Rejection: It’s Not About You

Article by C.J. HaydenOne of the most persistent barriers to success for self-employed professionals is fear of rejection. Sometimes this fear is quite conscious. You know that you are avoiding marketing and sales because you’re afraid your prospects will say no.

Other times the fear is lurking in the background, making an impact you’re not always aware of. You may find yourself procrastinating about making a phone call or setting up a sales appointment, and blame it on laziness or poor time management. Or you may avoid following up because you “don’t want to bug people.” Or perhaps it feels pushy to ask directly for a sale.

Phone call Or maybe it just seems easier to spend time posting to Facebook or Twitter, or spend money buying pay-per-click ads, than it does to have a one-to-one conversation with a prospect who has expressed interest in your services.

But what this subtle resistance to direct contact with your prospects usually indicates is that you are — consciously or unconsciously — avoiding situations where you might be told no.

There is no question that it can be confronting to ask someone to hire you. The possibility of being rejected may bring up every ounce of psychological baggage you are hauling around with you from the past. You may remember being chosen last for volleyball games, or told not to tag along with your older siblings, or excluded from a clique at school.

You may not even be aware these old memories of rejection are being triggered. You just notice how hard it is to make calls or go to networking events or follow up on leads, and you do something else instead.

But the reality is that if you don’t turn around and face your fear of rejection, it’s eventually going to bite you in the butt. It’s going to keep you from making contacts you need to make, cause you to walk away from sales you could have closed, and force you into choosing easier — but much less effective — ways to get clients.

Here is where to begin. You must recognize that rejection is not about you. When a prospect decides not to do business with you, it’s a commercial transaction. Your prospect is deciding whether or not to spend his own or his employer’s money on purchasing a certain service. His choice has nothing whatsoever to do with your worth as a person, or even your abilities as a professional.

The number of factors that go into your prospect’s decision are innumerable. And frequently, what you are told about why she doesn’t want to hire you isn’t the full story. Even when it sounds like it’s about you, it really isn’t.

When a prospect says she thinks you are too expensive, what she actually means is that she’s choosing to spend that money on something else, or that she values low price over high quality, or that she never meant to act in the first place because she doesn’t have an appropriate budget. None of this is about you.

A prospect who tells you that he found someone else more qualified simply means that there’s another person in your market who happens to have experience more relevant than your own, or that the other person hired a better copywriter, or that your prospect thinks qualifications on paper mean more than real-world experience. Also not about you.

If you’re told that the competition has better references, it means that they were referred by someone the prospect knows personally, or they worked for a big name the prospect recognizes, or the prospect got lazy after checking their references and never called yours. Not about you.

And most of the time what prospects tell you doesn’t even sound like it’s about you. They say, “not now,” “let me think about it,” or “I’m not ready.” Certainly none of that is about you.

Of course it’s disappointing to lose a sale, but the real problem is when you allow the possibility of a disappointment to stop you from seeking sales at all.

If you miss the bus occasionally, do you stop taking the bus to work? If you sometimes lose at cards, do you refuse to play any more? If you have a less-than-enjoyable first date with someone, do you give up dating forever?

No. You recognize that it would be unreasonable to expect the bus to always arrive on your schedule, or to win at cards every time you play, or for every first date to turn into marriage.

Then why should you allow the possibility of hearing someone say no stop you from making phone calls, or following up on leads, or setting up meetings to discuss working together?

The next time a prospect tells you she doesn’t want to hire you right now or he prefers to work with someone else, don’t allow yourself to translate that refusal to do business into a personal rejection. Prospects who say no are not suggesting there is something wrong with you. They aren’t even talking about you; they are talking about themselves.

Instead, hear a no as what it truly is: a business decision based on a current set of circumstances that exist in the life, career, or workplace of your prospects. It’s about their time, their money, their needs, their preferences, their priorities. It’s not about you at all.

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Reader Comments

C.J., Brilliant take on rejection.

When the guy at McD asks if you want fries with that and you say no, he doesn’t take it personally. Meaning that fast-food clerks may be further evolved than soloprofessionals?


Thanks, Diana. That’s so true! But seriously, it’s because the guy at McD doesn’t collapse the fries with his identity, and we solo professionals tend to believe our professional services represent who we are in the world.

I regard rejection as a compliment. Others see my situation differently; I might think our service is for them but they know that it’s not. Their reason for declining is immaterial: what’s important is that rejection is their way of helping me to avoid going the wrong way for me.

I love that perspective, Michael! So much more helpful than letting rejection get you down.