Last Updated May 24, 2007 1:06 PM EDT
Suppose you make a cold call and the prospect hangs up on you. While that's a textbook "rejection", the truth is that the prospect's reaction has nothing to do with you. What's actually happened is that you accidentally broke the prospect's rules. You had no way of knowing that the prospect was busy and that the prospect thinks it's OK to hang up on unfamiliar callers.
Now it may very well be true that if you said something different or called at a different time, you might have made a sale, but that's just a fiction that you're making up in your mind. If you had called at a different time, the prospect might just as easily have added a expletive before hanging up and then sent a memo directing the company to never buy from you ever again.
The prospect's reaction really didn't have anything to do you with personally, because anybody else taking the same action at the same time would have gotten the exact same result. You simply you took an action that didn't work. The "rejection" part of the story is just a hallucination that your emotions are creating in order to "explain" what happened.
I learned this lesson not through sales but through dating. Most men, when they approach a woman to ask for a date, have a terrible, even crippling, fear of rejection. I remember watching a friend of mine literally drenched in sweat trying to keep a conversation going with an attractive lady. I knew he'd never screw up the courage to ask her out, even though she was clearly interested. And he didn't.
I was originally pretty much like my friend (a little more outgoing, but still--) until it finally occurred to me that some women weren't going to go out with me, regardless of what I said or did â€" simply because I didn't fit their rules of what they were looking for in a prospective mate.
For example, I pursued one woman on and off for the better part of a year, without noticing that the guys she actually dated were short, dark-complexioned musicians with dreadlocks. Now, I think I'm reasonably attractive, but I'm 6'1", with blond straight hair and skin the color of a beached dolphin. And the last time I picked up a guitar was in college, and that was to move it out of the way of my computer keyboard.
There was no way in hell that that woman was going to go out with me, regardless of what I said or did. So where was the "rejection?" It didn't have anything to do with me. It was all about her and her rules for what she thought was attractive. And that sure wasn't me. The minute I figured that out, the fear of "rejection" became irrelevant. Because the idea of approaching women no longer scared me, I could concentrate on being polite and personable, rather than on the endless struggle to overcome my fear.
Did I get "rejected?" Plenty of times, but the event had lost its sting, making it absurdly easy to pick myself up, dust myself off, and simply try again. More importantly, I eventually ended up approaching one woman (whom I never would have dared to approach in the past) who's now my wife.
You see, the problem with fear of rejection is that, once it's got hold of you, it gets stronger and more debilitating the higher you set your sights. Once you realize that "rejection" is just a fantasy, you can focus on noticing what works and what doesn't, and on changing your approach to make the most of what you've got to offer.
I once asked Art Mortell, author of the The Courage to Fail, the secret of dealing positively with rejection. He said: "Five words. Do Not Take It Personally. Look, kid, things happen. Customers have lousy days. The economy goes down. It rains. It snows. Sometimes it snows on you. It's up to you to decide whether or not those events are an excuse for failure. In the end, only four things are under your control: your beliefs, your attitude, your emotions and your actions. If you take care of them, good results are inevitable."