5 Habits to Help You Handle Rejection Gracefully

UPDATED: May 28, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 24, 2022
5 Habits to Help You Handle Rejection Gracefully

Are you paralyzed by fear? Too many entrepreneurs, business owners and salespeople panic at the thought of hearing the word no. I understand why. If you’re like most people, your earliest memories from childhood sounded like, “No! You can’t have the cookie.” “No! You can’t go outside now.” From an early age, we learned to recoil at the word.

But if you can’t overcome your resistance to the word no, you’ll never be able to achieve your goals. As my colleague puts it, “Get out on the skinny branches.” He likened success to climbing out on the skinny branches of a tree. “The most important success virtue is courage,” he says. Top performers take chances. They create strategies to face rejection and accept that failure is a necessary stop on the road to success.

Throughout the years, I’ve developed methods that help me face my fears and cultivate courage where I thought none existed. Here are five that have worked well for me.

1. Let the word no fuel you.

Think for a moment about our heroes, successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders, and their accomplishments. I guarantee they’ve all made their mark in the face of massive opposition. Once you realize that, you can, too.

  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by dozens of publishers before the Harry Potter series was picked up by a small London publishing house—all because her 8-year-old daughter persisted and insisted that Rowling continue to submit her manuscript.
  • Decca Records told the Beatles, “We don’t like the sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
  • In Black’s Law Dictionary, 3rd edition (published prior to 1969), the definition of commercial impossibility is “a trip to the moon.”

Courage is the virtue that enables people to move through rejection and become stronger. No one will ever escape pain, suffering and failure. Yet from pain can come courage, and from courage comes strength and success.

2. Take massive action.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”—Nelson Mandela

  • The call you’re afraid to make is the call you must make.
  • The question you’re afraid to ask is the question you must ask.
  • The conversation you’re most afraid to have, you must have.

Try it. Right now, make a list of the 10 people you are most afraid or embarrassed to contact. The big accounts, the ones you’re not ready to call, the scary ones. That’s the easy part. The hard part—but the most satisfying part—comes next. Pick up the phone, knock on the door, reach out to those people, and go for what you want.

3. Confront your fears.

We all have fears, and I’m no exception. But when I distinguish exactly what my fears are and ask myself, What’s the worst thing that can happen? I feel less scared. In reality, the worst that can happen is that I might feel embarrassed or unworthy—and that’s not as bad as not going for what I want.

The best thing you can do when you’re afraid is to take a chance, be bold and tell a friend or mentor exactly what your biggest fears are.

Here are mine:

  • I’ll never be as good as (fill in the blank: my mother, my brother, my colleagues, my competitors).
  • I really don’t know what I’m doing; I’m in over my head.
  • I won’t have anything new to say.
  • I’m a has-been.
  • People will laugh at me.
  • My life won’t make a difference.

Ugh. That was hard. But I feel better now, and so will you if you try it. Take a moment and write down your biggest fears. What’s the worst thing that could happen if…?

4. Navigate the no.

Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. When you expand your competence, you increase your courage.

You’ll get no’s at every stage of business:

  • Prospecting: CEOs, lenders or potential candidates don’t return your calls. Your emails go unanswered, and people who promise to get back to you disappear like Houdini.
  • During a negotiation: Their arms are folded, their iPhone is more intriguing than your stories, and they suddenly need to leave for an urgent meeting.
  • Objections: They read you a laundry list of what’s wrong: why the competition is better, your product is too expensive and your customer service is lousy.

The following techniques are useful whenever you hear no.

  • Listen fully before you respond. Don’t become defensive. Breathe. Let the other person finish their train of thought. Now ask yourself, Is this a deal killer? Many objections are valid; the other party just needs more information. Some test you to gauge if you’ll answer their concerns truthfully.
  • Answer a question with a question. Listen fully and clarify their no with a question. This is an extremely effective way to reduce ambiguity. Remember that questions are often objections in disguise.
  • Know when to isolate a no. You’ve had it happen before: They rattle off question after question, concern after concern. It sounds like an endless sea of no’s. Don’t give up. Instead, ask a question that isolates their concern, and listen carefully to the response.

5. Use humor.

When it comes to negotiating, hiring or pitching, “No never means no.” It takes tenacity and courage to achieve what you want. When you hear no, go around, through and on top of it in order to make the sale, get the deal or beat your competition.

Average entrepreneurs say things like, “I left a message and he didn’t call back… I sent an email but didn’t get an answer… She must not be interested.” These days, people are busier than ever, and on information overload. If their first response is no, it might not be that they’re not interested; it’s just that your priority isn’t their priority until you make it so. Surprise! The last thing you want to do is continually pitch someone in the same way with the same message. Try something creative.

For example, I obtained one of my biggest contracts to date by sending a pizza and poem to a busy executive who simply wouldn’t return my calls. His assistant repeatedly told me, “He’s in a meeting.” I thought, Geez, this poor guy is always in a meeting. He probably never gets out for a walk or ducks out at lunch for a workout. I’m not sure he even eats!

“Has he eaten lunch yet?” I asked his assistant.


“What’s the best pizza place around?” I asked.

“Pauli’s, just down the street.”

“Great,” I replied. “I’m going to buy Simon a pizza and have it sent to the office. I’ll order enough for everyone. Oh, and I’m going to fax a poem to you. Do you mind attaching it to the pizza box for me before you bring him the pizza?” She giggled and did as I asked. The poem read:

Is it sunny or is it raining?

The weather’s always good with online training.

I know you’re busy playing business and banker.

But isn’t it time we set down our anchor?

Think of the increased volume it will yield.

The consistent messaging out in the field.

So when you’re done with that last pepperoni.

Pick up the phone and let’s make some money!

Did I hear back? You guessed it! I got a call in 90 minutes. It ended up being a very large deal.

Courage isn’t something that happens to you; it’s generated by your actions. Courage must be practiced. If you wait to take action until the fear goes away, your inspiration might never come.

This article was published in June 2017 and has been updated. Photo by @ulza/Twenty20