Why you should pursue rejection

Each rejection will be easier than the last. valentinrussanov

The word “no” can be hard to hear.

Earlier in the year, I was managing several business opportunities, all at various stages of negotiation, and noticed a disturbing trend. While I was very good at opening doors and establishing relationships, I wasn’t so good at closing the deal. I could not push the conversation to a point where a decision would have to be made. I physically felt sick at the possibility of hearing “no” and procrastinated. I suggested next steps and more meetings, preferring to cling to “maybe” than risk a “no”.

As a result, nothing happened. I rarely heard “yes”, for I always left prospective partners with “maybe” as an option. A wise mentor observed, “No one will say yes today when they think they can say yes next week.” I trace my fear of rejection to when I was nine years old and I had my first crush on a boy. Cameron was a year older, had stick-out ears, two shortened fingers from an accident in woodwork and a huge gap in his front teeth. I didn’t care: he was charismatic, popular, and made us all laugh. I was in love.

I didn’t know how best to express my feelings at this tender age, so I wrote a letter. “Dear Cameron, I think you’re cute. Will you go around with me? Love Becky.” That afternoon I skipped up to him after school and handed him the note. Next morning as I walked into class, everyone turned; lines of nine-year-olds pointing and laughing. Cameron stood at the noticeboard grinning widely. He had pinned up my note for all to see.

I shrivelled up, humiliated

This is the first time I remember making a social request and getting “no” in response. Only recently have I realised how much this and other early experiences of “no” continue to influence aspects of my life, including business. The thought of “no” still strikes fear into my heart: a fear that stops me from achieving. Unless I could overcome my fear, I’d never close the important business deals I needed to reach my career goals. I decided to tackle the challenge.

Here are some of my strategies:

1. Eliminate time-wasters

I had a huge number of deals on the go and added more each week as I obtained more introductions. I didn’t want to lose any prospective partners but realised that for every deal I lost, I would have more time to focus on the few that signed up. One or two significant partners mean so much more than a list of prospects.

2. Practise closing

I read an excellent book, Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, and spoke to several friends, all expert closers, for advice. I learnt all the techniques, such as what questions to ask when. I used the scarcity principle and set deadlines for a response. Next, I poured concrete down my nerves and held the hard conversations. At first it was terrifying. Every “no” stabbed me in the heart. I hated those emails. But each rejection was easier than the last and eventually I toughened up.

3. No doesn’t always mean no

If I really want something, I’ll go after it: “no” is but a step towards a “yes”. I’d wanted someone to join our advisory board for years, yet had never pressured him for a decision. But as the business progressed, I needed an answer. He called me into his office and said, “Sorry, but I’m a no.” For a couple of days I was disappointed. The following Monday, I had new information: we’d achieved something that I knew would appeal to him. I invited him out to coffee and again asked him to become an adviser. At first, he appeared perplexed – had we not held this conversation last week? I ignored his puzzlement and continued. At the end of our meeting, we were back to “maybe” and weeks later achieved a “yes”. A “yes” is so much more satisfying when it follows a “no”.

As children, we are open about what we want. We’re happy to reject other people’s requests and we accept that we may not always have our own way. I didn’t think twice about giving Cameron a note outlining what I wanted. But when he said, “No” so publicly, I was hurt. Next time, I thought, I will be more circumspect. I expect many of us have similar “no” traumas from our youth. Rejection hurts, so we learn to avoid putting ourselves in the position where we could hear it and strive to avoid hurting others by saying it to them. As a result, we don’t make direct requests or give direct responses. We leave things hanging in the world of “maybe”, which wastes time. I have learnt that “no” is a powerful word that should be pursued, not feared.


CATEGORY: Australian Financial Review, Leadership, Personal Development

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