How to Bounce Back from Hearing ‘No’

You’ve worked hard to hone your pitch, state your case and present your ask. And then someone says “no.”

What now?

Here are four ideas to help you bounce back:

1. Move on to what’s next.

My favorite TV series was the seemingly timeless political epic The West Wing. In it, Martin Sheen played the role of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. It  captured a fairly accurate portrayal of life in The White House. President Bartlet — whether triumphant in victory or suffering a crushing setback — always responded in the same manner: “What’s next?” That’s a brilliant example of how to handle any situation. Activate the next issue on your own agenda, and don’t deliberate over defeat. Autopsies are for medical examiners, not managers.

2. Realize that you’re not the problem.

In his groundbreaking work, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Ph.D. Martin Seligman wrote what should be required reading for every persuasion professional. He initially concentrated on the habits of explanation, or how people explain what most frequently happens to them. Those who were pessimistic (and less resilient) when facing setbacks would blame themselves: “I’m the reason this sale failed.” Optimists, on the other hand, (predisposed to being resilient) would blame the circumstances and then move on to the next challenge: “The buyer was in a bad mood, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Seligman notes that optimism won’t change what a salesperson says to the prospective buyer; rather, it will change what the salesperson says to himself after a negative exchange. Instead of telling himself, “I’m no good,” he might rationalize that “the client was too busy to fully consider my offer.” That particular target chose not to agree to your course of action at that particular time. That’s it. There is no connection to your worth as a person or the validity of your viewpoint.

3. Understand the external locus of learning.

For people who claim they already know what they need to know, a setback can be devastating. If, on the other hand, people believe their locus of learning is internal, they can shrug off the setback and tell themselves, I’ll have to get some coaching or read up on how to improve my presentation skills, so next time I’ll experience a better result. The world always seems a little brighter for these people, because they have more arrows in their quiver. You can always learn more about the subject, the target and/or the process of persuasion.

4. Ignore unsolicited feedback.

Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, tells the memorable story of how — following a rousing talk to a capacity crowd that gave him a standing ovation — a speech coach approached him and asked if she could provide some feedback. “Is there anything on the planet that might stop you?” Weiss wisecracked in his own inimitable way. She proceeded to tell him that she couldn’t concentrate on his message, because he always moved around on stage, and that he should stand still to make a point. My point: Pay no attention to suggestions of your so-called “supporters” — especially if they tell you that you should have tried harder or danced on the ceiling. Instead, seek out constructive feedback from credible individuals you trust.

Next time, I’ll explore four more ways to bounce back after hearing “no.”

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