Rejection is a necessary part of living in the real world. It’s unavoidable. Whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a failed relationship, getting turned down for a job you really wanted, or having your friends shoot down your restaurant suggestion, rejection is universal.

Though it might seem like some privileged among us have never heard the word ‘no,’ rest assured that they have. Take a moment to imagine how entitled (and frankly, boring) we’d all be if every time we asked a question, the answer was an unequivocal ‘yes.’ Anyone can accept others agreeing with them. It’s how you respond when you’re dealt a smarting ‘no’ that says a lot about you as a person.

So how exactly does dealing with rejection factor into your career?


it’s going to happen

Rejection is a fact of life. You need to be able to cope with it when it happens. If you throw a tantrum or withdraw like a moody teenager every time you receive a response you don’t like, your career will stall quickly. No question, there are some workplace rejections that will sting more than others. Being turned down for a promotion you really deserved is going to hurt a lot more than being told that your idea was great, but there’s no budget for it. These moments are a blow to your pride. How you handle your negative emotions says a lot about your commitment to your work, adaptability, and professionalism.

it’s character building

Knowing how to deal with rejection is a skill all respected leaders have. No one’s ideas are perfect all the time. Being able to hear that you’re wrong and take it in stride is an admirable quality. While it seems counter-intuitive, being rejected can actually strengthen your resolve and give you a reason to work harder next time. Surely you’ve heard a story about how so-and-so’s grade school teacher assured them they’d never amount to anything and how that stoked their ambition. Wanting to prove ourselves in the face of rejection is a powerful motivator. 

it’s a learning tool

It’s easy to get defensive and reassure yourself that the person shooting you down is making a big mistake. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking will get you nowhere. In today’s fast-moving work landscape, you must adapt or be replaced. When a situation doesn’t swing their way, top-performers look inward and determine what they can do to achieve a different result next time.

Most the time (but not always) you’re being turned down for a reason. No one likes having to give bad news, and most people will avoid creating conflict unless it’s necessary. Many managers will tell you delivering bad news the most difficult part of their job. If someone tells you no at work, ask why. We often have a blind spot when it comes to our own shortcomings. Feedback and constructive criticism can open your eyes to areas for improvement, and ultimately growth.

it teaches compromise

Not all rejection is total. Sometimes there’s room to negotiate if a situation doesn’t turn out the way you want. Say, for example, your boss turns you down for a raise. They acknowledge you’re doing excellent work, but there’s simply no wiggle room in the payroll budget at this time. This is a perfect opportunity to negotiate other perks or ask to revisit the situation when the budget renews. A lesser employee might take the rejection at face value and fester in their anger and frustration, ultimately souring their relationship with their manager. Forward-thinking employees will seek out areas of compromise. Request a chance to work from home a couple days a week, or for an extra week of vacation. If you’re willing to meet halfway, you’d be surprised how often something can be worked out.

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secrets to handling workplace rejection like a pro

acknowledge it

Rejection hurts. Sometimes even the small slights can sting. Someone casually shooting down your idea in a meeting might not seem like much, but resentment can grow from small seeds if given the opportunity. Acknowledge your emotions and deal with them, before they get out of control. Small slights can snowball into resentment toward a coworker or manager if not dealt with.

resist the urge to get defensive

It’s only natural that your initial reaction is to defend yourself. Rejection can feel personal. Usually, it isn’t. Take a step back and try to see the other person’s perspective. If the heat of moment passes and you still feel that it’s important to share your side of the story, by all means, speak up. Avoiding reactive, emotionally-driven responses is the key.

don’t let it define you

Rejection is given in every career path. You may have been perfect for that promotion to a management role, but there was someone else who was just as perfect. A decision had to be made. It just didn’t go your way this time. Rejection doesn’t necessarily have to say something fundamental about you. You’re still manager material.

learn from it

The best employees recognize that rejection isn’t a personal attack, though sometimes it can feel that way. Take a deeper look at what went wrong, and how you can change the result next time. Can you approach the situation differently? Was the timing off? Do you need to learn a new skill?

don’t stop trying

Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Being rejected isn’t a failure; it’s just part of the career building process. Everyone has failures in their career, whether they’re a fortune 500 CEO or an intern. Failure is not the end of the line. Keep trying and eventually, you’ll succeed.

According to Workopolis, only about 2% of job seekers who apply to a job actually make it to the interview process. With odds like that, it’s no wonder it seems like you have to fill out an infinite number of job applications before you finally (finally!) land that perfect job! Don’t get discouraged, and remember, learning to handle rejection is actually important to building a long, successful career.

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