When many people compete for the same position or vacancy — whether it’s a job, an apartment rental, or a chair in the orchestra — all but one candidate must inevitably be rejected. This rejection — which is comparable to social exclusion — may lead to the unchosen candidates feeling poorly about themselves.
Research has shown that people are very sensitive to even the slightest indication of social exclusion, as it threatens our fundamental needs to belong, to feel significant to others and to feel in control.
Now a new study by psychologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland and Purdue University in Indiana finds that after feeling socially excluded, most people would prefer a straight “no” to being ignored. In fact, the findings show that verbal rejection, or even unkind comments, are actually better for our well-being than being ignored.
The study is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The study is one of the first to focus on determining which factors can improve negative emotions after social exclusion. The researchers analyzed how people feel after being socially excluded and then reintegrated, and how receiving a small amount of attention affects their mental state.
In one experiment, participants were asked to engage in a virtual ball-throwing game. However, participants did not receive the ball from the other players and were thus excluded from the game. In another experiment, participants took part in a fictitious search for an apartment. Here, the minimal attention was simulated via a neutral, pleasant, or unfriendly message that participants received together with the rejection.
All of the experiments showed that although people react quickly and sensitively to exclusion, even small signs of integration and attention reduced the distress of social exclusion. This is the case no matter whether the attention they received was positive or negative.
The research findings emphasize the importance of granting minimal attention during a selection process.
“To make these as stress-free as possible, HR managers, universities, and landlords should pay rejected candidates a minimum of attention via a letter or email, for example,” says Dr. Selma Rudert, the study’s author from the University of Basel.
Even when it comes to justified criticism in the workplace, employees may be more satisfied when they receive negative feedback than if they receive no feedback at all in the long term. Furthermore, consultancies that deal with workplace or school bullying should pay more attention to whether people are being ignored by others, as social rejection may have psychological consequences as negative as those of active aggression or bullying.
Source: University of Basel