Being told ‘no, thanks’ or ‘not at this stage’ or ‘come back, when you have done x’ are phrases that every startup founder or established entrepreneur will have heard multiple times. These are active rejections, where the other party engages and provides an answer. Passive rejections are those where entrepreneurs are being ignored: emails or letters don’t receive an acknowledgement, let alone an answer, phone messages are not returned or agreed actions are not being completed. With passive rejections there is usually no further engagement from the other party.
Rejections are a fact of life, active or passive. Whilst we often intellectually know this, and even expect a fair amount of rejection in the course of our normal lives, they often affect us mentally and emotionally. Especially when we believe we have the best idea anyone can have, are super committed and have done all the preparation we could think of, rejections can feel disheartening and demotivating. After a series rejections or when a ‘yes’ was pivotal to us and our business, we can sometimes even get to the point of wanting to give up.
Human beings are meaning making machines. We tend to make meaning of everything. We also want to be liked by others. Therefore, rejections often trigger meanings of ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I failed’ or ‘I am not wanted’ in a lot of people. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb, has a great mindset: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” If he had given up, we might still be burning candles now.
As entrepreneurs, we need to adopt a mindset of NOT taking things personally. Instead, with rejections, a good mindset to adopt is: OK, it did not work this time. What can do I do to get even better at this? and take action.
A ‘no’ often means ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘this is outside my comfort zone’. Whether you are trying to get funding, signing up customers or trying to interest others in collaborating with you, people often reject what they don’t understand or what appears to be outside their comfort zone.
The great thing is this rejection is active, so you still have engagement. This allows you to ask questions that will help you to discover the reasons for the ‘no’ and sometimes even get a second chance.
Some great questions to ask are::
What would you need from me for you to be able to say yes?
What is important to you about/when xxxx (insert your meeting purpose here)?
Do what every entrepreneur excels at: ‘thinking and doing outside the box’. Use rejection as a challenge to find another way. For example, if you did not get the funding you needed, discover other ways on how to build your business. This might involve offering shares to like minded people, collaborating with others by exchanging time/skills or recruiting eager students who need dissertation placements. Just looking at the problem differently often helps to find a different solution.
4. Don’t go it alone
Entrepreneurs often believe they have to go it alone or they are the only ones who experience rejections. Talk to other entrepreneurs, seek out mentors who have been there and done it, and reach out to people who have connections that can help you. It often surprising how quickly a situation unlocks with the right piece of advice or introduction.
5. Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes
Start ups in particular often shake up existing ways of doing things through innovative ideas, new ways of doing things and having a different mindset. Being different and not fitting into traditional business structures and processes can initially invite rejection. Before going into a business meeting it can be transformational to imagine what the world is like from the other person’s perspective. Understanding their expectations and their thinking can help you shape how and what you present to them. Often this removes potential differences and objections that trigger the ‘no’.
Dealing with rejections well, takes practice. It takes preparation in terms of getting into the right mindset or preparing by adopting the other party’s perspective. It also takes reflective work after the event (whether you got a yes or a no) so you can learn from the experience and build on it. It is incredibly useful to practice anytime you have any business or even personal interaction until it becomes second nature.