Rejection sucks. And dealing with rejection does too! Perhaps you’re trying to get permission for a new project, or trying to influence a team member. Maybe you just want your boss to confirm you’re going in the right direction.
You psych yourself up, put yourself out there and then… a big fat ‘NO’.
Yes, they probably have their reasons and, yes, those reasons might even make sense. But all you hear is that dreaded two-letter word.
To make matters worse, your confidence takes a hit. So now, not only have you not got that thing you wanted, you also feel defeated, embarrassed, maybe even stupid.
Now, dealing with rejection is inevitable in life, especially if you’re a smart, forward-thinking professional. But it doesn’t actually have to suck. If you understand your automatic reaction to getting a ‘no’, you can manage your response and maybe even turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.
When you experience rejection, you typically go for one of two options: flight or fight.
If you go for flight, you back off, say ‘thanks very much’, and disconnect as quickly as you can. You walk away, both literally and mentally, which makes it very difficult to return. This reaction feels c**p, for both you and the person you pitched.
Okay, so how about fight? That’s got to be better, right? More empowering at least?
If you go for fight, the first word out of your mouth is probably going to be ‘why’? And if you’ve ever done any coaching with me, you’ll know that ‘why’ is rarely a good way to start a question.
Why? 😉 More often than not, ‘why’ comes from a place of judgement and challenge. It’s all but guaranteed to send the other person straight into fight mode themselves. And good luck winning them over from there.
Plus, while you’re doing all this fight/flight stuff, you’re also dealing with your own mental chatter. The ‘well, that was a rubbish idea’, ‘I should have known they’d never go for it,’ ‘I’m no good at explaining my ideas’ and so on.
It’s not a pretty picture.
What’s the Alternative?
We’ve ascertained that fight and flight aren’t great options and that beating yourself up isn’t going to get you anywhere either. So what can you do instead?
Step 1: Shift your perspective
‘No’ is never as simple as it sounds; it doesn’t have a single, fixed meaning..
I’m sure you can imagine a time when ‘no’ meant…
- No – not now – the timing isn’t right
- No – not this – I need something different
- No – it sounds interesting, but I don’t see how it solves my problem
- No – not in this format – I need it delivered differently
- No – I need you to focus on something else right now – someone else can handle this
Think of some ‘nos’ you’ve had in your life…
- No – you haven’t passed – you don’t know the material well enough yet
- No – this plan is very ambitious – I need something simpler
- No – the daytrip sounds fun but it’s not really my kind of thing
When you start to see the possible meanings and nuances of a ‘no’, your perspective begins to shift, which makes step 2 that much easier…
Step 2: Get curious
Curiosity is a great tool to use when you’re disappointed. It removes the negative energy that comes with ‘fight’ and guides you into a place where you can have a constructive conversation.
Your goal here is to find out what kind of ‘no’ you’re dealing with. Is the timing wrong? Are you not the right person to implement your idea? Is there a better way?
But remember, don’t use the word ‘why’; that will only make the other person defensive. You want them to open up and give you honest feedback, so try saying ‘tell me more’ instead.
Once you know what kind of ‘no’ you’re dealing with, you can pivot and find a way to turn it into a ‘yes’. And, even if you ultimately don’t get a green light, you can walk away knowing you stayed strong in the face of rejection.
So next time you want to deal with rejection, take a deep breath, shift your perspective, and get curious. There might be a ‘yes’ in there after all.