Business Etiquette: How to Handle Professional Rejection

We've all been turned down at some point in our careers and overcoming the rebuff with grace is a leadership skill best acquired through first-hand experience. The good news is, nothing is written in stone, and a "no" is often just a step in the direction of a future "yes". Here's how to use professional rejection to your advantage.

  1. Allow yourself time to let go. Rejection hurts and the more we have emotionally invested, the more painful it is to accept. Process through your letdown, and then dust yourself off and figure out what's next on your to-do list.
  2. Rejection is inevitable. There is nothing you can do to insulate yourself from the possibility of rejection. Don't accept a single "no" as a commentary on your worth. While someone else's dismissal may have temporarily shut down your plans, make a mental list of all the good things you have going on professionally. Two of the most important attributes you can possess are desire and tenacity.
  3. Request clarification. There will be times you will be turned down due to factors beyond your control. Layoffs or downsizing may have contributed to your project being tabled. Or, there could be something you need to take a look at that has influenced another person's evaluation of you. Ask them to give you their candid feedback as to what specific detail(s) impacted their decision.
  4. Identify the issue. If you didn't get the promotion you were anticipating, in the spirit of education, ask your supervisor why you were passed over. Inquire as to what you can do next time around to improve your chances for consideration. You now have a goal and a guideline to future success.
  5. Share information with caution. If you post your excitement about an upcoming interview on social media, be prepared to explain your disappointment in the same forum. Entrust your aspirations only to people with whom you feel comfortable sharing both the good and the bad news. Make a public announcement only after the decision is final.
  6. Keep your emotions in check. You may be discouraged, even heartbroken, about a lost opportunity, but staying focused and at your best is critical. Sulking and hiding in your cubicle is not going to change a thing, except your colleagues' perception of you. Keep your chin up, shoulders back and stay actively engaged with your boss and coworkers.
  7. A rejection is often a blessing in disguise. Look at a "no" as an opening to revisit an idea or fine tune a business pitch. Sometimes it's as simple as making your objective clearer, working on your presentation skills or seeking out a different audience. There is value in being turned down when you keep your ego in check and use the redirection as a learning tool.
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