“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Friedrich Nietzsche
I was recently recommended the book Rejection Proof by a colleague of mine (thanks Captain Brad!), who thought it would benefit anyone in sales. The author, Jia Jiang, was facing a challenge every start-up entrepreneur is familiar with: “How do I deal with all those damn no’s that I’m gonna get when I start asking people to invest with me?” So Jiang created his own “100 Days of Rejection” self-improvement program. He videoed them, which you can watch here – some amusing, some ridiculous, some painful, and most enlightening about how he went about asking for what he wanted. He concluded that fear of rejection is a universal experience, so he folded his start-up and now lectures globally to help people get over it.
Tell the truth – how often have you had that sinking, anxious, stomach-butterflies feeling just as you were about to pick up the phone that the person you intended to call not only would definitely say no to you but would even think you were a fool to consider calling? And how many times has that stopped you from even dialing, saying to yourself, “Why would they want to hear from me? Maybe I’d better check my emails one more time …” and then never make the call?”
Ever been there? I certainly have – when I first started my coaching business I could have used Rejection Proof as a training manual to get over my own insecurity, confusion and ineptness about how to ask people to work with me, and how to handle it when the response was no. Here are 10 of the best ideas I took from it:
1. Rejection Is Human Let me start with a double negative: No one ever has NOT been rejected. You might be thinking that this doesn’t apply to the ultra-successful – not true! Every billionaire you’ve ever heard of has had more than their fair share of no’s before making it big, but you may not have heard about this discouraging part of their success story. So if you’ve been rejected, welcome to the human race. You probably first became aware of not getting what you asked for during your “terrible two’s,” and you’ve been bombarded by a ton of no’s since then, perhaps making you gun-shy in the process. The difference between the winners in life (defined as the happiest, most fulfilled people) and non-winners is the ability to get past their “request reluctance.” They keep on asking despite hearing the word no over and over, and accepting the outcome without it crushing their spirit.
2. Rejection Is an Opinion When you ask for what you want, people who deny your request have the opinion that your offering doesn’t work for them. In sales, the truth is MOST people will tell you they don’t want or need what you’re presenting. Note that this is their opinion, not a judgment on the quality of your product/service or a commentary on your character.
3. Rejection Has a Number I’m sure you’ve heard the time-worn saying “sales is a numbers game,” and that if you keep asking you’ll eventually get what you want. This cliché carries a grain of truth – if you can find out what caused others to say no you can improve your requests, which will encourage you to …
4. Ask “Why” Before Good-bye Getting feedback is critical to improving performance. When you get a no, try asking “Why not?” While this may not lead to acceptance of your proposal, you may find out the reason(s) you were denied so you can make future asks more effective. That will allow you to …
5. Switch Up, Don’t Give Up When you first start putting out requests to people to do something you want them to do, things usually don’t go smoothly. So when you get useful feedback, by all means adjust your approach so that you can eventually get to yes. Be patient – it may take weeks, or even months to get your pitch right. (Think “Thomas Edison/light bulb” – but I hope it doesn’t take you 10,000 tries!)
6. Give A “Why” You’ll have a better chance of your request at least be considered by others if you give people a reason why they should engage with you. Use a “benefit statement,” that describes how others will gain from what you have to offer. For example, I say something along the lines of, “I’d like to ask you some questions about your goals to determine if coaching can help you achieve them more quickly, or not.” (Note: The “or not” at the end gives people permission to say no, which helps them relax and open up since they know they have an out.
7. Target the Audience When introducing myself at networking groups years ago, I used to say I could coach any small business owner, entrepreneur or sales professional. The response was usually a blank stare with the comment, “Jim – that’s everyone here.” Now I say “I coach Financial Advisors around the US by phone to help them grow their clientele.” The responses are now, “Got it! My cousin works at Wells Fargo Advisors – let me connect you two.” So targeting your message to the right audience will make it much more likely you’ll get what you’re asking for.
8. Character Building In her breakthrough book Mindset, motivation researcher Carol Dweck distinguishes between individuals with a “fixed mindset,” who will go only so far on a task before giving up, with “growth mindset” people, who are willing to stick with a challenge for a much longer time. These people typically develop greater grit and determination to achieve their goals. Being willing to continue to ask for what you want despite numerous rejections is a way to grow your resilience muscle.
9. Detachment from Results Perhaps the most rational approach to what seems like an emotional subject is to realize that a no is “nuthin’ personal.” That’s not always easy to do, especially when you’re starting your career, trying to sell for the first time or even asking for a date. If you can get your head around the idea that however a no is delivered – kindly and sweetly or savagely mean – it had nothing to do with you, only that the other person didn’t want or need what you had to offer.
10. Motivation Finally, you can use rejection to fan the flame of your inner fire. Michael Jordan, considered by many (including myself) to be the greatest all-around player in NBA history, used put-downs from others to fuel his drive to be the best. It’s as if he was thinking, “Nobody’s gonna tell ME what I can or can’t do!” This can be a useful reaction when you get a no – to keep in mind months, or maybe years down the road, that someone who once turned you down is now saying yes because you didn’t let their no stop you.
The Bottom Line The fear of rejection is a learned fear – by the time they grow up, most people are so busy rejecting themselves they don’t give other people a chance to do it. The good news is that it can be unlearned. The Rejection Proof book is a good place to find out how Jia Jiang conquered his. But even if you don’t read it, just start asking for simple things you want and realize that even if you get a no, it won’t kill you. Happy asking!