Getting Good at Getting Rejected

Here’s what’s great about getting rejected! Many of life’s most desirable experiences and meaningful relationships come from asking for what you want. If you’re too afraid of getting rejected, you won’t ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get it. It takes courage to ask, and to risk rejection.

If you just got rejected, the first thing you should do is pat yourself on the back for having the courage to risk asking, applying, auditioning, suggesting, proposing, or negotiating. Well done! I’m sorry you didn’t get what you wished for, but nice work asking. I mean, the better you get at asking, the more often you’ll be met with yes instead of no. And you’ll only get good at asking if you practice.

The path to an awesome life is paved with rejections. To practice asking for what you want, so that you keep getting better results, also means you’ll get rejected a lot along the way. Since rejection is a necessary part of the process, you might as well get good at getting rejected.

The art of rejection has two components. First, you want to learn how the moment of rejection itself can become a beneficial experience for both the rejecter and the rejectee. Second, you want to set up a support structure to help you handle the emotional challenge of getting rejected. Here’s how to do both . . .

View Video Transcript
Getting Good at Getting Rejected
Steve Bearman
November 12, 2013

If you want an awesome life filled with the activities you most want to be a engaged in and populated by the people you most wanna engage in those activities with then you have to get good at rejecting and, even more importantly, you have to get good at getting rejected. Now why is rejection so important? From the perspective of doing the rejecting it might be obvious. Life is full of opportunities and invitations, both explicit and implicit and you want to be able to reject and refuse some of those opportunities and invitations. You want to be able to filter out the ones that don’t serve you becoming who you want to become and say no to the people who don’t move and inspire you. You need to do that to make room for the things that you do most want in your life and you get that by saying no, by rejecting. What’s not as obvious is why it’s important to get good at getting rejected, however many important experiences and meaningful relationships in life come from asking for what you want. If you’re afraid of getting rejected then you will not ask for what you want and if you don’t ask for what you want you definitely won’t get it. It’s like if you think about wanting to ask someone out who you think there’s a very good chance that they’ll say no to you. Let’s say that they have a 90-percent chance of saying no. Well if you don’t ask them out there’s 100-percent chance that they’ll reject you. There’s 100-percent chance they’ll say no. Your chances are always better if you ask than if you don’t and if you want to get your chances even better than that then you have to get good asking and you get good at asking by awkwardly fumbling your way through the process and being bad at it and failing and getting rejected along the way. I would even say that those of us who have lives richly populated with the things and people we most want in them we’ve got that only to the extent that we’ve been willing to risk getting rejected and we’ve gotten a lot of rejections. It’s like the path to an awesome life is paved with rejections. Okay so maybe now I’ve [laughs] convinced you that it’s important to get good at this but how do you do it? I mean it’s not easy. Many of us don’t reject when we should because we feel guilty about it or we don’t risk getting rejected by asking because it’s painful or shameful especially for some of us to get rejected. Well there are a couple components to the art of rejection. There’s two of them. First is that it’s possible to create a moment of rejection that’s a beneficial experience for both rejecter and the rejectee. The second component to the art of rejection is that for many of us it’s important for us to build an emotional support structure to be able to support us in dealing with the feelings that come from getting rejected. Especially if you’re sensitive to rejection you need this. Let’s talk about the first one first. How is it that you create a meaningful moment for both the rejecter and the rejectee? Well if you’re the one doing the rejecting [laughs] you won’t be able to give good no. How do you give good no? Well you’re having an experience with the person who’s asking you for something. You don’t wanna say yes. You don’t wanna create further experiences with them but you’re having an experience with them already right now in this moment and so you wanna see can you make this an experience of meaningful human contact for both of you since it’s already happened and the way some people try to do this is that they care about the person enough, even if they don’t know them, to wanna let them down easy and they don’t wanna hurt their feelings and so they do this by bullshitting. They make a bunch of excuses. They kind of talk around the no instead of being direct about it and that’s not giving good no. That’s of no use to the other person. If you’re bullshitting them they don’t know why it is that they’re being told no. They’re not getting any feedback. They can’t learn from the experience. It’s much better if you’re direct and tell the truth and the easiest way to do that is just to keep it simple, you know? You can just offer a simple no. You can say something like, “Thank you for your offer. I’m going to decline but I appreciate you asking.” That’s a really graceful way to say no and especially if you really do [laughs] appreciate them asking and if there’s anything else you do appreciate about how they asked you or if it felt good to be asked even though you’re saying no tell them that, too. If you have a counteroffer, if you have something you’d like to propose instead of what they asked for you can suggest that. They may reject that. [Laughs] There’s a risk in that, too, but offer that but if you don’t have a counteroffer, if you don’t have anything you appreciate, just keep it simple. Be real about it. It can be tricky to do this. If you don’t know how to sense what you want for yourself, if you don’t know whether a yes or a no, the way some people handle this situation is they make a policy for themselves where they say ambivalence equals no. Unless they can really tell they’re a full yes they just make it a no as a matter of policy and they find that really useful. For other people you need to just be able say, “I don’t know, I don’t know yet, I need to take some time to think about it” and then come back and say no and if the person doesn’t accept your no so gracefully and they ask you for reasons, you don’t have to have reasons. You can say, “I really don’t know, I’m just not feeling it.” You can just be real. From the perspective of receiving a rejection gracefully how do you create this meaningful moment of rejection and experience the beneficial that you learned from that maybe even you enjoy when you’re being rejected? There’s an attitude that’s important to hold in order to be able to do this and the attitude is that you have to believe that life will provide you with an endless series of opportunities, an endless series of people and so even if this doesn’t work out, if you get rejected now there will be more chances later to have worthwhile experiences and people in your life. You have to be able to believe that in order to be able to be okay with the fact that this rejection is happening now. It may still be painful to have this specific person reject you in this specific way. It may still sting, which is why you need the emotional support and I’ll come to that in a second. The attitude of there’s gonna be a lot of opportunities is an important context. Once you’ve got that context, the best thing to do when someone offers you a rejection, [laughs] when they reject you is to thank them for it. You can say something like, “Shwww, well I really wished that you’d said yes. I would’ve preferred that but I understand and I appreciate the clarity in your no and I’m not guessing anymore.” “I don’t have to wonder whether you want or not because you said no to me and I wanna thank you just for even considering it. It was meaningful to me to get to ask you.” All those kinds of things are the sorts of things that can leave a person feeling good about the experience of having been asked and having had to say no to you. You can go one step beyond that if you wanna do the advanced version of getting rejected and you can actually help the person reject you. If you start asking for what you want a lot you’ll find that a lot of people are not very good at saying no. They wanna say no but they’re not good at it. They waffle. They’re ambivalent. They make excuses and if you notice that happening you can say, “Hey listen it seems to me like you really would like to just say no to me and I wanna invite you to do that. If you’re down I am open to just receiving a clear no from you, if you’d like to practice saying no” and that can be a really cool thing, you know? You’ve coached them in [laughs] being able to say no. You’ve provided them something of use and of service just in this experience, in this moment of being rejected. It’s a beautiful thing to do. Okay but what about the sting? I mean if you’re someone who doesn’t really have the things that you need in your life most then it’s really hard. There’s a lot at stake in every rejection, in every ask, and so it’s important to have an emotional support structure and you get that by asking somebody in your life to help you out with this then you have a trusted person, counselor or friend who you say, “Okay there’s this thing I wanna ask for, it’s risky and I need you to help me build up the courage to do it, hold me accountable to actually do it and then be available to either celebrate with me, if the person says yes, or [laughs] hold me while I cry if they say no or let me work out my feelings of humiliation backlash afterwards or think with you about what went wrong or how I ask better next time.” It’s really important to have that person with you. It makes all the difference to know you’re not going to be alone in this but, even with that, it’s important to acknowledge that rejection has got a real sting that there’s something painful about it but what’s painful about it can also be beautiful about it. It means that if you’re feeling that that you’ve got a soft, open, vulnerable heart and having that kind of heart it makes you more alive. It makes you feel more alive. It makes you more open to life. It makes you more open to all kinds of possibilities so if you can enjoy the part of the experience that’s the sting because of how alive you can tell it makes you feel that makes all the difference. Okay so you’re ready to practice? Of course you’ll get good at this by practicing so if you wanna take on the challenge here’s how it goes. For the next three days I wanna invite you to ask three different people for three different things. That means each day find the new person and then ask them for a different thing that they may or may not reject you for. There’s a good chance that they’ll reject you. You have to come up with a risky ask. Ask someone out. Ask for a promotion. Ask for someone to give you something or do something for you that’s meaningful to you or ask for help or ask for someone to allow you to contribute to them in a way that’s meaningful to you. Try this three times in a row. Let me know how it goes and be willing to risk being rejected in order to have the possibility of really getting what you want. Just remember along the way as you practice that the path to an [laughs] awesome life is paved with rejections.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.