How-To Reject Rejection When It’s Personal

In the public square of social change, rejection is intensely personal. If you believe in your mission, and if you are giving it your all, then it’s always personal. Let’s admit that every dedicated social entrepreneur takes rejection personally!

Every change agent and societal visionary worth a damn is always working against, and undermining, the status quo. Therefore, inescapably the largest percentage of feedback will be negative – if not downright hostile.

Because life is lived in a series of feedback loops, unrelenting disappointment – a feedback loop of Noes – can result in dejection, fatalism, cynicism and jaded negativity – and, sometimes, even anger. I know this is true because it happens to me, even though most of my colleagues would tell you that I am a generally upbeat, optimistic, high-energy person.

Commonly, the vocabulary of social change prizes the stoic, outwardly assured over the doubting collaborator who is feeling beaten down or disillusioned from tackling huge social justice problems which, by definition, remain forever unresolved. A few actionable tips:

  • Take control of negative situations. Ask, “What am I learning?” says Akaya Windwood, president, Rockwood Leadership Institute. In the moment of rejection, try asking “teach me what I need to know to convince you to say Yes.” You may not get to Yes, but you sure as hell will learn a lot for the next encounter.
  • Remember that “No” means “not yet.” Whether fundraising, attempting to convince a politician to support your cause or rallying a community to your cause, John Anner, CEO, East Meets West Foundation insists that “persistence over time” matters.
  • Don’t fall in the “humble/modesty trap.” When the other person doesn’t instantly embrace your vision or endorse your social theory of change, there are at least two possible explanations. One option, of course, is that your idea is unworthy or your presentation sucks. The second possibility is that the individual either is not listening to you (perhaps he or she just learned their dog died) or is a heartless dummy.
  • Don’t project negative conversations onto future possibilities. In psychological terms, don’t let your mind anchor your negative experiences. In military terms, don’t fight the last war. In human terms, don’t stereotype.

In pursuit of your values, rejection can play havoc with your virtues: It can make you risk averse. It can corrupt your social action self-confidence. Your capacity to manage rejection, day in and day out, is the most important skill you aren’t taught in school.

– Jonathan C. Lewis, Host/Founder, Café Impact (original blog at Huffington Post)