How to Show Grace in the Face of Rejection

What do you do when you’ve run out of persuasion options? Welcome to the NFL.

Let’s face it: Over the course of your career, you’re going to get rejected more than once. If you’re not hearing “no” at least some of the time, you’re probably not stretching yourself enough. That said, how should you respond in that moment of rejection?

  • Don’t get angry. That will just further push away your target.
  • Do show disappointment. No need to wear a tough poker face after the proposal you spent so much time and energy on gets turned down. As a matter of fact, if you don’t appear a little disappointed, your target could think your pitch wasn’t all that important to you.
  • Do remain respectful. How? By using power language: “Well, of course I’m disappointed. But I’d like to thank you for giving the idea such careful consideration.”

In the 1968 movie The Lion in Winter — set in in England in 1183 — King Henry II has imprisoned his conniving sons, Princes Geoffrey and Richard, in the wine cellar. When they think they hear their father coming down the stairs to kill them, this exchange occurs:

Prince Richard: He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.

Prince Geoffrey: My, you chivalric fool — as if the way one fell down mattered.

Prince Richard: When the fall is all that is, it matters.

Show grace in the face of rejection.

What Do Mirrors Have to Do with Effective Persuasion?

I still remember a classic cartoon in The New Yorker that depicted a hiring manager and a job candidate sitting across a desk from each other, looking like mirror images. The hiring manager said, “I don’t know what it is about you, but I really like you!”

You look like me, and I like that about you.

Behavioral reflection can create more agreement, faster. It’s imperative to mirror your target’s body language, but the key is subtlety. If your target knows he or she is being mimicked, your persuasion prospects are greatly diminished.

It’s dangerous to hire, befriend, or support only those people who resemble us, and that’s not the point here. But making others feel comfortable by your actions is strong persuasion. That can be accomplished by “mimicking” (and I mean that in the best possible sense of the term; mimicking is not “mocking”) others’ own comfort zones.

The most obvious behavioral reflections include examples you probably already feature in your repertoire: Don’t remain seated if someone who is standing begins speaking with you. Smile if the other person smiles in greeting. Show proper facial expressions as the conversations develops. Don’t begin eating until everyone at the table has been served and your host begins to eat.

Those should be fairly obvious (though in today’s educational environment and lax society, you can never be sure). But what about more subtle forms?
Look at the person speaking, but don’t reveal any indication that you might be skeptical or feel exasperated. Don’t shift nervously, and attempt to match the speaker’s own level of energy and excitement, or his low-key minimalist nature. This is not manipulative body language; rather it comforts, enhances communication, and strengthens your persuasion power.

Reflect on situations you expect to be in and the people you expect to join you. Rather than constantly interrupt someone who needs to “think out loud,” exhibit patience and make that person feel at ease with his own cognitive processes. Similarly, don’t demand that someone who doesn’t get excited join in your excitement. Moderate your tone, and never insist on your own comfort. If people prefer to stand and converse, or chat over a meal, or sit in casual furniture, or walk about the property, join them. The more comfortable they are, the more likely they will be to listen to your case.

In new situations, take time to observe and evaluate the other person’s preferences. Mirror what you see. In ongoing situations, prepare accordingly for what you’ve experienced in the past. The key to the artistry of persuasion is flexibility — not some perfect style or behavioral predisposition.

All of this is simple to understand but may require time and practice in perfecting. Amazing things can happen when you adjust to environmental conditions in order to make your point.

How Your Face Can Betray Your Words

A biotech marketing director once asked me, “Mark, how do I get my team onboard with a program I don’t believe in?”

My immediate, slightly sarcastic mental response: There’s no magical approach.

My actual response: “You can’t.”

Your external actions and internal thoughts must be aligned. I call this “congruency.”

