Ten Great Ways To Handle “No”

This guest post was written as part of a Top 10 in 2010 series, by Derek Shanahan, known to his friends on the interwebz as “dshan”. Derek is the founder of foodtree and the headhoncho at 20sb (an ever-growing network of 20something bloggers).

First of all, this post isn’t about dating or relationships, which is rare for me, but when Elysa asked if I’d participate in her month of Top 10 Lists, I was in the middle of a meeting in which no one was agreeing with me. Literally nobody…it was like I woke up on another planet with aliens who spoke another language and just could not understand me. Blasphemy.

A while back I reblogged a quote from Chris Dixon, who’s an angel investor and startup guru who I admire on a lot of levels, mostly because of the way he thinks about business building and executing ideas. This was the quote:

If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough. [link]

Try living up to that. I mean it. Every day, look for a rejection.

I get myself involved in a lot of stuff, but if I’ve learned one thing in the last few years as we grew 20 Something Bloggers and founded Foodtree, it’s that ideas turn into projects which can turn into day jobs if you push hard enough, and if you have the will power to survive all the rejections.

So here are some ideas about how to handle rejection that might help you muster up the courage to actually chase it.

1. Take It Or Leave It

I think it’s important, first, to be critical about the feedback you get from other people, businesses, or communities. Sometimes, it’s just not worth losing sleep over. Are they biased? Do they have a stake in your failure? Are they genuine, or simply the kind of person who uses rejection to wield their ego? If so, ignore it and move on, and seek rejection from someone who matters.

2. Overembrace It.

Too often people take negative feedback at face value, and treat rejection as the end of a conversation. If someone is willing to disagree with you, or even better, outline the reasons they aren’t on your side, they’re often the very people you should embrace. Our most outspoken adversary is often one of the first people we go to when we’re contemplating strategy at Foodtree, and it’s the brutal honesty and adversarial perspective that makes for the most useful feedback we can find.

3. Share It.

I remember when Jenny Blake was working on her book, and sending email updates about her progress from concept to the day it went to press. The road was a rocky one, and every time she faced a challenge, decision, or setback she told her community about it, and asked for more feedback. Every bump in the road is an opportunity to assess what you’re doing, and one person’s feedback is better evaluated among your community, be that your friends, family, blog readers, users, or customers.

4. Try To Replicate It

This is something I work on all the time. If I get a rejection on an idea, feature, campaign, or pitch I look to get that same rejection again. In my mind, one dissenting opinion is out there on nearly everything…if you can find a whole bunch of the same perspectives than you may have uncovered useful feedback. I usually aim these efforts at people who’s opinions and experience I respect and trust, because I have a better barometer as to where they draw lines and say ‘no’ to me.

5. Seek A Better Idea

I have tons and tons of conversations with people about my ideas and plans, both for 20 Something Bloggers and Foodtree, along with even my personal for-fun stuff. Often, I have an idea that I know isn’t very good, but seems like it’d spark a conversation I think is worth having. I asked the 20SB community if they’d pay a monthly subscription to be a member, with no intention of ever charging the fees. In response, though, hundreds of bloggers left comments and sent me emails about ways they thought we should generate revenue.

6. Use It As Your Outreach Spark

This is a trick I’ve just started testing, so let me know if you do and how you feel about it. Basically, I take rejections, even small ones, and use them as a trigger to reach out to someone else on something I’ve been working on or (in many cases) putting off. It’s simple…get rejected or turned down or “you’re an idiot” and immediate I have to reach out in some direction. It keeps you on your feet, and keeps you in touch with all the people who can provide you with feedback, support, and encouragement.

7. Publicize It

I wish I could remember the link, but a wonderful writer in Chicago used to (might still) publish every rejection letter she received in her experiences as a freelance writer. She’d pitch an article, get a rejection, and post it to her blog. It was an incredibly inspiring project, and really not a bad idea. Putting your perseverance out there in front of everyone can help you keep at it, and it reframes the challenges you face into an integral piece of the overall effort.

8. Get A Smaller Yes

This is an age old debate and negotiation tactic, but it’s important to remember. A rejection usually isn’t summary, and it’s often really useful to start with the rejection to work backwards into  an agreement of smaller proportion. Even if that is an agreement to follow up for further feedback, you’ve got yourself a win. Some of our most useful conversations and relationships at Foodtree have started out of the gates as a rejection.

9.  Place It On A Pedestal

I think if you take Dixon’s sentiment to heart you’re going to end up pushing your boundaries. We’ve done that at Foodtree…reached for partnerships and investors that we really have no business talking to at the time. We do that so that when we’re ready, we might turn rejections into a ‘yes’, and you should too. Make your rejections your goals. Reach at your goals early, and use the feedback as a roadmap to reach them.

10.  Aggressively Ignore It

On some level, great ideas are always going to be rejected. Great companies are idiotic concepts until proven genius. Books are failures until they’re bestsellers, songs are crap until they top the charts, and she’s never going to go out with you until you ask her (relationship content alert!). Never let ‘no’ shake your confidence.  Ever.  At most, let it guide your decisions and strategy, but if you believe in something that’s 99% of what really matters.

Rejection isn’t easy, and it can take a toll when you’re really going out there looking for it. Take it from me…there are days when I don’t want to push those boundaries purely out of exhaustion with all the resistance. It helps me to try and find something on this list as my motivator, so the rejection simply becomes part of the process. Being comfortable with the idea that the world will resist you is a great way to build up confidence in whatever you want to accomplish, and trust me, when the world opens its arms for you, the feeling will be that much sweeter.

8 thoughts on “Ten Great Ways To Handle “No”

  1. This is a great, great, post- Derek knows this bit- but I have kept a REJECTION SCRAPBOOK for years, of all the letts, photos, logos of things I’ve auditioned for, etc- PLANE TICKETS that I’ve bought to go to an audition, etc. because each “no” brings me closer to a “yes”….so my rejections are really just badges of honor.

  2. Love the “no risk, no reward” mentality! I can definitely relate to this post on so many levels. Even when 17 and applying to colleges, I used to hang my rejection letters up on my bedroom wall. Similar to what Chelsea said, I too think of those as badges of honor. It only made me work harder, wanting to prove the naysayers wrong.

    I subscribe to the belief that every time you get a “no,” it’s just the Universe’s way of saying something (or someone) better will come along and give you that “yes” you are looking for. Or at the very least, that type of mindset makes me feel a little better about being rejected. ;)

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