Fear of Rejection is an Entrepreneur’s Worst Stumbling Block: Here Are 6 Ways to Overcome it

As an entrepreneur, you are constantly having to ask for what you want. This is true whether you’re just starting out, fighting through those tough early years, or taking a more established business in a new direction. You must ask for loans and venture capital investments. You must approach people about forming partnerships. And of course, you must constantly pitch your products and services to potential customers. All of this means you hear “no” a lot. And when you’re not hearing it, you’re worrying about hearing it. That’s because rejection is the darkest and deepest of human fears.

Studies show rejection stands apart from all other emotions. Most emotions originate and live in the limbic system, but rejection activates the areas of your brain that are connected to physical pain. As an article published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” points out, unlike every other emotion, rejection mimics physical pain, which is why it hurts so much.

Too often, your dread of hearing “no” blocks you from asking for what you really want. Or maybe you do ask, but you ask in a nonassertive, insecure way that is far less likely to get a “yes.”

One thing’s for sure: If you can’t learn how to regulate the disruptive emotions that come with rejection (or in many cases, just the anticipation of it), you’ll cripple your new venture or prevent it from being all that it could be.

The good news is you can overcome the fear of rejection. You can ask for what you want in a way that makes it far more likely you’ll hear “yes.

Over the years, I’ve discovered, refined and taught a wealth of strategies and tactics that allow salespeople (and that’s what entrepreneurs really are) to put their neocortex, aka rational brain, in control and rise above the blind panic that sabotages their success.

Every entrepreneur can benefit from the following tips. They’ll help you manage your fear, regain your composure, control your instincts and choose rational responses that make people want to give you what you’re asking for.

First things first: Get physically fit

This is not optional. It takes a lot of energy to regulate and manage the constant onslaught of disruptive emotions entrepreneurs must face. Physical fitness and emotional fitness are connected. That’s why you must exercise regularly, eat well and get enough sleep. Taking care of your health will improve your self-esteem and foster creative thinking, mental clarity, confidence and optimism. All of this helps you build the discipline to maintain self-control.

Related: 5 Rules for Dealing with Criticism as an Entrepreneur

Reprogram your brain to stop expecting the worst

Let’s say you’re getting ready to ask for a critical loan you need to expand into a new industry. If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may start fabricating negative outcomes in your head. The internal narrative you write for yourself shapes your behavior in a destructive way and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus, when you do ask for the loan, you end up asking in a hesitant way that leads to a rejection.

On the other hand, when you purposely focus on the positive, you will behave accordingly. As this article in “Sport Psychology Today” points out, when you visualize success, you teach your mind to act in a way that is congruent with actualizing that success.2 So, imagine what you will say. Visualize yourself succeeding. Repeat the process until you’ve trained your mind to manage the disruptive emotions that derail you.

Stop replaying rejections in your head

We’ve all been rejected. It’s part of being an entrepreneur (and human), and it’s natural to feel pain when it happens. But we don’t have to keep replaying that interaction, and feeling that pain, over and over again. When you start listening to your internal conversations, you can change them to reflect the image of who you want to be, how you want to act, and how you want to feel. This, in turn, will help you feel more confident and relaxed—a demeanor that’s more likely to lead to “yes.”

Stand up straight

Your mom was right: it gives you confidence. When you’re expecting rejection, you slump your shoulders, lower your chin, look down at your shoes. This makes you look less confident, so you seem less appealing and easier to reject. So stand up straight even if you feel like sinking into the floor. Studies on human behavior have proven time and again that we can change how we feel by adjusting our physical posture.

When a disruptive emotion hits, buy a minute with a “ledge”

This is a phrase that gives your rational brain a quarter of a second to take control when an objection throws you off balance. Let’s say a potential customer has implied that you’re exaggerating (or outright lying about) your company’s abilities. Rather than being crushed by the wave of pain you feel, pull out the ledge you’ve prepared in advance.

For example: “Interesting—could you walk me through your concern?” It will prevent you from stumbling through a nonsensical answer; coming off as defensive, weak or unknowledgeable; or damaging the relationship with an argument.  

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Put yourself in a rejection “war zone” as often as possible  

This is how the military trains soldiers. They must endure endless drills and mock combat situations. This training conditions them to control their emotions and become immune to fear in battle. You, too, can condition yourself to gain obstacle immunity. Instead of avoiding uncomfortable situations, seek them out. Force yourself to make 20 phone calls a day to prospects, or speak in public at least twice a month, or attend every trade show within a100-mile radius. By facing your fears, you learn to disrupt and neutralize the anxiety that comes right before the obstacle. Soon, it becomes routine.

The great thing about entrepreneurship is that you get to write your own ticket. Your business can be whatever shape and size you want it to take. All you have to do is share your vision with others and convince them to join you on the journey. Don’t let rejection fears control and limit you. When you learn to ask assertively, boldly and optimistically for what you want, you’ll find incredible power. You and your venture deserve nothing less.

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