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Beyond Insurance

Using rejection as a motivator

Rejection hurts, but it can also help you move to the next level

By Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA

How do you handle rejection? Do you simply brush it aside? Or does the failure to connect deflate your self-image and confidence? It's usually possible to spot a successful producer or account manager by the way he or she handles rejection.

Research suggests that the vast majority of people struggle with rejection. Learning how to overcome its ill effects is an essential survival skill in the business of insurance and risk management.

If you look back at scenarios that negatively affected your mood, I'll bet that rejection is at the top of the list. When rejection causes our self-esteem and confidence to decline, it's usually based on our perception that the other person (the rejector) does not value the relationship as much as we do. Human beings, like many animal species, have an innate drive to form bonds with others, and we feel disappointed when we fail to connect with someone, especially when we have invested our emotions as well as our time and skills.

Our self-esteem reflects our overall evaluation of our own worth, and it is also a measure of our standing with others. Self- esteem rises with acceptance ("Congratulations, you earned my business") and plummets with rejection ("We're moving our account to another agency").

Self-esteem "radar"

Our self-esteem has built-in radar that constantly scans the environment for signs of approval or disapproval. When it comes to dealing with rejection, most people fall into one of two camps. Those in the first camp assume that they are doing everything right and it is the rest of the world that has a problem. Those in the second camp internalize rejection as a function of their personal shortcomings.

For those who focus on their inadequacies, even a tiny blip on the radar often causes a significant decline in self-esteem. Duke University social psychologist Mark Leary comments: "Nature designed people to be vigilant about rejection because for most of history we depended upon small groups of people. Getting shut out compromised survival." As depicted in Maslow's Hierachy of Needs, belonging and feeling loved are fundamental to our sense of security and self-esteem.

Many psychologists agree with Leary and theorize that the pain of rejection has evolved because of the importance of social bonds for survival. Matthew Lieberman, a social psychologist at UCLA, explains: "Going back 50,000 years, social distance from a group could lead to death, and it still does for most mammals." Because the need for social connection is so deeply rooted, being excluded by others can have an immediate and long-lasting impact on self-esteem.

Our fragmented, mobile society has weakened our once strong social bonds. As recently as 100 years ago, most Americans were part of a small, tightly knit community of family, friends and neighbors, and their house of worship. Many people lived in the same town their entire lives, often in multi-generational households. Today, the sheer number of strangers with whom we interact on a daily basis creates more opportunities for rejection while compromising our sense of belonging and acceptance. The erosion of traditional social bonds makes us more vulnerable to rejection, leading to lower self-esteem and confidence.

Rejection sensitivity

Research indicates that "rejection sensitivity"—a condition linked to depression—is on the rise. Rejection sensitivity makes many people hesitant, and in some cases unwilling, to take social risks. Those who are on the high end of the rejection sensitivity scale pay a steep price because they rarely venture beyond their immediate social network. When they do, they suffer anxiety and fear. Although their pain is borne privately, it has repercussions in the manner in which they move through life. In the business of insurance, telltale signs of rejection sensitivity include ineffective referrals networks, call reluctance, and lack of a focused strategy for researching and qualifying prospects.

Although we understand physical pain, many people believe that social pain is in one's head. Rationally, shouldn't we be able to convince ourselves that rejection doesn't matter? Professor Lieberman's research indicates that physical and social pain may be more similar than we realize because rejection affects our brain in much the same way as a physical ailment.

As a psychology major at Princeton University, I studied rejection as part of the theory of Learned Helplessness—the perceived absence of control over the outcome of situations. When one feels helpless, he or she becomes anxious, loses confidence, and lacks motivation. When a person fails to act, even when opportunities exist to gain rewards, he or she is seen as being "helpless."

People who suffer from Learned Helplessness typically fear rejection. They have experienced the pain of failing to connect and now believe they are incapable of improving their performance. This fear of rejection hinders their personal and professional progress.

History provides us countless examples of people who pushed through rejection to become icons of achievement and success. Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, received more than 1,000 rejections before anyone would buy into his concept. When Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor, he was turned down by just about every agent in the United States. Rejection is inevitable. It's how we respond to it that counts.

Using rejection as a motivator

High-performing producers and account managers have a positive attitude toward rejection. They use rejection as a motivator, a signal that indicates it may be time to tweak their performance. They ask questions like: "What might I do differently?" or "How can I better present my value proposition?" Before moving on to the next opportunity, they use the lessons of rejection to help them change the outcome of future opportunities.

If you encounter a few rejections, do not be alarmed. This is natural. A consistent pattern of rejection, however, suggests that you need to step back and study the manner in which you are delivering your product, services and resources. A simple tweak of your process, packaging or positioning may produce a quick turnaround in your results, or you may find that you need to go deeper and explore your approach in a systematic, focused way.

Here's a five-step process for using rejection as a motivator to take you to the next level:

Step 1 – Don't take it personally. The prospect or client is not rejecting you. Rather, they are rejecting your offering.

Step 2 – Know when to cut your losses. Decide in advance how much time and effort you will put into the acquisition of a particular prospect. Use a "Criteria Filter" to screen out price shoppers.

Step 3 – Rely on your support system. When confronted with rejection, your ego is damaged. It helps to open up to others and get your hurt feelings and frustrations off your chest. A support system of colleagues or friends helps you heal the wound by offering encouragement, guidance and counsel. They also can offer constructive feedback.

Step 4 – Maintain your focus on control. Focus on the controllable outcomes. Don't waste energy and lose confidence by dwelling on uncontrollable forces that influence the buying decision.

Step 5 – Keep a positive attitude. Use your failure to connect as a learning experience—an opportunity to find out what you can do differently in each phase of your business development and client service process. For every "no" you hear, you're that much closer to the next "yes."

When faced with rejection, consider this observation made by President Theodore Roosevelt in a speech he delivered in Paris in 1910:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.

More than 100 years after he spoke them, the words of this widely admired president embody the American spirit of embracing rejection as an inevitable component of "daring greatly."


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