A Harley-Davidson dealer wanted my help increasing sales of new motorcycles at his store. So I did what consultants do: I evaluated the market, employee skills, dealership processes and the like. Improvements could be made, but something else was wrong. When I casually asked the motorcycle sales manager what kind of motorcycle he rode, he replied, “Oh, I don’t ride motorcycles. They’re overpriced and dangerous.”

Mystery solved.

If that sales manager didn’t support what he was selling, how in the world could he convince his customers? If you are promoting a product, an idea or an initiative, ethically you need to believe in it. And even if we were to put the ethical issue aside for a moment, if you don’t believe in what you’re talking about, your facial expressions and body language will give you away.

In 1966, two social scientists by the last names of Haggard and Isaacs filmed husbands and wives engaging in difficult conversations. Who manages the money? How should we raise the kids? All sorts of emotionally charged issues were discussed during these therapy sessions. During the exchanges, Haggard and Isaacs took notes on even the briefest facial expressions made by the couples and discovered what they called “micromomentary facial expressions” — commonly referred to today as microexpressions.

Microexpressions last between 1/5 and 1/25 of a second and typically occur during high-stakes conversations when someone has something to lose or gain, and at least one person is attempting to suppress his or her true feelings about something. Subsequently, the other person almost always senses this disconnect.

Is your mouth saying something different than your face?

Men, Women and the Truth: What You Need To Know To Hear ‘Yes’ From Both

Men and Women

Remember that old “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” shtick? What did that really mean?

Here are 10 ways, based on real science, to help you break down gender differences in everything from networking to negotiating:

1. Men often overstate their abilities; women understate them.

Do your best to find the truth somewhere in the middle.

2. To men, “help” is a four-letter word.

Don’t give it to them unless they ask.

3. Men buy; women shop.

Keep that in mind when determining how slow or fast you should move.

4. Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.

Differences in estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin affect moods, behaviors and decisions.

5. Gender behavior changes with age.

As men and women get older, testosterone and estrogen levels decrease respectively. This results in women becoming more assertive and men more accommodating.

6. Men decide; women ruminate.

After making a decision, the male brain shuts off. Female brains, however, continue to worry and second-guess. So when a female colleague says, “I’ll have to think about it,” that usually means she does need to think about it.

7. Women are better at negotiating for a group; men are better at negotiating for themselves.

Think about this when appointing project leaders.

8. Women tend to avoid conflict situations; men tend to avoid emotional scenes.

Again, this is an important consideration when assigning tasks.

9. Women respond better to stories than facts.

It may take you longer to state your case, but that’s not the point.

10. Women have better peripheral vision and will most likely notice that family photo on your desk.

What better way to get to know your new boss than having her ask about your spouse and kids!

(Photo by flashcurd via

Use Your Eyes to Hear ‘Yes’ More Often

Considering how many scientific studies have been devoted to eyes over the past three decades, perhaps they truly are the windows to our souls.

As far back as the 1980s, researchers have claimed that people perceive individuals who engage in eye contact as more trustworthy and likable than those who don’t. When you’re in the process of persuading someone, making eye contact with that person helps him or her better process your sales pitch, your terrific idea or your request for more time off.

Research reported by The New York Times and Psychology Today suggests other reasons why, when it comes to persuasion, the eyes have it:

  • A genuine smile can be detected by the narrowing of the eyes, creating lines at the outside corners. People who “fake smile” don’t have crow’s feet.
  • Dilated pupils indicate interest. When dilation happens in the person your attempting to persuade, you’ll know you’re closer to hearing “yes.”
  • Eye contact clears the path to enhanced and more meaningful conversation, because the two of you are now connecting on a stronger level.

Two caveats:

  • Some scientists claim the use of smiley faces and other emoticons in email and text messages is an attempt by the sender to make “eye contact” with the recipient. Scientists also say that approach doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes when engaged in the process of lying, people try too hard to deceive and make too much eye contact. When telling the truth — which should be all the time, especially when in the act of persuading — look but don’t stare.

Remember: The eyes really do have it.