Deal­ing with re­jec­tion in the work­place

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - Kath­leen Be­g­ley Colum­nist

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?

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