Influence people

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Positive Side of Rejection

Washington, DC-based freelance writer Dan Bailes contributed today's post. His clients include the MacArthur Foundation, National Geographic, the Smithsonian and the State Department. Between assignments, Dan explores storytelling through his blog, The Vision Thing.

Whenever I present a creative project to a client, there's always the possibility they'll have problems, will want to change it, or just won't like it. No one wants to have their work rejected or sent back for fixes. Still, there's a positive side to rejection. 
After creating and presenting hundreds of projects for clients, here's what I've discovered:

1. Not everyone will "get it" or like it, whatever "it" is. You should expect that.

2. When you present your project for review or comment, people rarely say, "It's great!" It's more likely they'll say something needs to be changed or fixed. If you expect that, it won't upset you when it happens.

3. It's not personal. Learn to keep a professional distance between you and your work. Stay objective and keep an open mind.

4. Everyone has an opinion. Just because they have one doesn't mean they're "right." Even so, listen to the comments and try to understand what they are telling you.

5. Ultimately, you have to decide if the criticism is useful. That's why keeping an open mind is important. A comment may ultimately help you think about a problem in a new light.

6. When someone criticizes your work, listen to what they tell you, then repeat back what you hear so you both know you're on the same page.

7. Don't be afraid of criticism—it can help you improve the work. You should be focused on improving the work too.

8. Instead of trying to defend your work, ask questions until you are clear about what underlies the comments and criticism. Then you have an opportunity to find a solution that will work for everyone.

9. Stay positive and don't be discouraged. Follow these guidelines and you can turn rejection into an opportunity.


  1. Dan, what you call rejection I would sometimes call collaboration.

  2. Hi Gary and thanks for your comment. Of course you're right, but I wrote this piece to focus more on coping with the internal feelings of rejection rather than the external dialogue of give and take.

  3. Seth Godin touched on this very topic today in his blog on Wednesday. He wrote:

    "Of course your next project isn't going to delight everyone. That's impossible. It's certain that for some people, your project is going to be a failure. At the same time, it's also quite unlikely that your project will please no one. So now, we can agree that it's all on a spectrum, and that success and failure are merely localized generalizations. Once you realize that failure is certain, it's a lot easier to focus on impact instead."


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