Personal Growth & Development

How Well Do You Handle Rejection?

Do you simply brush rejection aside?  Or does the failure to connect deflate your self-image and/or confidence? You are usually able to spot someone who is a successful producer or account manager by the way he or she handles rejection. Research suggests that the vast majority of people struggle with rejection. Learning how to overcome the ill effects of rejection is an essential survival skill in the business of insurance and risk management.

If you were able to go back in time and identify negative scenarios that impacted your moods, I bet that rejection is at the top of the list. A significant percentage of events that impact self-esteem and confidence are related to the feeling that the other person does not value the relationship as much as you do. There is disappointment when one fails to connect as the “drive to bond” lies deep in a person’s DNA. It is often rejection that triggers emotions and sends self-esteem into a tailspin – especially if there is an emotional investment. Self-esteem reflects an overall evaluation or appraisal of your own worth…a barometer of your standing with others. It represents the sum of attitudes that depend upon perceptions, thoughts, evaluations, feelings, and behavioral tendencies aimed toward yourself. Self-esteem rises with acceptance (“Congratulations, you earned my account”) and plummets with a put-down (“We are moving our relationship to someone else”).

Social Self-esteem

Social self-esteem acts like a radar, scanning the environment for signs of approval or disapproval. Most people fall into one of two camps – they assume that they are doing everything right, and it is the rest of the world that has a problem. Or they internalize rejection as a function of their personal shortcomings. For those who focus on their inadequacies, a blip on the meter often causes a drop in perceived self-worth. Duke University psychologist Mark Leary comments that “nature designed people to be vigilant about rejection because for most of history we depended upon small groups of people. Getting shut out compromised survival.” The need for love and belongingness is a fundamental motivation.

Numerous psychologists agree with Leary and theorize that the pain of being rejected has evolved because of the importance of social bonds for survival. Mathew Lieberman, a UCLA professor, suggests that “going back 50,000 years, social distance from a group could lead to death, and it still does for most mammals.” As the need for social connection is deeply rooted, exclusion from others often has an immediate and long-lasting impact.

Our fragmented, mobile society has weakened the strength of our social bonds. “Today, we are less secure,” states Leary. Even 200 years ago, people were part of a small clan. They lived their entire lives in the same town. Each and every day, they interacted with a tight group of people. Today, we often have to reintegrate ourselves into new social networks. The sheer number of strangers with whom we interact on a daily basis creates more opportunities for rejection. It is this increased general sense of uncertainty that makes us more vulnerable to rejection, leading to lower self-esteem and confidence.

Rejection Sensitivity

Research indicates that “rejection sensitivity” – a condition linked to depression – is on the rise. It is rejection sensitivity that makes many people cautious, and in some cases unwilling, to take social risks. Those who are on the high end of the rejection sensitivity scale pay a steep price as they rarely venture beyond their immediate social network. When they do, they suffer anxiety and fear. Although their pain is borne privately, it has repercussions in the manner in which they move about life. In the business of insurance, tell-tale signs include ineffective referral networks, call reluctance, and a random prospect research and qualification strategy.

While physical pain is understood, most people believe that social pain is in one’s head. Rationally, shouldn’t we be able to convince ourselves that rejection doesn’t matter? Professor Lieberman’s research indicates that physical and social pain may be more similar than we realize as rejection in our brain is much like a physical ailment.

As a psychology major at Princeton University, Scott Addis studied rejection as part of the theory of Learned Helplessness – the perceived absence of control of the outcome of situations. When one feels helpless, he or she becomes anxious, loses confidence and motivation. When a person fails to respond, even if there are opportunities to gain positive rewards, they are seen as being “helpless.”

Typically, people who suffer from Learned Helplessness fear rejection. They have encountered the pain of failing to connect and now believe they are incapable of improving their performance. It is this erroneous fear of rejection that hinders their personal and professional progress. History reminds us that there are countless people who pushed through rejection to become icons, such as, Colonel Sanders and Sylvester Stallone. Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken received over 1,000 rejections before anyone would buy into his concept. Sylvester Stallone was turned down by just about every agent in the United States when he was a struggling actor. Rejection is inevitable. You just have to keep saying to yourself, “Some will, some won’t, so what!”

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