Dealing with Rejection


At work yesterday I had an unpleasant interaction with one of the senior citizens I work with.  I needed to see her about an issue and asked to speak to her but she told me she didn’t have time.  Her hand gestures suggested she was shooing me away, and she turned and walked in the other direction.

Typically this wouldn’t bother me, I would have shaken it off and gone about my day.  But she has made some excuse not to talk to me repeatedly over the past several months, so I’m beginning to think it’s me she doesn’t have time for.

One the one hand it was irritating because this pattern has gotten in the way of my ability to get my work done.  On a different level, though, it touched a deep insecurity: I felt rejected.

It took me back to those days in gym class where I was the last one picked for the team.  To the days on the bus when that “cool” girl picked on me.  To those days that guy I had a crush on didn’t give me a second look.

Truly, I don’t know what I did to offend this woman and most days I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  But yesterday, for whatever reason, it hurt.

My coworkers, who are amazing, reminded me that it probably has nothing to do with me and encouraged me not to take it personally.  In the end, though, I needed to decide how I would respond.

I had a few options, emotionally and practically speaking:

1.  Get angry

Ahh, yes, anger.  A common, knee-jerk reaction for the wounded soul.  An excellent defense mechanism.  Since I don’t know for sure if this woman’s issue with me is rational, I don’t know that it’s really fair of me to respond in this way, although it would probably feel great in the moment.  Also, this is my place of employment, I don’t want to act in an unprofessional way and put my job at risk.

2. Avoid her

Knowing this woman has this reaction when she sees me, I can protect myself by avoiding her at all costs.  After all, talking to her just seems to make her mad, right?  Wouldn’t it be better for us both if we just avoided each other?  Another great defense mechanism is at play here, but again it wouldn’t solve the problem.  In fact, it would cost me more work and energy in the long run because after all, I still have a job to do, and that does include addressing issues with this woman, regardless of whether either of us enjoys it.

3.  Offer compassion

This woman feels irritated or threatened by me in some way, it seems.  If I shift my focus to how she might be feeling, it might offer clarity.  What is it about me that might make her not want to be around me?  Do I remind her of a loved one she used to be close to but has lost? Does she feel like I don’t meet her needs in the way she expects?  Did she prefer the relationship she had with the person who was in the position before me?  I may never have the answers to these questions but it does help me to process the situation this way and lend the benefit of the doubt to the woman; she may be hurting too.  For whatever reason, I may remind her of a time she felt rejected or wounded.

4.  Open Discussion

The most healthy way to deal with this situation would be to open the doors of communication and invite an open dialogue. (To be completely honest, my mind did not jump directly to this option.  I told you, I’m a work in progress, my first reaction was anger/frustration.)

An ideal scenario would involve me inviting more information from her about the reaction she seems to be having from interactions with me.  I could say something like, “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to want to talk about this situation (concern, form, issue, etc.) at the moment.  Do you mind me asking what it is about it that bothers you?” She has said in the past she “doesn’t have time” for whatever I’m trying to discuss with her.  I could offer to set up an appointment so she has my undivided attention, then ask more questions to get more information.  Of course the goal would be to keep lines of communication open and explore how we can improve our relationship together.  It all sounds great, but I don’t know that her goal would be to improve our relationship.  She could have a completely different mindset on the matter.  She may not even realize she’s reacting to me this way.

In theory, at this point I feel like I’d rather hear her say she doesn’t like me and why than to keep brushing me off; at least then I would know what the issue is.  In practice though, that would probably hurt too.

And on another level, what is this fundamental need to be liked by everyone anyway?  Yes, I have a job to do and I feel like this issue is interfering with that.  What if I just did my job and made her talk to me so I could get my work done?  I’m not there to make friends, after all, I have a job to do!  But I know that’s not the right answer either.

The fact is that she touched a nerve, a deep-rooted painful nerve that I like to keep hidden and like to pretend doesn’t get irritated this easily.  As much as I’d rather not admit it, I want to be liked and accepted.  I think we all do, in some capacity; we’re social creatures, after all.  And I think it’s natural that when that’s not happening, and I don’t understand why, my initial reaction is to jump to defense mechanisms I’ve used in the past to help me sort out the details of life.

I’d like to say that I resolved this issue with grace and humility and everything went swimmingly, but that’s not true.  I’m trying to have compassion toward this woman when I think of this situation.  After all, more anger and frustration on my part will just increase the divide that apparently exists between us.  Talking to her remains on my to-do list and it’s not something I can really get out of, although that’s a really attractive option at this point.  I hate feeling like I’m ruining someone’s day when I’m just trying to talk to them, plus not understanding the reason for her reaction is probably the most confusing part of it all. I will get my work done and address this woman, I’m just not really sure how it will pan out.

Any thoughts on what to do next?  Has anyone else experienced a similar situation and had a learning experience they’d like to share?