I came across Jia Jiang's 100 Days of Rejection on a podcast while taking a walk. He shared his personal story of how rejection at an early age framed his future life experiences. He contrasts how rejection as a young child impacted and limited him as an adult. And he decided to do something about it: he spent 100 days intentionally seeking opportunities to be rejected. I recommend his TED talk as he incorporates humor along with his experiment.
The idea of rejection and conflict struck me. What if we looked at conflict as rejection? As a mediator, I feel my body shift and empathy grow when I look at someone with a conflict as his or her way to express rejection. Think about it: at some point he or she was rejected as he or she didn't have a need met and that rejection escalated to a conflict.
Sensitivity Rejection is discussed in Psychology Today. In intimate relationships, one partner is sensitive to rejection and will interpret the unavailability of the other (no, I cannot go out Friday as I have to get up early for an event) or a slowness in response from a text, as rejection. This sensitivity can make it difficult for relationships to succeed.
Fortune offers another look at rejection, such as when you are turned down for a job or promotion. The author contrasts rejection with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If the individual experiencing the rejection can get to "acceptance", they can be more objective about the experience and frame it in such a way that doesn't diminish their own value.
If we view rejection as the instigator of a conflict being expressed, we have the opportunity as mediators, managers, supervisors, and co-workers to impart curiosity and empathy for the other. If the individual expressing conflict has felt rejected (i.e. "I can't get my needs met; I keep hearing no"), we can help them go through the stages, get to acceptance which then leads to problem solving -- getting to the root of the issue.
Mr. Jiang's experiment intentionally sets up the test subject to get rejected (one of his examples is asking for a hamburger "refill" at a fast food restaurant). If we get more comfortable with risking rejection, we become stronger. If we become more emotionally intelligent about the role of rejection in conflict, we can become more curious and empathic.
Introspectively, I have considered how I deal with rejection. I realize that most people want to please others so rejection isn't necessarily all that easy to do. And by risking rejection, we up our rewards when we do make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. It could result in improved interpersonal relationships; it could mean a hamburger "refill". One never knows until one takes that first step towards that opportunity.
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant