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How To Use Rejections Constructively

August 9, 2011

We have all done things that didn’t work out. But when you have an idea you have put your whole heart into, the last thing you hope to see are rejection letters or a blunt “no, not good enough”, or perhaps worse: no comment. Your brainchild is dead. Or so you might think. The truth is, rejections are never pleasant, but they are the hurdles you have to deal with if you want to get ahead with anything in the business world or just generally. You are one of many people who has things to say about what should be done and how. If you are confident about something, there is no reason to believe everyone else will automatically feel the same way. On top of this, the way you come across can have a considerable impact on how others perceive your work or suggestions. With the right mindset and tactics, you can improve your chances of gaining others’ approval and at the same time stay strong mentally.

Being realistic

The number one step to cope with rejections is to know what to expect. If you are in a business where hundreds of other people are trying to catch the attention of the influential few, a good idea is rarely enough to get through. This means that actually – rejections are not something you should take personally, but rather something you can expect as the norm. Arts professionals are painfully aware of this. We can, for example, learn a great deal from authors who, after putting weeks of effort into writing a novel, get rejected time and again. J.K Rowling pitched her first Harry Potter script a dozen times before she finally got the backing that ended up making her one of the richest and most influential authors today. Pandora’s founder Tim Westergren had to live with over 300 rejections before he got the financial backing needed to support his now hugely successful venture. There are countless such stories. For many successful people, the greatest failures have preceded their greatest success.

Using feedback to your advantage

Deciding if you should hold onto something is largely an intuitive process, but there needs to be a balance between what you think is great and what others think is great. If you cannot let go of an idea that does not address a real consumer demand, for example, you might produce something good, but you might also waste valuable time on something that will flop. Using rejections as helpful feedback about what has been done so far is a constructive way of turning disappointment into a positive learning experience. Often, the very act of pitching an idea helps to crystallize it in a way your mind can’t do on its own. Some entrepreneurs don’t have clear visions to start with, but develop them along the way. Consulting friends or colleagues who are particularly upfront about your work is a useful opportunity through which you can re-evaluate ideas. It’s typically rare to know exactly how to make your ideas more valuable to others from day one, so it is important to listen to people who do not let good manners get in the way of telling you the truth.

Communicating differently

The way you frame an idea can make or break a deal. A few storytelling techniques can help you get the interest you need to get a “yes” (we’ll explore this in later posts). For example, appealing to the rationality and common humanity of others is a good place to start. Try seeing your suggestions from a different point of view – your listener’s – and think about what the other person is mainly interested in. If you are trying to get permission to do something at work, it helps to emphasize how this will benefit others or the organization as a whole. If you are pitching something, imagine the kind of ideas the listener is used to hearing from others – and try to make yours stand out from what you think others typically do. Keeping the presentation simple is an effective way to get through to others. If things become complicated too early, others might instantly lose interest in trying to understand. However, if you manage to keep their attention throughout your pitch, there will be a much higher likelihood that they will want to dive into the more complicated aspects of your idea at a later stage.

Brilliant ideas don’t magically become a reality. With innovation, the best suggestions should ideally have the greatest impact, but it is really up to the individual to get these across to the right people. Assess your situation realistically and plan rational steps to maximize chances of approval.  In this way you can become more resilient and much more likely to stay cool until you get that nod of approval. So no matter how many times you are turned down, at least you’ll be in a better position to know what should be done next time.

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