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  • Writer's pictureSara Broadhurst

Rejection isn’t what you think it is



It's Valentine's Day, and we're all looking for a little love. Our brains are also scanning super-efficiently for any opposite signals.

At Fortis Street, we work alongside teams on collaboration and a healthy team dynamic. One of the most common influencing factors affecting the team performance is whether team members feel accepted… or rejected.


If you’re a human being, you’ve felt the sting of rejection. Just the very fact of being human means that at many points in our lives we are going to be rejected by someone else. In the competitive world of work, rejection can feel like a gut punch, leaving you questioning your strategy, your worth, and triggering very deeply submerged fears. Wow – this is feeling positive, isn’t it?  Keep reading though because rejection isn’t what you think it is. In fact, it's a hidden opportunity disguised as a roadblock.


Why does rejection have such a big impact:

·         In times past, rejection from the tribe was likely a death sentence.  Being accepted by others was critical to our safety and survival. While our situations are not currently quite so extreme, our ancient brain is optimised for survival and constantly scanning for signals from the people around us.  This is why we are so sensitive to body language or slight shifts in tone when others speak. Our radar is literally always attuned to the beep beep of possible rejection

·         Rejection can bring up lots of feelings, and yes many of those are unresolved feelings from our childhood and whānau, about how worthy we are of love and praise. Feelings that, most days, we do a pretty good job of tucking away in a darkened room. Rejection opens the door to those feelings, but most of us don’t take the opportunity to step through that door and find out more about ourselves. Instead, we slam the door shut, making it even more painful the next time we are brought face-to-face our feelings about our worth. And the cycle goes on and on making us increasingly sensitive to the hint of rejection.

·         Many of us have internalised the belief that our worth is tied to our achievements and others’ perceptions of those achievements. When we don’t reach our goals or our colleagues don’t value our efforts this triggers fears about loss. This could be loss of status, money, reputation or even loss of dreams we had for our future. Will people think I’m a loser if I lose my job? What will my family think if I can’t pay for a holiday this year?

Eeek – feelings! So many people do things to avoid rejection and thereby evade those feelings.  They do busy work – so many emails!  They attend meetings in which nothing happens, the diary is so full, I’m just running from meeting to meeting.  We’ve all had the feeling at the end of the week that this week has been manic, but I’m not sure what I achieved… Doing busy work means we don’t have to put ourselves out there, we are on a forced march alongside many of our colleagues, but with no destination. But there’s no risk of rejection, right?  Because you’re not putting new ideas out there, not trying new things no-one can reject you? But this also means that you’re unlikely to build a team dynamic of trust, of innovation, even of fun.


Here's how to shift your perspective and use rejection as rocket fuel to propel you and your team forward:

1.    Know what’s going on here

We often see disagreement as rejection. Because we are so sensitive to getting chucked out of the tribe, we can sometimes respond as if we are being rejected, when in fact all that is happening is one of our teammates disagrees with us.  And that’s ok, people have different views. So if you find yourself reacting to someone else’s views, ask yourself “Are they disagreeing with me or rejecting me?” – they are nearly always disagreeing with you, which brings us to point two.

2.    Embrace the feedback:

Disagreement or rejection is valuable data about what resonated and what didn't. Did your idea miss the mark? Did the imagery not land? Hear the signals, actively seek feedback, deconstruct the "no," and use it to refine your approach. When it comes from your teammates, this is a way to tap into the collective knowledge of the group and improve the product or system you are working on. This becomes an opportunity to get better.

3.    It’s not all about you

Rejection isn't a personal attack. People may be saying “no” to your idea, product or pricing approach and it generally has nothing to do with you. Often, it’s actually all about them and the priorities and pressures that they have going on, both workwise and personally. We are all at the centre of our own story but sometimes it’s helpful to just remember, this isn’t about me.

4.    Demonstrate the behaviour you want to see

New Zealanders like to get along, we’re known as nice people. However, this can often make us unskilled when it comes to saying “no” or “I disagree” to others.  That lack of skill can sometimes make us clumsy, passive-aggressive, avoidant or overly aggressive when turning down our colleagues. Think about how you can set up group discussions on your ideas “I’m looking for feedback here” which explicitly gives permission to your teammates. Similarly, when you’re the person giving feedback, do it in the way you would like to receive it – don’t avoid the conversation, say it with clarity, courtesy and the goal of making sure everyone on the team is successful.

5.    Feedback builds trust

Trust is a fundamental element in a team that is high performing. Teams grow stronger on a foundation of trust and part of growing trust in a group is knowing that you can disagree effectively. At the two ends of the extremes are teams where everyone has checked out or where there is open warfare. In the first instance, people have nothing to say about each other’s work in the team meeting and are largely disinterested or passive about what’s going on. In the second instance, open warfare means that people entirely distracted from delivering a good job and generally distressed about what’s happening at work.  Either situation, I’m sure we can agree, is not good! Where teams seek and value each other’s feedback, this grows trust in each other and a sense I am safe in my tribe – this is where we see high-performance from people.

6.    Rejection builds resilience

Rejection is inevitable at work, as in life – sometimes we do get a flat-out “no”. Remember, no one got evey job, pitch or project they went for. Rejection gives you the opportunity to develop the mental toughness to bounce back and keep pushing forward. Remember, the research is clear that resilience is a key trait to success in life. So view rejection as the opportunity to work that resilience muscle which gets stronger with every challenge.


Remember: Disagreement and rejection is not a reflection of your worth, how much others value or like you or the potential of your work. They are information which provide the opportunity to learn new perspectives, adapt, and become stronger. Be proud of yourself for continuing to take risks, embrace the "no" as feedback, and use it to fuel your performance journey.

Take Action: If you would like to take the next step in your team dynamic and performance, talk to us. We would love to work with the great in your team and make it even better!

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