Dealing with rejection in the workplace
A few months ago, I had lunch with a dean at a major university in the Philadelphia area.
I had worked with him years ago in another city. Listening to his plans to build up his department, I dropped a hint that I would be happy to teach a course on an adjunct basis.
I expected him to explode with joy upon discovering that I was willing to work for the tiny stipend usually given to parttime college instructors.
But he quickly switched the topic of conversation.
Thinking my former coworker had not heard me, I repeated my offer. He then told me he was hiring only “heavy hitters.” I was overwhelmed with confusion. After all, I have a doctorate. I have expertise in the guy’s field. I have taught at 12 different colleges. I have written eight books. I have spoken all around the world. Yet the man sent me a clear message that he thought I wasn’t good enough. Gulp. Following the lunch, I became obsessed with the smackdown to the point that my head swirled for the next few days with semi-rational questions. What did this guy know about me that I don’t know? How had I offended him in our past working relationship? Why did I set myself up in the first place by making the offer to work with him?
Are you getting the impression that I felt deeply hurt and humiliated by the experience? You’re so right. Yet I knew for sure that, for the sake of my mental equilibrium, I needed to reframe my interpretation of the event.
“If you are brave enough often enough, we will fall,” writes Brene Brown in “Rising Strong.” “But we can all get back up.”
As you can tell from my personal anecdote, I obviously am far from an expert in handling career disappointments. But many other people are.
Here are some ideas from experts to consider the next time you don’t obtain a job, a client, a referral, a promotion or a raise.
• Understand the human factor. When people-in-power fail to recognize your obvious genius, the rejection may say more about them than about you. Perhaps a hiring manager or a distressed entrepreneur rejected you because of fears that you would outshine them. After all, they possess the same foibles as everyone else.
• Acknowledge the X factor. It may be that the people who turned you down heard unflattering, but untrue, comments about you from one of your frenemies. But, for a variety of reasons, they are unlikely to put those cards on the table. So you probably will never know what went on behind your back.
• Know yourself. Because
someone tells you that you have three heads, do not under any circumstances run out and buy three hats. Do all you can to help the other individual see you accurately, and then let go. Never, ever buy into another’s erroneous perception of you.
• Acknowledge the insanity. Consider that going to a job interview, for example, is giving perfect strangers the power to judge you and everything you ever stood for. It’s just plain nuts. But unavoidable.
• Share your feelings. “Many of us feel uncomfortable revealing ourselves
to others,” writes Elizabeth Lesser in “Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.” “But what lies beneath the surface is what makes us lovable.” I believe strongly in the adage that a worry shared is a worry halved. Many times over the years, I have been deeply encouraged by other people’s willingness to chime in following my tale of woe with, “Oh, yeah, that happened to me, too” or “I would feel the same way if someone said that to me” when I revealed a wound I suffered in the work world.
• Curb your reaction. If you routinely react to bad career news as if it’s a nuclear attack, you may want to learn how to reframe negative events. Something I find helpful is to create three columns on my computer screen. In the first, I write the triggering situation such as “College implies I am not a heavy hitter.” In the middle, I put down my kneejerk response. In this case, it was “I must be a loser.” Next to that statement, I respond to myself with the healthier, “He has some kind of wrong impression of me beyond my control. Quit obsessing.”
• Move on. Although it’s easy to continue feeling bad because of some sort of loss in the work place, it’s completely counterproductive. In effect, clinging to your negativity gives to your critic all your professional and personal power. Hold onto it yourself. In
the topsy turvy world of work, you’re going to need it. So do you think I should send the university dean an anonymous poison pen letter?