Is Fear of Rejection Impeding Your Success?

by Sheryl Nance-Nash on August 18, 2014
afraid fear business woman with hands on head

There’s a two-letter word that can really hurt your success as an entrepreneur: No.

Fear of rejection extends past worrying about being turned down for a date. In business, if you can’t hear the word “no” without walking away crushed, you may not be in business long. Learning to be persistent, to keep knocking until the door opens, is key to profits and prosperity.

We caught up with Tom Panaggio, author of The Risk Advantage, to discuss how to recognize and move past fear of rejection in business.

QuickBooks: What makes rejection so tough?

Panaggio: We are social animals. We like to have acceptance. When someone says to us, “No, that doesn’t fit my needs,” our ego is bruised and we don’t feel good about ourselves. These feelings culminate in what we really fear about rejection.

What are some signs that you are afraid of rejection?

The classic example is how you face picking up the telephone. Every entrepreneur has to be a salesperson, whether it’s to solicit partners, vendors, asking for funding, or any number of other situations. You are so sure you are going to get a “no” when you call that you don’t pick up the phone. If you’re reluctant to make calls, you are the poster child of risk avoiders.

What’s the difference between entrepreneurs who let rejection stop them and those who don’t? 

It comes down to whether you take it personally or not. The person who pushes past the rejection is the one who doesn’t take it personally. It’s not personal, it’s business. You have to have a thick skin. One of the best salesmen I ever had was so insecure that he wanted to prove he was good. You could kick him and he would push through. Actors and singers understand that they have to push through the fear of rejection, and they just go for it.

Rejection is really about negative assumptions isn’t it?

Yes. People have to stop assuming. How can you know that someone won’t say “yes”? Get rid of preconceived, negative assumptions. If you think negatively, the person you’re dealing with will be able to tell by your mannerisms that you’re not confident and they’ll say, “This guy or gal doesn’t have conviction about what they’re presenting.” You create doubt, which may mean no deal.

Is procrastination fear of rejection in disguise?

It can be a struggle to keep on with something, especially when it’s hard. I just finished an article that I wasn’t really qualified to write, but I did it. I struggled through it. In business, it can be difficult to go and ask for funding — or even when negotiating a contract with a vendor, an entrepreneur may not ask for all that they want because they’re afraid of a “no” answer. So these tasks, though they are important, are avoided as long as possible.

They tell themselves that they have to make their plan better, their presentation better. They keep pushing it off. Instead, set deadlines and objectives, have the attitude that you will make something happen.

How important is it to spend time on your positioning?

When it comes time to meet with a potential buyer, prospective investors, or anyone they have to give more than an elevator speech to, entrepreneurs can get all worked up and go overboard talking up product features products or services. They can forget that it’s not only what you do, but who you are that’s important to people. This is an age of specialization.

Say you have an auto repair shop. Your thing is that you work on high-margin vehicles. Sure, you can fix a Toyota, but you specialize in Mercedes and Jaguar. You are a high-end auto mechanic — that’s the position, who you are. Or say you sell paper for printers: Paper is paper. You have to sell you, not the paper. You are the product. In the end, your personality and your credibility count, and they separate you from the competition.

What’s the best response to being told “no”?

Before a meeting with a vendor, supplier, or banker, for example, anticipate the different scenarios that might play out. Think about the best way to respond if you get a “no” answer.

You don’t kick the desk over. Put your pride aside, never burn bridges. You don’t know when you may have to walk back across one. It just wasn’t time for them to buy. It’s OK to ask why today isn’t a good time. People generally will tell you.

What are some surprising benefits of rejection?

A determined individual will realize that maybe it was some flaw in their presentation, mannerism, or a poor response to a question, and next time better prepare to overcome objections or obstacles that may have caused the rejection. Learn from your mistakes. Rejection is nothing more than a failure, but failure is not defeat. You can overcome failure, but defeat is final. The real tragedy of rejection is if, after you’re told “no,” you do nothing to reduce the chance of another rejection.

You have plenty of advice about overcoming rejection. What’s been your own experience?

I was in a direct-marketing company when we made a presentation to a large company whose business would have been significant for our business. They rejected us. They said they didn’t like the look of our envelopes. That was ridiculous. We told them we could tweak the envelope. It must have been another reason why they rejected us. We were so crushed. That was a huge opportunity. It sucked the wind out of us. But you get over it, get back out there. Life goes on.

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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