Rejection Without Shame

Rejection comes in a litany of flavors:

“We don’t have any conflicts here.”

“We deal with conflicts really well here.”

“We don’t really need your services right now, but if we do, we’ll give you a call.”

“[silence]. Who are you again?”

“How do you say your name?”

“I don’t understand how anybody can make money from doing what you do.”

“How do you monetize that?”

“Yeah, your rates are too high.”

“Yeah, your rates are too low.”

“I don’t understand what you are selling.”

“Why can’t you help me NOW?”

“Where did you get your degree again?”

“How do you make it here in this town?”

“Where are you from again?”

“Hmmmm. Ok. That sounds kind of interesting.” [Then wander off to get bread at the networking event ‘nosh’ table.]

“Have you tried working for a human resource company?”

“Have you tried working with [insert name of big company here]?”

“I don’t understand what you just said that you do.”

“There aren’t any people around here doing that are there?”

“Could you not charge me as much?”

“We’re strapped for cash right now and not really focused on retaining outside help right now.”

“Your rates are too high; you’ll never make a profit around here.”

“We are a family company. There aren’t any conflicts among family.”

“I handle conflict really well; I don’t see how I would use your services.”

“Have you tried working with lawyers around here?”

“We can’t pay you.”

“We’ll get back to you.”

“We can’t pay you.”

“Can you do this for free for us?”

“We can’t pay you.”

“Send us your information and we’ll look at it.” >click<

“I just don’t have time to talk to you, call back next week.” [Call back again next week]

“I just don’t have time to talk to you, call back next week.” >click<

“That sounds interesting, but I don’t want you to drive all the way to [name location 25 miles in any direction from locally] to meet me. It would just be a waste of your time.”

“You’ll never make a living doing that. You should get a ‘real’ job.”

“You went to college for CONFLICT!?”

“Why don’t you just volunteer?”

Very rarely have we ever heard “No,” “No thank you,” or “No this isn’t for us.”

Although ultimately, the fact is that all the forms of rejection really come down to such a consideration. All the forms of rejection can be given without personally attacking, trolling, tearing down individuals’ talent, and questioning people’s motives. But when rejection crosses the line from “No this isn’t for us” to “You don’t deserve to have a voice,” or “You need to be denied the ability to speak because I disagree with you,” then we’ve crossed over the line into another area.

And we must be careful with what lines we cross because sometimes, there is no going back.


The word “no” is so compelling because it serves as both a positive and a negative.

We’ve written about this before, here and here, and it never fails to amaze us how much more there is to cover. This is because the crowning question that we asked, from clients to casual observers of our blog and social feeds is: “How do I say ‘no’?”

Saying “no” to an opportunity, a person or a situation is hard for three reasons:

  • It requires us to articulate the values that we hold dear.
  • It requires us to make judgment about those values in relation to another persons’ desires and requests.
  • It requires us to place a potential future best, above a present tangible good.

It is hard for people to say “no” (positively or otherwise) because we feel as though we are letting down other people. And being the social animals that we are, reciprocity and social norming exert a powerful pull upon our psyches, our hearts and even our souls.

The word “no” places a delineating marker between people, ideas, projects and purposes. It segregates, and closes off, even as it opens up other possibilities.  This is why rejection is such a hard thing to overcome for sales professionals, marketers and others who engage in the business of persuasion.

“No” ultimately can feel like a rejection of persuasion, rather than a statement of preference:

  • Preferring the safety of nostalgia over the danger of the new
  • Preferring the comfort of the present over the uncertainty of the next moment over
  • Preferring the status quo over a change

What are you saying “yes” to by saying “no”?

Originally published on March 19, 2015. 

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