We often joked that the first word our boys learnt in life was the word ‘no’. As toddlers, they were in to everything! This simple little word morphs into so much more as we grow older. It can influence our outlook on life, our attitude to situations and our sense of self.
When we first launched Billie Goat Soap into Myer stores around the country, I had many people tell me how ‘lucky’ I was to have my brand sold in such a terrific retail outlet. Truth is, luck had nothing to do with it. Learning to live with rejection was, in fact, the key to our success. You see, over a space of about two years, Myer had rejected my proposal about five times. I couldn’t even get in the door to see them, or talk to them. I learnt to live with no, and eventually it turned into a yes.
I’m not a fan of the ‘don’t give up’ slogans we see so often, because sometimes giving up is the best decision to make at that time.I do believe, however, that persistence can be worthwhile if a few simple rules are applied.
1. You must truly believe that what you are proposing is ideal for the other party. In other words, you have to come from their space/perspective, rather than your own. I knew I made a fantastic soap that helped a lot of people. I also knew that Myer had a lot of customers in their store every week. Therefore, together we could help many more people than I could ever hope to reach. Of course, I didn’t simply have altrustic motives – there were commercial goals at play here too, but believing I was offering them a product that would sell, would make money for them and ultimately would help a lot of people made me very determined. If all sales people felt this way about the products they represented their job would be so easy! Too often I have seen a sale based solely on reaching targets and this is a hard sell in any circumstance. The same is true for influencing others…it’s almost guaranteed that if you come from a ‘me’ perspective only, the chance of hearing a ‘no’ increases. The next time you want to influence someone to see a movie of your choosing, prepare to share with them why you think they would love it too. Likewise, the next time you ask for a promotion, prepare how your employer will benefit from the change.
2. It is almost never personal. If I trust that people make the best choices for them in any given moment,then I can appreciate there must be reasons for their rejection. Myer likely rejected us several times over because trading conditions were not suitable for them to range Billie Goat at that time. Ironically, this was a blessing because it gave us more time to strengthen our position with independent retailers before moving on to a bigger, national brand. If we had moved into Myer too quickly, selling our products to independents would have been much harder, and our independent sector was critical to the growth of Billie Goat. Socially, when I am rejected it’s usually because the other person has something else going on in their life. I don’t believe most people deliberately set out to hurt others, however if that is the motive then they need our love more than ever. Their response says more about them than the person making the request.
3. If you can’t understand the rejection, ask why. Remember, there’s a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. Learning to listen with purpose is hard because we’re usually already preparing a counter argument in our head! The best listeners I know are the people who can listen without ego. Who allow themselves to be vulnerable. I’ve come to realise that listening with purpose adds to my life experience. Yes, it’s hard to let go of my own agendas but once I fully embrace the position of the other person my world expands.
4. Reframe a ‘no’ to mean ‘not right now’. Imagine if I had closed the book on Myer at my first rejection! Once we were in, we went on to be their Supplier of the Year (general cosmetics) and do some wonderful things in their stores.All because I understood that ‘no’ meant ‘not right now’, and I was patiently persistent. If I had come from a selfish position, grown resentful and angry, the universe would not have been able to deliver this wonderful opportunity for Billie Goat at just the right time. Despite stereotypes, people do change, learn and grow. What was no a month ago may well be a consideration now thanks to some personal growth. I know this is certainly true for me – my stronger opinions are much softer today.
I thought long and hard about writing this post, because I don’t want the final message to be ‘never give up’. It’s this dogma that kills people. It’s ok to quit if there’s not a perfect fit. This post is about choice – if you choose not to walk away, here are some strategies that might help you get to ‘yes’. Ultimately though, the choice is yours.