You’re pitching an idea. You’re speaking in front of a crowd. You’re making a cold call selling a product. The possibility of failure looms, and you start sweating.
You’re deep inside your own head, when where you need to be is out there with your audience. It’s a terrible feeling, and one that I used to relate to all too well.
I got over it by practicing three simple exercises for depersonalizing rejection. Master these, and you’ll learn to hear “No” without pain.
1. Answer the Question
What if they say no? What if they don’t like me? What if I totally duff it and make a fool of myself?
Too often, we make these nervous inquiries and then leave ourselves hanging. It’s a great way to awaken dread and kill confidence simultaneously.
Follow it through. Your brain is asking a question: What if they reject me? What will my life look like then? If you let it, your heart will usually reply: Exactly as it looks now.
Your friends will still love you. The ceiling won’t fall on your head. You’ll pitch your idea to someone else, you’ll brush up on your public speaking skills, you’ll hang up and dial again.
You’ll be okay. And while it may seem obvious while you sit there reading this, it’s the furthest thing from it when you’re scared.
2. Do the Math
I opened a sign repair company in my early 20s. To drum up business, I’d drive around at night looking for electric signs that needed servicing.
The next day, I’d call the store with the burned-out sign and leave a message for whomever was in charge. I’d offer to fix their sign for half of what my competitors were charging.
Most of the time, they wouldn’t call back. When they did, they didn’t know they were calling a guy sitting in his kitchen at home.
The dialogue would go something like this:
Me (changing my voice): King Electric Signs.
Them: Service department, please.
Me: Please Hold. (Quick, deep breaths, like a swimmer about to plunge into ice-cold water.) Service department, Levi speaking.
Understand, I was legitimately terrified. My shirt would be soaked with sweat after a single call.
You know what helped? Numbers. When it comes to stage fright of any kind, math is your friend.
I knew that when it came to cold calling, at least one out of 10 attempts would succeed. The caller would reason that even if I was only half as good as my competitor, they had nothing to lose, because I was charging only half the price.
On the other hand, if I was as good as my competitor or better, they’d be getting a steal. If I dialed enough numbers, I was bound to get a yes eventually. With every yes, my confidence would climb.
Numbers take the emotion out of it. Nine will say no, one will say yes. Your sales game will get stronger regardless.
3. Know Thyself
The ancient Greek saying “Know thyself” means that you should learn what’s in your own heart before you delve into other mysteries. It also works wonders for overcoming fear.
To some degree, we’re all still kids inside. We increase in age and sophistication, but our feelings are as tender as ever and we hate it when people turn us down.
Before you take rejection personally, ask yourself how often you reject others. Then ask yourself what’s going on in your head when you do it.
For example, every day I get at least 30 emails that are cold calls from somebody pitching something. I delete them instantly. I just don’t have time.
But what am I saying to myself as I do it? Am I angrily wondering how this jerk got my email? Do I want to find their picture so that I can hang it up and throw darts at it?
No. It’s not personal — I’m busy. It’s the same for people who ignore my stuff. They don’t have anything against me. In fact, they’re just like me.
4. Never Let Them See You Sweat
As you get better, the stakes will get higher. It’s one thing if I get turned down for a sign repair job, and another if it’s for millions in funding.
Even in the case of the latter, however, the same basic principles hold. Life goes on. The sun rises on new opportunities.
In the meantime, practice depersonalizing rejection. Learn to hear “No.” When those truly significant, life-changing moments do come along, you’ll be ready.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.