“Sorry, we’ve decided not to invest.”
Those words stung. After several years in the corporate world, Jia Jiang had taken a huge risk when he attempted to start his own company. Now, his longtime fear of rejection had manifested itself once again.
“That rejection hurt me,” said Jiang. “It hurt me so bad that I wanted to quit right there.”
But then, Jiang thought: Would a successful entrepreneur quit after a simple rejection?
That pivotal moment was a catalyst. Jiang decided it was time to overcome his longtime fear of rejection, and in doing so, he began a remarkable journey, one with lessons that can be summed up in what I like to call “the rule of rejection.”
The rule of rejection is founded on principles of emotional intelligence, and it can help you to overcome your fears, get more of what you want, and learn valuable lessons in the process.
(If you find value in the “rule of rejection,” you might be interested in my full emotional intelligence course — which includes 20 more rules that help you develop your emotional intelligence. Check out the full course here.)
A story decades in the making
The story actually begins decades ago, when Jiang was six years old in Beijing, China.
It was there that Jiang’s first grade teacher had an idea: In an effort to encourage her students, she asked each child to say something nice about one of the others. When a child heard his name called, along with their compliment, they could pick up their gift.
“There were 40 of us to start with,” Jiang relates. “Every time I heard someone’s name called, I would give out the heartiest cheer. And then, there were 20 people left. [Then], 10 people left…Five left…and three left. And I was one of them.”
There stood Jiang, crying.
“I would die to avoid being in that situation again, to get rejected in public again,” says Jiang.
Fast forward years later. After getting turned down by the potential investor, Jiang began searching for strategies to overcome his fear. He came across a game called “Rejection Therapy.” The basic idea was that for 30 days, you seek rejection. In doing so, you gradually desensitize yourself from the pain, building courage and resolve along the way.
For his first request, Jiang asked a stranger to borrow one hundred dollars. So overcome with fear, Jiang ran away as soon as he heard “no.” He didn’t even respond to the person’s question of why he wanted to borrow the money.
Over the next several months, Jiang made over a hundred crazy requests, video recording all of them and posting to YouTube. Over and over, he heard the answer that had become so familiar to him:
- Can I slide down the fire pole at this fire station? No.
- Can I have a “burger refill”? (“It’s just like a drink refill, but with a burger.”) No.
- Can I speak over the intercom here at Costco? No.
- Can I attend your Super Bowl party (even though I don’t know you)? No.
- Can I have a free room at this hotel? No.
But as time went on, and Jiang’s “rejection quest” continued, something interesting happened.
Although many rejected him right away, to Jiang’s surprise, others actually gave him exactly what he wanted. And with every yes, Jiang gained courage.
- A stranger said yes to letting him play soccer in his backyard.
- A pilot said yes to letting him make an announcement on a flight.
- Survivor host Jeff Probst said yes to singing Jiang’s son a lullaby on nationally syndicated television.
- A pilot said yes to brining Jiang up and letting him fly his private plane.
- A teacher said yes to allowing Jiang to give a lecture to his college students.
Jiang learned some important truths along his rejection journey. For one, he discovered that if he didn’t run, he could sometimes turn a “no” into a “yes,” using a single, one-word question:
Often, when Jiang asked why (sometimes repeatedly, respectfully, and in different ways), the rejector would rethink the request. Or, they would offer some type of compromise. Or, they would offer something else in return.
For example, after a stranger rejected Jiang’s request to plant a flower in their backyard, Jiang asked why.
“Well, I have this dog that would dig up anything I put in the backyard,” said the man. “I don’t want to waste your flower. If you want to do this, go across the street and talk to Connie. She loves flowers.”
Connie was more than happy to honor Jiang’s request.
“Had I left after the initial rejection,” explains Jiang, “I would’ve thought, well, it’s because the guy didn’t trust me, it’s because I was crazy, because I didn’t dress up well, I didn’t look good. It was none of those. It was because what I offered did not fit what he wanted. And he trusted me enough to offer me a ‘referral,’ using a sales term.”
I love Jia’s story so much, because it reminds me of my own life. I also have encountered rejection too many times to remember–but I’ve learned not to give up. I also learned that a “no” doesn’t mean “No, forever.” It means, no for right now. Or, “No, not the way you just described it.”
Which leads us to…
The rule of rejection
The rule of rejection is simply. It’s made up of three parts:
A. You won’t get anything if you don’t ask for it, so don’t reject yourself.
B. If the answer is “no,” ask, “why?” This may lead to you getting what you wanted, or getting something else that’s close.
C. Remember that rejection doesn’t define you. It’s the way you react to rejection that defines you.
So, if you want to overcome your fear of rejection and get more of what you want, don’t run. Remember the rule of rejection.
When you do, you’ll start turning “No” into “Yes.” More importantly, you’ll change the way you view rejection, forever.