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  • Writer's pictureLouise Carnachan


It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be accepted for a local author talk. The email I received stated, “The committee has decided not to include you in the event.” My first reaction was, “What, really?!”

No doubt you’ve had similar experiences because being told “no” is part of being human. Regardless of whether it was a job that seemed certain, a promotion that went to someone else or finding yourself personally rebuffed, rejection hurts. The more invested you are, the more it gnaws at you. Obviously, it’s easier to get past a rejection letter than it is to let go of the psychological investment in a never-to-be-realized future. Loss like that easily morphs into grief.

Since we’ve all been on the receiving end of rejection, you’d think we would be more compassionate about how we deliver unwanted news. At least I received an email. The number of people who’ve told me they’ve applied for jobs or submitted manuscripts, grants, and other queries only to receive silence in return makes me wonder if lack of response has become the norm. Even when there is communication, it can be completely inadequate to the situation—such as being laid off by email or in a virtual group meeting or breaking up by text for pity sake. I understand it takes time, courage or both to communicate more fully (and in person, if possible), but is anything less the way to treat our fellow travelers on the planet? I know we can do better.

If you are in a position to hire, please utilize a system that acknowledges the application has been received. If the candidate was not selected for an interview, let them know. If they go through the interview process and were unsuccessful in their bid, have the decency to explain why they weren’t hired. I know your legal department will blanch at this, but there must be something that can be said rather than silence. It’s cruel to leave someone believing they were perfect for the job with no explanation of what was missing. The assumption most will make is that bias was at play or it was something personal that was undesirable. An absence of information can generate anger and resentment. You want people who apply to your company to come away from the experience feeling good about the organization even if they didn’t get the job, not seething because they were treated poorly.

When someone puts their hat in the ring for a promotion, they’ve taken a risk and signaled they want to do more. If the hoped-for position isn’t offered, the manager has two choices: enlist the eager worker in a development plan or risk alienating them by appearing disinterested or too chicken to bring it up. If this employee will never be considered for promotion in their current line, inquire about their career goals and discuss what is realistic given their skills and current level of training. Attention from a manager is highly correlated with employee engagement—and engaged employees put far more discretionary effort into their work. How promotions are handled, particularly when peers apply, can either advance the esteem of individuals or create divisiveness and animosity which can last for years.

Any way you look at it, rejection is lousy. We can help each other by:

  • Communicating rather than letting silence be the answer.

  • Having more compassion with the words we use if we need to let someone down.

  • Taking the time to explain why.

  • And as a friend, listening rather than cheerleading with emotionally tone deaf statements like, “Everything happens for a reason.”

If you’ve recently put yourself out there and didn’t receive the outcome you wanted or expected, it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. You may never get feedback about what went off the rails; try not to create conspiracy theories. Give yourself credit for taking a risk and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Soothe yourself the best you can and remember you’ve been through other emotional upheavals and successfully come out the other end. Use distractions to feel better and pull out every stress management technique you’ve got. If offered platitudes by the well-meaning such as, “There must be something better coming,” feel free to say, “I know you’re trying to be helpful, but this isn’t the time.”

Of course, it would be ideal if we were always rewarded when we take a risk, but we aren’t. If we’re turned down it would be nice to understand why, yet often we don’t. But do not let the fear of being burned keep you from branching out—growth is worth it. Go for it because regardless of the outcome, I have faith you’ll be fine. You can handle it.

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