When the Professional is Also Personal

A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter feed was filled with Tweets from friends and colleagues talking about workshop proposals they had submitted for the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting in Dallas.  As is the norm, some were accepted and some were not.  I've been on the receiving side of both the good news and the bad news.

Some whose submission had not been accepted Tweeted the news like this:  I got rejected.

Now I haven't talked with any of those folks, nor would I pretend to delve into the psyche of other individuals, but that language made me take notice.

To me "My proposal didn't get accepted" is very different than "I got rejected."  One focuses on the proposal; one focuses on the personal. It's a distinction worth exploring.

The more our organizations successfully facilitate a professional home for people, a place where they build community and connections with colleagues, and dare I say it, lifelong friendships, the more the professional becomes personal.  In general, that is a very, very, good thing.  In Gallup terms, this is a strength to leverage, one that causes individuals to contribute vast amounts of their personal and professional resources in ways that benefit the profession, the organization, and its community.  And in doing so, their caring knits a tighter connection to their colleagues and to the community and its efforts.

But it also means our organizations must thoughtfully manage those moments when members of the community are told no because of budget restrictions, a competitive program proposal process, or limited slots on certain committees for task forces.

I'm guessing most organizations communicate those moments of non-acceptance purely in professional terms: "Thank you very much for submitting an Annual Meeting proposal.  We received an overwhelming number of excellent submissions this year, and I regret to inform you that yours was not selected." 

But just as fundraising and development professionals tailor their donor acknowledgments to reflect the contribution and commitment of the individual donors—to continue to cultivate lifelong contributions—so in some cases might we want to tailor our "bad news" communications in ways that help ensure the individuals don't feel rejected even if their proposal or expression of interest was not accepted.

It's one thing to use language that appeals to the head; it's quite another to communicate in a way that honors the heart.  We don't want members of our community to feel that they have been cut off from contributing or caring.

What would such a message look like for your organization and in what instances can you see it beneficial to using it?


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Interesting perception, Jeffrey. There was a time when proposals seem to have been routinely accepted.

Perhaps there were fewer submissions then or maybe there weren't as many members who had developed a personal bond with the organization.

What do you think will be the aftermath of the "I was rejected" feelings?

(BTW, I did not submit anything this year).

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

David, I supposed the acceptance rate has always varied depending on the conference, and certainly different organizations and their respective meetings also probably have different selection processes and rates.

I would imagine what happens next will vary widely depending on the individual and how much s/he had invested in presenting at Annual. And I'm sure at last part of that will be curiosity about what was accepted and the potential reasons why.

Stefanie Reeves said...

Great post as always Jeff. Let's face it, rejection sucks. No one wants to hear, "Thanks, but no thanks". The first proposal I ever submitted was for ASAE11 and it was rejected. I was hurt, but I reasoned that this was just one of many opportunities and I can't let this get to me. So I pressed forward. Soon, I had some speaker proposals accepted and others rejected.

Bottom line, there may not be a good way to ease the pain of being told no. Maybe it's shifting the mindset from "I got rejected" to "Okay, what else is out there?"

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Stefanie: Your experience mirrors mine. Long ago when I first submitted, I wasn't selected. I think I next submitted with someone else more experience and we got in. Since then sometimes I've been picked sometimes I haven't.

Having been on the professional development side of an association's staff, there are so many variables that can influence whether or not a program is picked that I rarely take it personally. Sometimes not getting selected stings more than others, particularly if it was a proposal I had a lot of passion around, but I have to remind myself it may just not be the right topic for others' interests.