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6 ways to handle rejection at work (without losing it)

April 16, 2015, 11:30 AM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How should every successful woman deal with rejection? is written by Donna Wiederkehr, CMO of Dentsu Aegis Network.

I believe the way a successful woman should handle rejection is identical to the way a successful man does–objectively. As CMO, I’m responsible for driving growth across a network of more than 22 marketing, media, and communication companies. This means that every day I face many different opportunities for success, and just as many chances for rejection. And I’ve learned that it’s not your successes or failures that define you as a businessperson, it’s what you make of them. Rejection is an amazing catalyst for evolution, and it’s as much a part of every good leader’s story as their successes. Here are some thoughts on how I encourage our teams to approach rejection:

Don’t let it define you
Fail fast and get over it. Remember that rejection is something that happens to everyone–even the most successful people. No one is perfect and that’s the beauty of it. Keep things in perspective and remember that you’re much more than a project–or even a career.

Celebrate it
I believe that if you always succeed, you aren’t innovating or pushing the envelope. Consider your rejections and failures as successes that show you aren’t accepting the status quo as the best path. Celebrate trying to do something differently (or better) and the opportunity for growth.

Pause and assess
Is there a lesson to be learned? Every rejection is an opportunity to take a step back and genuinely assess if you’re on the right path project-wise, career-wise, or if there’s a better approach you could take next time you face a challenge.

Lead by example
Rejection is generally not about one person; it often impacts an entire team. In situations where a major client leaves an agency or an important pitch is rejected, the team looks to their leadership to get a sense of whether it’s a “disaster” or a moment to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Always choose the latter, not the former, and show your team how to handle rejection gracefully and move on.

Don’t hide it
Talk about your rejections with trusted advisors and mentors, as well as with the staff you lead. It gives you a chance to process the situation and get outside opinions on what you can do differently next time. It also sends the message to younger talent that rejection is a part of life that we all deal with, and that there is strength in honesty and accountability.

Recalibrate and try again
Rejection doesn’t mean that you’re done with the problem. Challenge yourself to find alternative approaches. Odds are you will find a stronger, more creative solution than you did originally.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How should every successful woman deal with rejection?

The most important business lesson I learned in my 20s by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

How failure helped me start my own business by Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual.

Why women need to stop holding back at work by Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University.

So you didn’t get the promotion. What’s next? by Debbie Messemer, managing partner at KPMG San Francisco.

Why even the best employees need to experience failurebyPerry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

You’ve made a mistake at work. Now what? by Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises.

How rejection made me a better employee (27 years later) by Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group.

How to bounce back from rejection at work by Kathy Collins, CMO at H&R Block.

The upside of failure by Cathy Baron Tamraz, chairwoman and CEO of Business Wire.

3 steps to overcome rejection at work by Shiza Shahid, co-founder and ambassador of Malala Fund

How to avoid overreacting at work by Mary Civiello, president of Civiello Communications Group.

Why the best leaders are defined by their failures by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

5 stages of rejection (and how to deal) by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

Keep making mistakes at work? Here’s how to recover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

How to successfully deal with rejection at work by Beth Monaghan, principal and co-founder of InkHouse.

How to shake off rejection like Taylor Swift by Beth Comstock, senior vice president and CMO of General Electric.

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