How you take rejection can determine whether or not you'll need to do so again.
The story begins when…
A really interesting personal branding-related story took place on the road to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and as an avid hockey fan, I'm glad to have finally found a way to sneak my love of hockey into an article here for you.
It all began when national hockey team rosters were announced, deciding which lucky few would get to represent one of the 12 national teams that qualified for the men's ice hockey event.
Each team is allowed to choose a selection of 23 forwards, defencemen and goalies and as you can imagine, the best players per country are the ones most likely to be chosen. Even with 12 teams competing, that still means a lot of terrific players around the world aren't going to go.
So let's look at how some of those terrific players reacted when they found out they aren't going to go.
How they reacted
Montreal Canadien and former NHL All-star Scott Gomez was hoping to make the USA hockey team but didn't. Mikael Samuelsson of the Vancouver Canucks was hoping to make the Swedish hockey team but also didn't. The similarities end there though.
Here was Gomez's reaction in the press: “It is what it is… you get the call, you realize it, you move on and focus more on here. It wasn't meant to be. Congratulations to the guys who made it. You just wish them the best of luck and hope the U.S.A. brings the gold.”
Here was Samuelsson's reaction in the press: “I pretty much have one comment and maybe I'll regret it, but they can go [expletive] themselves. That's what I really think.”
The kicker: the teams can change their rosters up until Feb. 15th in case players get injured in the meantime so theoretically, both Gomez and Samuelsson – who won gold in hockey for Sweden in 2006 – could still be invited to their respective national teams. Based on their reactions however, who do you think will have a better chance of actually getting invited if the hour of need arises?
Why would Samuelsson burn his bridges like that?
This reminds me of a recruiter's story that I quoted in the 25-Point Layoff Success Checklist You Hope to Never Need:
“Fairly early in my career, I had to implement a RIF (Reduction In Force = layoff) for 1/3 of my department about 15 people in the terrible economy of late 2001. This was purely a monetary issue for the company, all these folks were decent performers, however, they were chosen because they were in the bottom 1/3 in terms of performance.
The one thing I learned, is that you get to see a side of a person that you would never see outside a termination : how they react to the worst work news they could possibly get. Out of the 15 people some people were angry at the company and really angry at me, some people cried, and some people handled it amazingly well – so well that in 2 or 3 cases I decided that this person was so reasonable and so mature that I would have been better off firing someone else. In fact, one person said to me, “I’m really bummed out because I love working here, but I understand. Wow, this must be incredibly hard to fire all these people, how are you holding up?”.
While I could not reverse the fact that these people were being RIF’d and I had tried to help all 15 people with new jobs and references, it was hard not to work extra hard for the people who I thought handled it well.
To this day I have a great “last impression” of them. It made me feel better about recommending them for a new job, and in one case I was actually able to hire one person back 6 months later when I got additional head count.”
With that story in mind, Samuelsson was obviously wrong to react the way he did, right? The Swedish team will never hire him now, you would think.
Gomez is only 30 years old and has a realistic shot at making the team in 2014 but Samuelsson is 33, which means he'll be 37 next time around, an age by which many players have retired already. It looks like Samuelsson really needed it this time, but when he opened his mouth to the press, why wasn't he thinking about being a possible replacement?
Turns out, he was.
From the article: “He also closed the door to the possibility that he could be a replacement in case of an injury. “Not a chance,” he said. “If [Swedish coach Bengt-Aake Gustafsson] doesn't want me, he doesn't want me.””
Conclusion: who did a better job at brand-building?
In hiding his frustration and wishing the USA team well, Gomez's reaction was a cliché. He certainly didn't lose any face because of it, but for saying something so expected, he probably didn't earn many new admirers either.
Samuelsson, on the other hand, made headlines around the world with his comment and there were probably more than a few people who not only agreed with what he said but who will also talk about it publicly. Additionally, he knows the coach well after winning gold for him in 2006, and so he likely knew that he had nothing to lose with his comment.
Finally, like any professional sport, hockey is achievement-based. If former gold medal winner Samuelsson improves his already-good play over the next few weeks, there's a good chance that all will be forgiven if the time comes to select an injury replacement who knows what it takes to win.
So it's true that how you take rejection can determine whether or not you'll need to do so again, but how you should take that rejection depends an awful lot on the context involved.
I originally published this article on the terrific Personal Branding Blog.