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Although most people find social rejection to be emotionally devastating, not everyone responds to rejection this way.
A study published by a Harvard business professor shows that social rejection can motivate and inspire fiercely independent individuals. Those with a strong sense of their own independence already feel distinct from the crowd, and rejection validates this.
“Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves—that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity,” says the study’s lead author Sharon Kim.
For people who value being accepted by a group, rejection can deflate their self worth and even impair their thought process. As a society, we are increasingly aware of the negative repercussions of bullying—online, at school, or in the workplace. Many individuals suffer greatly in the wake of hurtful words.
The Harvard researchers are not attempting to minimize the effects of bullying or other forms of abuse, but want to point out that for some people—those with an independent self-concept—being excluded from a group can lead to positive outcomes. It may trigger imaginative thinking, creative productivity, and the determination to succeed.
While some people are derailed by social rejection, exclusion might spark a new and successful career path for an independent type. Instead of causing them to question their ideas, rejection may solidify an independent’s thoughts or confirm for them that they are on the right trajectory.
This research has practical implications for those hiring new employees.
Many companies look for workers who seek out and nurture inclusion, people who want to fit in, and there is an obvious good reason for this. However, a workplace can also benefit from those with an unconventional "outsider" mindset who are uninhibited by going it alone and have a knack for imaginative thinking.
For instance, a person who thrives on inclusion, and one who thrives on exclusion, may each want to go where no one has gone before. The one at home working in groups may help others go there as well, but it might take an independent outside-the-group pioneer to pave the way for everyone.
Photo by Alex Bellink
Source: Johns Hopkins University
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