How to handle rejection

Jun 11, 2019

Rejection is a regular part of life – even for those who never seem to put a foot wrong. But it can be painful too. Studies involving volunteers having their brains scanned suggest rejection activates the same neural pathways as those triggered by physical pain. This might explain why many people describe rejection in physical terms such as a slap in the face, a kick in the teeth or a punch in the stomach.

Every time an opportunity comes your way, you risk being rejected. Indeed, every day most people face rejection of some form or another, whether the circumstances are professional, for example, applying for a promotion, new assignment or project, or personal, such as the break-up of a relationship.

The fact is you simply can’t avoid most circumstances that have a potential for rejection. After all, few people land a job they always wanted without risking rejection. And how many of us would have loving relationships if we didn’t risk rejection when approaching potential romantic partners?

But while rejection and failure are inevitable for all of us, the way you handle them – and whether or not you can learn from them – can make all the difference.

Here are a few things that may help you feel more comfortable whenever you have to deal with rejection:

Manage your emotions

Even the most self-confident person suffers a psychological blow when they’re rejected. But while some react calmly, others may lash out at, argue with or blame the person responsible for their rejection. Think about a time when you were rejected: did you manage your emotions, or did you get angry and hostile? If you let your emotions get the better of you, there’s a good chance all that negative energy is still affecting you.

Accepting your feelings may help you move on more easily than if you bottle them up. Staying calm and understanding that rejection is a natural part of life may also mean you’re more likely to get constructive feedback that could be helpful. Also try to avoid making assumptions about your rejection, and resist the temptation to talk negatively about it to others such as friends or co-workers.

Remember you’re not alone

Being rejected can make you feel isolated. But it’s something that happens to all of us. Most writers for instance have to deal with professional rejection regularly. Even the most successful authors have had more rejections than they’d probably care to remember, before going on to have a string of best sellers under their belt. One of the world’s most popular writers, Agatha Christie, spent years receiving rejection letters before her first novel was published – and that’s just 1 of many examples from the literary world (the business world is littered with similar stories).

Learn from failure

Try to remember that every rejection is an opportunity to learn something or for self improvement. Professional rejections can help you to take a step back and ask yourself if your career is going the way you want it to, or whether you should try making a change. A rejection may also lead you to question whether you could do things differently the next time you face a challenge.

Consider asking for feedback about your rejection too. Your aim isn’t to change the other person’s mind about you, but to learn why you weren’t successful in that particular situation. If the rejection is a professional one (such as a job application) you could try to schedule a meeting with the recruiter to talk about the qualifications and job skills they were looking for.

Keep things in perspective

You may be able to make yourself more comfortable with rejection if you make yourself aware of your chances of success. Experts have looked into the number of people who receive replies after applying for an advertised job. And the figure may be lower than you imagine. In fact studies show that as little as 2% of applications receive responses. If you keep this in mind, a rejection just might seem more tolerable.

Stick at it

Finally, just because you’ve been rejected it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying. So learn from your rejections, make any necessary changes or adjustments and challenge yourself again. Chances are you’ll achieve a better outcome in the end.

Having a growth rather than a fixed mindset means you may have a more positive attitude towards failure and rejection.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.