How to Deal With Rejection in Sales: Maintain Buoyancy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "To Sell Is Human" by Daniel H. Pink. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you work in sales and often face rejection? Do you ever think of just throwing in the towel?

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink says that the best way to deal with rejection in sales is with “buoyancy.” This method requires you to maintain optimism and persistence despite rejection.

Below are the three core components of buoyancy to help you deal with rejection.

Overcoming Rejection in Sales

Selling of any kind will often result in more rejection than success. Dealing with rejection in sales can become overwhelming, causing you to consider throwing in the towel before you achieve any success. Buoyancy is about maintaining optimism and persistence despite rejection. It has three core components that can be applied before, during, and after any attempt to move others.

Before: “Interrogative Self-Talk”

The most difficult part of the sales process is usually hyping yourself up to get it started. Human beings talk to themselves all the time—sometimes it’s positive self-talk, mostly it’s negative self-talk, but all of it generally “declarative.” Declarative self-talk states what something is, or what something will be. An example is “I am powerful,” or, “I suck and I’ll always suck.” Positive declarative self-talk is effective, but it’s also definitive, rather than open-ended. It doesn’t inspire growth or change. The most effective style of self-talk is interrogative

Interrogative self-talk asks questions instead of making statements. Those who use interrogative self-talk outperform those who hype themselves up with positive declarative self-talk. The interrogative nature of the exercise automatically facilitates insight into how to do whatever you’re preparing for, because asking questions allows for a deeper impact on your thoughts or behavior (and therefore, your results). It also helps you develop intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic. It gives your goals meaning, which helps you motivate yourself to achieve those goals. For example, prior to a sale, ask yourself, “How can I move this person to make a purchase?” This implies a positive outcome, and prepares you to attune to the buyer’s needs.

During: “Positivity Ratios”

Negative emotions induce a survival response, narrowing your perspective and negatively impacting your behavior. That being said, too much focus on the positive encourages self-delusion and impedes your ability to accurately identify areas for improvement. Studies show that the golden positivity ratio is 3 to 1. Those who encounter three positive experiences to one negative experience typically have increased well-being. Once you reach a ratio of 11 to 1, there are negative effects. 

People sometimes cringe at the word “positivity,” but positive psychology shows that it’s a crucial part of well-being and a significant component of moving others. Studies indicate that people are twice as likely to accept deals when presented to them with a display of positive emotions (like smiling or using a friendly tone of voice). Positive emotions make us more receptive, expand perspective, and inspire positive action. Remaining positive as a seller allows you to see a broader range of options and solutions and allows you to more easily attune to the person you’re engaging with.

Most modern salespeople assert that having positive emotions about your product or service increases the efficacy of your sales by giving you a deeper connection to what you’re selling. This kind of awareness supports attunement, which increases buyer trust. Additional research indicates that inserting conviction into your communication enhances persuasion. Therefore, speaking about your product or service from a genuine belief influences the buyer to trust its quality.

You can practice positivity during a sale by expressing friendly emotions, using the 3 to 1 ratio when describing the positive or negative aspects of your product or service, and using phrasing that emphasizes your belief in it (“I’d pay for this even if I could get it for free”).

After: “Explanatory Style”

How we describe our experiences impacts how we feel. If we have a bad day, and we think about how bad it was, we feel bad. If we focus on the positive more so than the negative, we experience positive emotions. 

Overt emphasis on the negative can lead to learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when an experience of powerlessness persists to a point where an individual feels powerless even after there is no longer anything controlling their environment. It’s directly influenced by a person’s explanatory style. Those who are vulnerable to learned helplessness generally talk about negative experiences in ways that are pervasive, permanent, and personal.

  • Pervasive: Believing negative experiences are universal
  • Permanent: Believing negativity will last long-term
  • Personal: Believing negative experiences are your fault

For example, let’s say you try to sell a product to your mailman and he impatiently or rudely rejects you. If you’re operating from a pessimistic explanatory style, you might say, “All mailmen are jerks,” or, “Now he’ll hate me forever,” or, “I’m a terrible salesperson.”

The solution to learned helplessness is the ability to maintain “flexible optimism,” or an “optimistic explanatory style.”

  • See negative experiences as temporary
  • See negative experiences as due to circumstance
  • See negative experiences as impersonal

Consider again the example with the mailman. You can practice an optimistic explanatory style by saying, “He might have been behind on his route and in a rush” (circumstantial). Or, “He might have been having a hard day” (temporary). Or, “He might have just been irritable due to negative experiences with other salespeople” (impersonal).  

Other Ways to Enhance Buoyancy

  1. “Enumerate and embrace”
  • Enumerate: Tally up all the “no”s and rejections you experience in a week. Recognize how resilient you are in the face of so much rejection.
  • Embrace: For the strongest rejections you experience in your life, find some way to put them in a physical form. Place the object somewhere you can see it daily. Use it as a reminder that you are resilient, and as fuel for never giving up. 
  1. Write yourself a letter of rejection
  • This allows you to process your fear of rejection by immersing yourself in it, and it also gives you an opportunity to see your perceived flaws through adopting a “new” perspective.
How to Deal With Rejection in Sales: Maintain Buoyancy

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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