How Do You Handle Rejection?

Are you a classical music lover? I know it is hard to compete with the Beatles, Neil Diamond, Gladys Knight, or popular rap artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West or Eminem. Chances are, however, you recognize Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (translated into English as Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky) First Piano Concerto. If you click on this YouTube link, you can listen to this exceptional music.

Tchaikovsky is better known for his ballet The Nutcracker that millions watch every Christmas.

I tend to think that great masters such as Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, and Copeland wrote great masterpieces without the normal struggles that “average” people experience. However, if you study their lives, you will find rejection is part of a shared experience.

For instance I was intrigued when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (see Saturday/Sunday, April 18-19). The article states that after Tchaikovsky wrote the concerto, not being a pianist, he took it to his friend Nikolai Rubinstein, to get the opinion of a virtuoso pianist of what was technically impractical, difficult, and unplayable.

Rubinstein was merciless in his criticism of the composition and after the visit Tchaikovsky wrote to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck: “It appeared that my concerto is worthless, impossible to play, the themes have been used before, are clumsy and awkward beyond possibility of correction; as a composition it is poor; I stole this from here and that from there; there are only two or three pages that can be salvaged.”

Leaders Experience Rejection

I’d say this is solid rejection. I dare say that if you are reading this post, you have had an experience of extreme criticism and rejection at some time in your life as a leader. How did you deal with the criticism and rejection?

As you rise in the ranks of management and become a leader in your company, you may find that rejection of your ideas and criticism of your plans is seen as merely being analytical and investigating the most profitable or cost effective path forward to reaching organizational growth goals.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the sting of rejection or criticism totally disappears or that your ideas are worthless.

Decision Maker or Generator of Ideas?

One way to handle rejection and criticism is to understand the different roles people play as discussions unfold in planning meetings. One role is the person who has to make the final decision and wants to explore all options. Another role is the generator of ideas. Sometimes you may be in the role of decision maker and other times you may be in the role of the generator.

If you find yourself in the generator role, visualize your idea or suggestion as only the start of the conversation. Think of laying your idea out on the table and making that idea open to suggestions. When I have played this role of generator of ideas, I have been pleasantly surprised how other people’s ideas have improved my original thoughts.

Understanding this role and being willing to collaborate made a great difference in my perception of criticism and rejection.

Six Solid Steps

After you examine your perception of rejection and criticism, here are six solid tips you can take:

  • Put on your armor like the knights of King Arthur’s court, figuratively speaking. The armor protected the knights from arrows and spears and the armor you don will keep the arrows of criticism and rejection from piercing your self-esteem.
  • Sift out the debris just like your coffee filter or your swimming pool filter. There is always debris in criticism. Nothing is 100 percent true. Even when your ideas are criticized, there has to be some truth and a nugget of understanding in your words.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get to the real objections of the person rejecting your ideas or your work. Pretend you are Sherlock Holmes seeking the truth. Once you have asked the right questions and uncovered the real objections, you can decide if the objections are valid or not and you may find a kernel of truth that will improve your ideas. This is an important process because it is possible the person offering the criticism is jealous of your work or threatened by your competence.
  • Agree with what you can agree with in the critical comments. This helps dissolve some of the sting of rejection and makes the person criticizing you more amenable and willing to incorporate some of your ideas into the final product.
  • Do a poll: don’t just go with one opinion. Ask additional people. If you are getting the same feedback, then consider changes. If you get mixed feedback, evaluate, make changes, and continue to pursue your ideas.
  • Use the words, “You may be right.” These four words totally deflate the person critiquing you or your ideas. And these words are easier to say than “Wow, I was wrong.” Notice the word “may” in the phrase – and realize that the other person may be wrong as well.

What Did Tchaikovsky Do?

After receiving Rubinstein’s criticism, Tchaikovsky dug in his heels and refused to change a single note. He gave it to another pianist, Hans von Bulow who debuted it in Boston. It is reported that Tchaikovsky scratched Rubenstein’s name from the dedication and replaced it with von Bulow’s. Later Rubinstein became a champion of the work and performed it many times, giving credibility to step six: your criticizer MAY be wrong.

As you work to become a charismatic leader – meaning a leader who creates rapport with the people who follow you – use these six steps for reducing the effects of criticism and rejection thrown your way.

Knowing your ideas count is a giant step forward in being a decisive and charismatic leader – charismatic meaning you know how to create rapport with your followers. Being able to articulate your ideas with confidence is a major factor in overcoming criticism and rejection.

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