Rejection Sensitivity at Work

June 18, 2024 Michaela Jarvis

Rejection sensitivity, in general, is difficult, but rejection sensitivity at work is especially hard since a certain level of professionalism is expected. I consider myself highly sensitive, so managing the fear of conflict or being disliked causes me tremendous anxiety. It wasn't until recently that I finally felt I had a sense of control over my emotions in the workplace. That doesn't mean that rejection sensitivity at work isn't difficult, however.

Understanding Rejection Sensitivity

No one likes rejection. Getting criticized, scolded, or blatantly denied hurts; that's human. Rejection sensitivity is different. It's tricky because a neutral conversation, a question, or someone sharing a differing opinion can be perceived as something negative or even an attack.

Being sensitive to rejection, or perceived rejection, can cause anxiety, guilt, or low self-esteem. I struggle with taking interactions very personally. For example, a small off-hand comment can be twisted into an attack in my head, even if that wasn't the intention. With the hurt comes guilt, then defensiveness, and the cycle continues.

What It's Like to Deal with Rejection Sensitivity at Work

Rejection sensitivity at work can show up in different ways. For roles that interact with customers or clients, it's likely that, at some point, someone will be upset. Getting stressed over those situations is normal. With rejection sensitivity at work, there may be an email, call, or conversation that isn't necessarily bad, but the mind decides to play it out like it is. I've been a victim of my mind deciding that a question was an attack when it was truly just a question.

Getting feedback from a manager can be extremely intimidating. I've always been the type of person who beats themselves up after getting constructive feedback. Thoughts of "Why didn't I do this before?" and "I should have known better" cloud my mind, but 99 percent of the time, my manager just wanted to use their experience to make me better.

Here, I go into more detail on how rejection sensitivity plays out for me at work:

Managing Rejection Sensitivity at Work

I struggle with heightened emotions at work, but I spend half my waking hours a week at work, so I cannot let the fear of someone being "mad" at me rule half my day.

The first thing I had to change to deal with rejection sensitivity at work was my mindset. When I get a request or feedback, my mind shouldn't jump to "they're mad at me." Unless they tell me what they're feeling, I don't know and can't decide for them. It can be hard, especially over email, to read someone's feelings, so I've stopped trying. I take their words at face value and react like we're on the same team.

I'm also extremely honest with my managers. I've been blessed to work in spaces where I'm able to share my opinions, concerns, and stressors openly. This helps managers understand how I best receive feedback (as I'm someone who needs a little time and space to process it). It's also helpful to have a support system that can reassure me that if I'm trying my best, that's all I can do.

I cannot control others' emotions, and I cannot read anyone's mind. While difficult to do, I can, however, control how I react. Dealing with rejection sensitivity at work is not an easy task, but if I know I tried my best, then I can go home and still feel good about my day.

APA Reference
Jarvis, M. (2024, June 18). Rejection Sensitivity at Work, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Author: Michaela Jarvis

Michaela Jarvis is continuously on her road to self-improvement while managing bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the life challenges that come with being in your 20s. Find Michaela on Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.

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