The fear of rejection is the bane of success. If you're afraid that people (customers, employees, coworkers, colleagues, etc.) will reject you, you'll avoid making difficult calls and your fear will make you less effective.
Conquering that fear is only the start, though. If you really want to be successful, you must learn how to turn rejection into a vehicle that drives you more quickly towards your ultimate goals. Here's how:
1. Understand why you FEEL rejected.
Suppose you're given the chance to give your elevator pitch to a big investor. You do your best, but the investor hands you a "don't call us, we'll call you" or, worse, "your idea sucks; now go away."
That's certainly a disappointing outcome if you were counting on getting some investment money. However, why would you feel "rejected" rather than, say, frustrated, angry, or sad?
The answer is that you took the investor's comments personally and allowed those comments make you feel bad about yourself, rather than just the situation. Turns out there are three reasons that people feel rejected:
- When it happens a lot. Suppose this is the 100th investor you've approached and you've gotten the same negative response. Since you're convinced your idea is great, you conclude, based on "public opinion" that there must be something wrong with you.
- When you're emotionally involved. As anyone who's been married can attest, when you've put a lot of time and effort into a relationship, it hurts a lot more when the other person doesn't agree with you about something you care about.
- When you respect the "rejector." When you have a deep and abiding respect for the person who's not doing what you'd prefer, the "rejection" seems to carry more weight and authority.
It's important to be aware of these factors because it's necessary to neutralize the rejection's "sting" before turning the situation to your advantage.
2. Weaken the "sting" of the rejection.
Now that you know why you feel rejected, make the rejection less toxic by undercutting the beliefs and assumptions that created that feeling.
If you feel that you're getting too many rejections, examine the norms for other people who are doing what you're doing. For example, salespeople often make a hundred calls before finding a prospect; entrepreneurs sometimes present to dozens of investors before getting funding.
If you're emotionally involved with the other person, disassociate your involvement with the outcome of the situation. Good ol' Joe may not want to invest in your company, but you can still be friends. That prospect you've cultivated for months may not buy, but long term you've made a great business contact.
If you're convinced the other person is really important, temper your respect with a dose of reality. Many successful people--even famous business moguls--are average performers who've stumbled into their success. And even if not, they're not gods on earth; they're people just like you and me.
3. Throw out the invalid objections.
Now that you've gotten some perspective on your emotions, it's time to apply some real-life logic by differentiating between valid and invalid objections.
A valid rejection is when a person doesn't do what you want because of something that you can change. An invalid rejections is when your "failure" took place because of something arbitrary that's outside of your control.
For example, suppose you're meeting with a customer and you do something stupid, like get the customer's name wrong. If the customer walks out, that's a valid rejection, because the triggering event was indeed your fault.
(I once worked for a company that served cans of Coke to a set of Pepsi executives. The result was not pretty.)
By contrast, suppose you make a cold call and the prospect mutters an obscenity and hangs up on you. While that's a textbook definition of "sales rejection," the truth is that the prospect's reaction has nothing to do with you.
You had no way of knowing that the prospect you were calling was both busy and ill-tempered. Anybody who called that prospect would no doubt have gotten the exact same reaction. It's not a valid rejection.
Here's the thing: in business there are far more invalid rejections than valid ones. And because you can't do anything about the invalid ones, the right response is to shrug them off. Don't take them personally because truly they aren't about you.
4. Reframe valid rejections as stepping stones to success.
Sometimes success is just a numbers game. As has been pointed out innumerable times, Reggie Jackson, one of the greatest hitters of all time, also holds the major league baseball record for being struck out.
When I wanted to publish my first business book, I sent the proposal to dozens of editors and got plenty of "rejection letters." Rather than feeling discouraged, I started each day by laying out the letters on the floor walking on them as if they were stepping stones.
As I did this, I'd say to myself: "The more rejections I get, the better deal I'll get." Sure enough, the book got picked up by Random House and its eventual publication launched my professional writing career.
My mother, who had a very successful career in sales, stuck post-its in her car and on her bathroom mirror with slogans like "REJECTION = MONEY." She realized that there is no easy path to long-term success.
5. Hone the appropriate business skills.
Now that you've filtered out the invalid rejections and put the remaining rejections into context, you can address the issues that are under your control and which may be preventing you from succeeding more quickly.
For example, if you're not getting the investors you need, review your business plan with an expert, or find a better role model to imitate. If your cold calls are consistently falling flat, work on your script. Try different approaches.
If you follow these steps religiously, you'll expend a minimum of emotional time and energy on feeling rejected and a maximum amount on reducing the number of valid rejections that you encounter.
The above is loosely adapted from a conversation with Art Mortell, author of the excellent book The Courage to Fail.