You’ve been there, right? You applied for a promotion—it went to someone else. Offered your services to the perfect client and heard, “No, thanks.” Interviewed for a job you didn’t get.

I just ran into the rejection buzz saw. And it sent me back to look at what I’d learned from Jia Jang when he spoke at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Nobody likes rejection. But some of us seriously overreact to the NOs that are an inevitable part of work—and life. Even the fear of rejection can be crippling. It keeps us from trying for the bigger role, the new client, the better job.

I’ve had an issue for years about not being picked. So, I jumped at the chance to do something about it when I was invited to Becoming Rejection Proof. Even though it included something billed as “Rejection in the Wild.” YIKES!

Maybe you’ve heard of Jia Jiang? He decided the way to get over his fear of rejection was to … get rejected. Often.

He literally made requests every day he thought would get him a big fat “No.” He shot video. And he vlogged about his “100 Days of Rejection.”

Then there was a Ted talk. Jiang was interviewed on TV. And he wrote Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible through 100 Days of Rejection.

 Jiang was at Kellogg to share his experience with a bunch of business whizzes—and me.

Here’s What I Learned

  • It’s not about my value as a human being. Rejection is an opinion; it reflects the rejector more than the rejectee.
  • There’s a numbers game going on. You keep hearing NO enough, eventually someone will say YES.
  • It’s worth asking why they said NO. Feedback will help you in the future. And the conversation might change their mind.
  • If they refuse your request, no need to be ashamed. Instead of fleeing, make a second, smaller request—the person will often say yes to that.
  • Regroup before you give up. Make your request to a different person or in a different place. You might get a different result. (Jiang had an actual equation for this—we were at Kellogg after all.)
  • A YES is more likely if you explain why you’re asking. You might acknowledge the potential objections before the other person brings them up. It builds trust.
  • When you have to do the rejecting, do it well. Be respectful and direct; offer an alternative if you can.

Jiang pointed out that people who fear rejection often also have a hard time saying no to someone else. Why? We think they’ll reject us for turning them down!

  • Rejection has its advantages. It can become motivation. The feedback can help you improve what you’re offering. And Jiang insists that being rejected “builds character.”
  • You might find freedom in rejection. So often, we don’t ask for what we want because we’re afraid we’ll be rejected. Take the first step, and who knows what might happen.

In the end it doesn’t matter if this individual accepts us or not. We really need to accept ourselves. That’s freedom.

The Proof in the Pudding

After Jiang shared his experiences (some of them very funny) and gave us these pointers, he sent us out to seek rejection.

The instruction: Walk up to some stranger and make a bold request. Yes. We were supposed to march out there and invite rejection.

People went up to a cop and asked to drive his police cruiser. (NO.) Tried to get the window washer to take them up on his platform. (NO again.) One guy went to the Apple store asking for a free keyboard for his iPad. (Once more, NO.)

Some yesses: The police offer who wouldn’t turn over the wheel did agree to pose for a selfie.  Ditto the window washer and his partner. And one woman asked for a couple of bucks—and got it.

Me? I figured if I have to ask someone for something, I’m asking for something that counts.

“Hi, I’m Catherine Johns. I’m a speaker; I specialize in better business communication. I wonder if you’re in any organizations that hire speakers; would you be willing to make an introduction?”

The first guy turned out to be a dishwasher at Northwestern Memorial. Nice guy, not a member of any professional associations. I wasn’t wounded.

Next, a couple feeding one of those little purse dogs. She held the dog, he held the bowl of treats. Neither of them remotely interested in what I was saying. I said it all the same, all the way to the end. Oddly, that didn’t hurt either.

Then I fell in with a couple walking down Chicago Avenue and made my introduction. Turned out they’re members of the Illinois CPA Society. They allowed that yes, some of those accountants could be better at conversations.

I could feel their reluctance to engage, but we got past it. They asked what I speak about, I gave them some examples. They warmed up. And even happily took my card.

Okay, a sales pro would say I missed the mark by not getting their information so I could follow up later. But I was happy they even talked to me. That the exchange was fun. And that I’d actually risked rejection three times in about 12 minutes and felt good about it.

My conclusion? There’s a lot to Jiang’s idea of deliberately seeking rejection as a way to get over the fear of hearing NO. Being spurned isn’t fatal. It doesn’t even hurt much when you treat it the right way. And when you take the risk, you might be surprised at the pay-offs.

I’m not claiming to be rejection-proof yet. But I’m working on it.

So I have this request for you. I’m a speaker, specializing in business communication that gets results. I wonder if you’re in a professional association that hires speakers; would you be willing to make an introduction?

You saw that coming, didn’t you?

Post a comment below to respond. Or to tell us about that time you went out on a limb and risked having it sawed right off.