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Forget Fear: How to Turn Rejection into Success

Afraid of failing? You're not alone. Here are four ways to look beyond rejection and conquer your fears for good.
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Everyone hates rejection. Especially people who must sell for a living. However, there is one thing that’s worse than the rejection itself: the fear of being rejected.

Rejection is just an event that’s quickly over.  But the fear of rejection... ah!... that can last a lifetime.

It’s this fear of rejection is true the bane of sales success. If rejections scare you, you'll find it difficult, or even impossible to do whatever it takes to make your company successful. You’ll avoid calling on customer, you’ll balk at hard bargaining, you’ll hesitate to close.  To misquote one of my favorite books: “Fear is the sale-killer.”  (Bragging rights to whomever can identify the book in a comment.)

In my experience, the best way to deal with the fear of rejection is to remove the sting of the rejection in the first place.  Here’s how:

STEP #1: Realize that most rejections aren’t real.

Suppose you make a cold call and the prospect hangs up on you. While that's feel like "rejection", the truth is that the prospect's reaction has nothing to do with you. You had no way of knowing that the prospect was busy and that the prospect thinks it's OK to hang up on unfamiliar callers.

Maybe if you said something different or called at a different time, you might have gotten a different reaction, but that's just a story you're making up in your own mind. If you had called at a different time, the prospect might just as easily have added a expletive before hanging up.

Most “rejections” don’t have anything to do you with personally. Anybody else taking the same action that you did, at the same time, would have gotten the exact same reaction. The "rejection" is simply a hallucination that your emotions have created to "explain" the event.

STEP #2: Understand the source of the “sting”

According to Art Mortell, author of excellent book The Courage to Fail, there are three situations that make rejection sting: 

  • When it happens too frequently. It’s one thing to shrug off a bad cold call because, after all, that's only one person's opinion. But after twenty, thirty, forty “rejections”, each call starts adding weight on your shoulders.
  • When you care about the rejecter. If you've got a relationship with somebody, it hurts more if they reject you than if a stranger does the same. As your level of emotional involvement increases, the pain of being rejected increases.
  • When you consider the rejecter to be important. If you feel that somebody is "better" than you or of superior intelligence, talent, etc., you tend value their opinion. So if that person rejects you, you'll take it more to heart.

Your job is to identify the specific circumstances that are causing the “sting”... then we can begin work on neutralizing it.

STEP #3: Map the parameters of your fear

Take out your iPad (or yellow pad, if you prefer) and write down the answer the following three questions:

  • How many times can I contact a qualified prospect and get a negative response before I begin to take it personally?
  • How emotionally involved can I become with somebody before I feel that the other person knows me so well that criticism hurts?
  • How famous or "important" must a person be before I begin to feel that a rejection from that person would be impossible to shrug off?

Take the time to honestly answer, because you’re now pinpointing the exact limits of the fear that’s crippling your sales success.

STEP #4: Change the beliefs that create your fear

If you look deeply enough, for each of these thresholds, you are holding onto a unspoken belief (about life, business, people, etc.) that is creating the fear. Examples:

  • "After about the fifth bad cold call, I'm ready to call it a day."
  • "If I'm close enough to ask a customer for a favor, rejection would hurt."
  • "C-level job holders are important, so their opinion of me matters."

To remove the sting of rejection, you need to explicitly and consciously replace those limiting beliefs with better beliefs that create confidence rather than fear.  Examples:

  • "Every cold call is a new opportunity; the past is the past."
  • "A relationship that's not worth risking isn't worth having."
  • "Coping with cranky executives means I'm playing in the big leagues."

It's really that simple. Reframing the “source” of the fear expunges the fear, thereby extracting its sting.  Here’s what Art Mortell once told me about dealing positively with rejection.

"Five words. DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Things happen. Customers have lousy days. The economy goes down. It rains. It snows. Sometimes it snows on you. It's up to you to decide whether or not those events are an excuse for failure. In the end, only four things are under your control: your beliefs, your attitude, your emotions and your actions. If you take care of them, good results are inevitable." 

 

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Nov 23, 2011

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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