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  • Karen E. Osborne

The Power & Utility of Rejection

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Rejection has two sides, and both are often hard to embrace.

The first side you in 100% control. You have the power to say "no." No to a request, an assignment, someone else's emergency due to his or her poor planning. No to social pressure to attend, participate, lead an activity you're not passionate about. No to your supervisor, spouse, child, parent, or friend. How you use your time is up to you.

It doesn't always feel like that. Often, we perceive that others are controlling our time. That "must" attend meeting that wastes time with no agenda, meaningless reporting, and hours of sitting. The "must" take assignment that your procrastinating supervisor dumps on you at the last minute. But, here's the thing, even demands like these can be met with a polite and powerful "no."

The late, great Stephen Covey said that no is really a yes to something more important.

"I've looked over the agenda for the meeting and I think I can get what I need from the follow-up notes. Right now, I must focus on (what you are saying yes to). It will (the positive, mission-important or personally crucial outcome you focus will produce)."

"Yes, I agree this is an (important, interesting, curious, troubling, inventive) idea. But, no, I can't tackle it now. I'm immersed in (your focus, what you are saying yes to) or I'm committed to (keeping my weekends dedicated to my family, my physical health). I know that achieving these will not only help me personally, but will increase my productivity and our success as a team. And, yes, I'd be happy to look at this at a future date."

Preparing to say no can make a difference:

  1. Agree on work goals and priorities with your supervisor.

  2. Be sure you can articulate outcomes and impact of activities rather than just the work. For example, you don't want to say, "I have to finish this report, the one you told me was a top priority." You do want to say, "I'm uncovering and writing up the lessons learned from our last project. As you rightly said, we don't want to move forward without being sure we understand what went right and what went wrong."

  3. Assess before speaking. Is this request worthy of a no? Might you be able to accomplish it quickly and still meet your priority deadline or will it hurt your priority focus?

  4. You don't have to respond immediately. "Let me assess my workload and get back to you. I only need an hour or so to take stock."

  5. Offer solutions. "I can see that this is important to you. May I suggest we outsource this allowing me to stay focused... I'd be happy to check out some possibilities and get back to you."

Another side of rejection is when the other party says no to you. Here you are not in control, the other party has the power. Or does she?

Being rejected means you put yourself out there. You spoke your truth or offered your best ideas or work. You took a chance on you. I'm a fiction writer. I write short stories and novels. Getting It Right, my debut novel came out in 2017, AFTER years of rejection, and rewrites, and networking - and more rejection. It takes courage, persistence, and resilience but without rejection there is not forward motion, no learning, no exposure.

Rejection is a pathway to success.

You are seeking a raise, a promotion, a chance to head a task force, a hearing, a literary agent.

  1. First, you must gain understanding about what the other person wants from you. What is he or she looking for in your performance, in the new position, for that market? Yes, research online, but remember, in-person discovery conversations often offer the most insights. Have them long before it is time to make your request.

  2. You are in control of the timing. You decide when to ask, to submit. When you are confident you are ready, the work is ready, your ideas are clear and well-thought-out. Test and verify with trusted and knowledgeable others.

  3. Then make your best case using words, terms, and concepts that speak to the audience. Is your boss a numbers person? Make your case using compelling data. Is she more of a storyteller? Use examples that make your case come alive. Are you sending a query? Make sure it demonstrates the quality of your writing.

  4. If the answer is no, ask questions. Learn from your rejections. "What should I do differently next time?" "What do I need to (learn, accomplish, demonstrate) to put me in the best position to..." If the person who rejected you is not open to questions, go back to your trusted others.

  5. Finally, for my fellow writers reading this... Evidently, rejections for writers is a numbers game. I read an article by an author who sent his novel to 365 agents, one a day for a solid year, before landing a contract followed by a lucrative book deal. Be bold. Take a chance on you!

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