I have a family member who is always clashing with her boss. I wonder if part of the problem is that she takes professional criticism personally. Over Thanksgiving one year, she explained to me that she is rejection sensitive, meaning that she’s attuned to any cue that she is being rebuffed, and has the tendency to react strongly to even the most minor rejection by another person.

Co-workers are like family – but not in a good way

Experts always talk about how to deal with rejection when you’re looking for a job, but they forget the fact that even when you already have a job, rejection can be toxic. The workplace is the environment where you spend most of your waking hours, and yet the people with whom you share the space didn’t choose to be in such close proximity. They may be very different from you, and they may not think you are the greatest thing since the iPad. While some degree of conflict is perfectly normal, for the rejection sensitive, a workplace can be minefield of hurt feelings.

Pick your poison – manager or co-worker rejection

The chief culprit is usually the manager. After all, your manager is charged by giving you constructive criticism and commenting positively — or negatively — on your performance. In an ideal world, she would always do so in a highly professional manner, but since it’s not an ideal world and we are all human beings, sometimes she will be harsh or tactless, or won’t think about how her words are coming across.

Co-workers too may not meet our expectations of them as supportive, collaborative friends. A co-worker who ignores you, makes a snide comment about your appearance or behavior, or chooses to go to lunch with someone else may send the rejection sensitive into a tailspin. Suddenly, it can feel like the entire office is operating against you, and you get angry and your opinion of your work sours. This can be dangerous, because if you lash out at work, your reputation and even your job itself may be in jeopardy. Here are a few helpful ways for coping with rejection at work:

Step away:  When someone hurts your feelings, excuse yourself from the situation and go to a private place. Relax and breathe deeply, and return to your office. Try not to see the person again until you’ve calmed down and gained some perspective.

Remind yourself about who you’re dealing with:  Managers and co-workers are often assembled at random, and there’s no way you’re going to get along with everyone all the time. This person is not your best friend or a member of your immediate family, so he’s not worth reacting emotionally over.

Be objective about the rejection:  Think through the circumstances leading up to the rejection. Could you have done anything to cause the situation, or did it seemingly come out of nowhere? Is it possible that the other person didn’t mean to reject you at all, or has a completely different perspective on the issue? If your emotions are clouding your judgment, discuss what happened with a mentor or friend whose opinion you trust and value.

Try to let negative feelings go: The rejection sensitive person frequently finds herself the victim of a self-fulfilling prophesy. She feels rejected, and so she adopts an attitude of blame and behaves in a hostile manner toward others, which leads them to further reject her. For this reason, you should acknowledge your feelings of sadness, frustration, and betrayal, and then move on. Remain approachable and friendly even if you feel differently.

Minimize future rejection:  In addition to maintaining a positive attitude, always aim to improve your reputation as a professional, competent, can-do employee.  If someone you trust makes a suggestion, implement it, and if you see a way to go above and beyond the call of duty, do it.  This won’t erase rejection from your life, but it will at least lessen the number of legitimate causes.

Rejection is an unfortunate aspect of daily work life, but like most things, it’s within your power to either sail through it easily, or with a lot of bumps.  Hopefully, by following these tips, you will be able to weather the storms more successfully.

(Photo credit: Bullying in the workplace and office from Shutterstock)

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