurities and personal issues to become inflated. This occurs because we often feel that our own insecurities are the cause of our failures, even if they are entirely unrelated. This causes us to project our failures and shortcomings upon things that have no resulting influence.
2. Without knowing the reason why you are rejected, it becomes extremely difficult to improve. This occurs because we may focus on improving the wrong things, or simply overlook the issues that actually played a result.
Identify the things that are within your control and the things that are not, this will help you in step 5.
5. Fix What You Can and Forget About the Rest
In Mark Manson’s widely popular book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, he mentions the importance of acceptance over avoidance.
Avoiding your issues is never beneficial to anyone or anything. It often causes those same issues to fester, become overblown, and harm whoever is involved.
What Mark Manson preaches is acceptance; accepting that this issue has occurred and something needs to be done about it.
This is why it is important to create the division between what you can and cannot control (step 4) before you can begin to fix what you can and forget the rest (step 5).
Make the decision to improve, but also make the decision to accept and let go of the things that you cannot change. This is often the most difficult part of the rejection-improvement process.
Should you attempt to focus on changing things you can’t control, you’ll be chasing rainbows your entire life. You’ll also be ruining your reputation by appearing as an entitled and unprofessional business person. (also why you should accept rejection with grace)
Fixing what you can means taking the parts of you and your business that you can improve and doing so. Forgetting about the rest means becoming comfortable with the fact that there are simply things that will go wrong that you cannot directly influence.
For example, let’s say I received a rejection letter from a potential client stating that, due to the economy, I wouldn’t be hired. I’ll send them a thank you with questions regarding what they thought about me, improve those things, and accept that economic conditions are out of my control.
6. Search for the Hidden Benefit
The rainbow comes after the rain. The darkest night is before the dawn. Every diamond was once coal. The list goes on and on and on.
The truth is, there is always some hidden benefit behind every scenario you find yourself in. The matter is whether you choose to actively search for that benefit and make it part of your grand perspective.
Remember the penny example? We choose to inflate the things that we focus on by making them appear bigger to us than they really are. Therefore, if we choose to focus on the good, we will be encompassed by the good.
I can’t tell you how many job applications I’ve put out, and rejections I’ve faced, before I’ve come across an opportunity that was better than the rest. Being rejected never means failure, it means you’re being set up for something better.
Even the direst of circumstances can be viewed as beneficial learning experiences at the very least. It is often whether or not we choose to learn from them and view them as such that makes the difference.
Lost your job? Now you’re forced to look for something more fulfilling! It’s an opportunity!
Flunked the contract? Now you’ve got to fix what wasn’t working and ensure success from this point on! It’s an opportunity to improve!
Have a big issue with your department/team? Use it to get face time with your superiors and turn them into collaborators as you display your knowledge! It’s an opportunity!
Every successful business and product once started with a problem. Every. Single. One.
In fact, it is the problems that harbor the most opportunity in life and in business. Use them to your advantage and accept that there is always good in what may seem bad.
7. Accept that Rejection Happens to Everybody
All in all, rejection happens to every single person alive in some way and at some time. Believing that you are “the forsaken one” is not only personally debilitating but also just wrong.
Whether it becomes easier to accept rejection when you realize that rejection is rarely personal is one thing, but allowing the judgments of others to affect the way you feel about yourself is another.
Never place more value on another person’s perspective of you than you place on your own. This does NOT mean you get to be defiant, but it does mean that you respect yourself and are willing to stand up for what you truly believe in.
The people who make themselves out to be unique, despite what others think, is what truly makes them unique. They simply become comfortable with themselves.
Rejection will happen to you, it will happen to me, it will happen to everybody. The question is, what are you doing to improve?
Ultimately, I hope I’ve given you insight as to how rejection works, why it stings, and what you can do to alter your mindset around the optimally beneficial solution.
In business, rejection is a given. It’s whether you choose to learn and change that will affect your future.
Here are the points again!
1. Accept rejection with grace.
2. Give yourself time to gather your thoughts.
3. Find what went wrong, and what went right.
4. Identify what is, and is not, within your control.
5. Fix what you can and forget the rest.
6. Search for the hidden benefit.
7. Accept that rejection happens to everybody.
Thanks for reading!
Work With Austin
-Austin Denison is a management consultant and coach from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life.