A new study finds that people in authority positions are quicker to recover from rejection.
The study from researchers at the University of California-Berkeley also found that powerful people — whether in the home or in the workplace — will seek out social bonding opportunities even if they’ve been rebuffed by others.
“Powerful people appear to be better at dealing with the slings and arrows of social life — they’re more buffered from the negative feelings that rejection typically elicits,” said Maya Kuehn, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study.
Kuehn and her fellow researchers conducted five experiments focusing on how power influences responses to subtle acts of rejection in both the workplace and in romantic relationships. The research team recruited 445 men and women between the ages of 18 and 82 for the study.
In one experiment, volunteers were assigned either high- or low-level positions in a workplace, then told they hadn’t been invited to an office happy hour gathering. While low-level employees reported feeling stung by this rejection, the high-power ones were relatively unfazed and more likely to seek out other social bonding activities, such as a hiking club, to improve relations with their co-workers, the researchers report.
In another experiment, the volunteers were told they would be working with someone in either a supervisory or a subordinate role. They corresponded with that person and received feedback that could be perceived as a snub or mild rejection.
Those who had been assigned supervisory roles acted with indifference to perceived snubs from their underlings, while subordinates took offense to comparable barbs from their bosses, according to the researchers.
“When rejected instead of accepted, subordinates reported lower self-esteem and greater negative emotion, but supervisors did not show an adverse reaction to rejection,” Kuehn said.
A similar power dynamic played out in an experiment involving romantic partners, she noted. Couples were brought into a lab setting and videotaped discussing problem-solving tasks, such as what to do if an airplane they were on crashed in the wilderness.
Before these discussions, couples rated each other in terms of who held the most power in their relationships, and how responsive their partners had been to their needs that day.
The study found that the partners who perceived themselves as less powerful were less positive when working on a solution with their mate.
By comparison, the dominant partners acted more upbeat and worked harder at connecting and getting their mates on their side, the researchers said.