It’s Not Personal! How to Handle Rejection

It’s important to be prepared for the possibility of someone saying “no.” And it’s totally normal to feel badly after this kind of response.

But try not to take it personally—remember all of the reasons why the person may have turned you down. They may be stressed about a series of upcoming deadlines, have difficult things going on in their own lives, or think that they don’t know the answers to your questions. Most of the time, if someone cannot meet it does not have to do with you personally.

Here is a trick for handling rejection. It’s called the pie chart exercise. If you notice yourself having a strong reaction to being turned down by someone you reach out to—maybe feeling especially anxious, or depressed, or angry–try this trick.

The Pie Chart Trick for Handling Rejection

Step 1: Identify your Feeling
Try to identify the thought that is attached to your feeling, and write it down.
Why is Aya feeling so anxious? She sits down with a pen and paper and realizes that she is having the worried thought, “Maybe I’m not doing well in the course, and that’s why the professor isn’t interested in working with me.”

Step 2: Brainstorm for Reasons
Brainstorm other reasons for the same event, no matter how unlikely they may seem. Try to really “think outside the box” and brainstorm as many reasons as possible. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member help you with this process. Write down all of the possibilities you come up with and allow them to share the pie chart of possibilities with your original thought.

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Let’s think back to Aya and her math professor. Aya feels really anxious when she reads the email from her professor saying that her professor is too busy to consider working with her this semester. Here is her first thought when she received her professor’s email.

Why did my professor say no?

Aya gets her boyfriend to help her think through other possibilities for why her professor turned her down using the pie chart method. Here are some things they came up with:

Why did my profess say no, pie chart trick

Notice that the pie chart exercise does not mean that Aya’s original concern definitely isn’t true…it is, of course, possible that Aya’s not doing well in the course and that’s why her professor turned down her request.

But a lot of times, our minds jump to a single conclusion in response to difficult social interactions, and become convinced that a single hypothesis must be a fact. The pie chart exercise can help you remember that there are an almost infinite set of reasons for why someone acts the way they do, and many of those reasons have nothing to do with you!

A handout for the pie chart exercise can be found in your toolbox. Feel free to use it when you encounter rejection in your life.

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