Imagine your confidence is flying high at work except for one minor detail: one of your colleagues keeps repeatedly ignoring your ideas during meetings. You figure it's fine, no big deal. Until they start excluding you from other projects as well.
Suddenly, no matter how hard you work on making a positive impact, you find yourself rehashing each day's new rebuff -- wondering what you're doing wrong or how to make it better.
A mindful antidote.
Feeling slighted is a normal emotional reaction, but lingering on the day's events can easily become distressing and overshadow your other efforts at work.
"Social rejection can have a number of negative outcomes both for the rejected person's own health and well-being, as well as their interpersonal relationships," said Alexandra Martelli, the lead author of a recent study on social rejection published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
That's because nothing threatens your sense of belonging the same way as being ignored.
Much like a domino effect, feeling aggravated by a colleague's behavior can cause you to lash out at others or take your frustration out in some other unproductive way. But as Martelli and her fellow co-authors found in their research, a regular practice of mindfulness can act as an antidote to coping with the sting of rejection.
According to their findings, mindful people are better able to regulate their emotional responses. In other words, learning the right techniques can help you buffer these uncomfortable interactions. Here are three ways you can mindfully navigate rejection to regain your calm more quickly:
1. Let your emotions drift like clouds.
After feeling rejected, it's likely you'll try to control your irritation or try to find the silver lining. "I'm better than them anyway," you might tell yourself. But putting all your effort into trying to see the upside only works to further suppress your emotions.
Rather than focus on trying to control your negative reactions (which can be emotionally taxing), allow yourself to recognize the way you are feeling and then act like a third-party observer. Be aware of your thoughts and sensations but don't try to grasp onto them.
When you can do this, you'll be able to notice your discomfort without judgment and move on faster.
2. Pay attention to your body's response.
Is your heart racing? Are you short of breath? Making mindfulness a daily practice involves paying attention not only to your thoughts but to how the rest of your body responds to stress.
Learning breathing techniques and regularly applying them throughout your workday can eventually help you better cope with rejection when it happens. If you know you'll be heading into a big meeting where you might anticipate these frustrating interactions, try this 2-minute breathing exercise beforehand to keep you from feeling triggered in the moment:
Inhale, count to five
Hold breath after inhaling, count to two
Exhale, count to seven
3. Change the story you're telling yourself.
Remember that just like in any anecdote, the way you frame the story is how you'll react to it. It's easy to get stuck in the "why me" question, but if you keep painting yourself as helpless victim and the other person as villain, chances are, you won't be able to look at things objectively.
Instead, change the script.
Your colleague's rejection can be due to any manner of reasons that you'll likely never know about. Maybe they're frustrated that their own ideas aren't getting acknowledged after months of putting in extra hours. While their snub may have seemed consequential to you in the moment, it's likely they haven't given it a second thought.
By allowing people to have their off days and acknowledging that we're all human, you can focus on the present moment without reading into their intentions.
4. Pause and reflect.
Workplace rejection is an inevitable part of any career trajectory and will be outright painful at times, but the way you respond to these slights is what defines you.
Pause and take it as an opportunity to learn more about how you approach others and a way for learning to manage your own expectations. Ultimately, mindfulness teaches us that not only is it okay to be rejected, but that you should embrace the unpredictable nature of life and use it to propel you forward.