How to Reflect on and Learn from Rejection
It doesn't matter if you run a startup or an established business with many years of success under your belt. Rejection is never easy. It is how you deal with it, learn and grow that matters.
One of the easier types rejection to face is from someone who you have never worked with before. This isn't really a loss, it's just not a gain. Of course, it would be great to bring on every potential client with whom you have a conversation, but that is a little unrealistic. Focus on the yes's and signed deals you get, rather than fixating on the nos.
A type of rejection that is a little harder to stomach is when you get a referral but the client decides not to use your product/service at the end of the conversation. You know they have a need but you still couldn't close. Reflecting and learning after the interaction will help you overcome similar challenges during future conversations with potential new clients.
The hardest and most emotionally draining type of rejection in business is when a longstanding client decides to cut the relationship. Sometimes there was nothing you could have done to save the relationship, but if you made a mistake, ensure it is not repeated with your remaining clients.
Below, I would like to share a couple of my own experiences with rejection where reflection led to future success:
1. My partner and I started our firm in 2011, and this past year we lost a client because their feelings were hurt when I was giving feedback. In this scenario, it was the way I delivered the feedback that led to the rejection. In retrospect, I should have been aware that if I am giving a client harsher feedback, I should be more empathetic and deliver it in person instead of doing it over the phone. It still hurts when I think about it. It is especially difficult when you truly care and invest so much time into the client and their business. I know I had the best intentions, but it was not viewed the same way on my client's side.
2. I was referred to a big-time investor at a private equity firm many years ago, but I was unprepared for the questions he threw at me and the specifics he wanted. In retrospect, I realized that PE firms are looking for how you can directly contribute to the success of the company they are investing in and your process to get there. You must have your pitch down pat and show them you can help, consult and, most importantly, drive and directly contribute to their goals for success. It is not easy to work with those types of companies, but the reward when you are successful is the best feeling. My first call was a miss, but reflecting and perfecting my position helped with future opportunities. We now work with quite a few investment companies helping them build up businesses they back.
At the end of the day, rejection is never easy. Some types of rejection are harder to face than others, but it is always important to take the time to understand why something did not go the way you wanted, seek advice, learn and grow from it. Here are my top tips for turning rejection into a learning opportunity:
Take the time to reflect and understand.
Taking time to reflect is important because that is what leads to improvement. Reflect on the situation when you have a clear head and are in a calmer state, which is usually the day after the rejection. When you are first rejected, you are probably a little frantic and it is hard to think clearly. If you can relax, take a step back and reflect. After a little bit of time, you will be less emotional and better able to deal with the situation productively. Sometimes you can even come up with a great plan to turn things around. Focus on being proactive, not reactive, to move forward.
Seek advice from a mentor.
Most, if not all, business leaders have dealt with rejection at some point in time. So, seek advice from someone you look up to and trust, whether they are a LinkedIn connection or from a networking group. After your personal reflection, go over the situation with them and pick their brain on how they would have gone about the situation. This might give you a fresh perspective and will help with your personal and professional growth. Being vulnerable and able to discuss your challenges with other business leaders is not looked down upon; in fact, it shows that you are a motivated individual who is mature enough to realize when you have made a mistake and would like constructive feedback to grow.
Grow from it so the mistake is not repeated.
After the realization kicks in and you know how to better handle this type of situation in the future, share your knowledge with your team. After I experienced a loss, I reflected, got advice and then shared my findings. This was a big learning lesson for me and for my team because the best way to learn is from real-life experiences. My team really appreciated the fact that I shared the situation with them and they learned a lot from the outcome and from the alternative ways I could have dealt with the situation for a better outcome.
Although my big losses hit me hard, I believe the time I spent learning from those situations got me to where I am today. The main lesson on loss that I tell my team is that it will happen. I will never be disappointed as long as they can reflect, learn and grow from those situations.