Rejection theory

Oct 02, 2017

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Live with rejection, learn from rejection, and conquer your fear of rejection. Once all that’s out of the way, prepare to win!

Are you afraid to put yourself out there? Are you afraid of the pain of rejection? No, I am not talking about asking someone out on a date. I am talking about the fear of losing that leads to major lost opportunities in your career and for your firm. Fear of rejection leads many A/E/P and environmental industry firms down an equally dangerous path of stagnation.

I get it; no one likes to be told “no.” A lost job can feel like a major blow to your ego, especially if you put in a great deal of work to try to win it. A rejected proposal can feel like someone saying, “You’re not good enough,” or, “You don’t have enough talent.”

If you get rejected a lot, you may start to feel like it’s not worth it to put much time or effort into pursuing the next new job. You might start to feel like your firm’s work is mid-rate, or that you aren’t as good as your competitor. If you let this fear control you, your work is going to get worse, your list of clients will shrink, you’ll be less creative, way less fun, and you’ll lose even more jobs!

I recently read an article about Jason Comely, a freelance IT guy from Ontario. Comely’s wife left him and he became a withdrawn, downtrodden guy who generally avoided talking to people. He realized he was consumed by his fear and afraid of rejection.

For some reason, he started thinking about the Spetsnaz, an elite Russian military unit with a really intense training program designed to equip someone to handle almost any kind of scenario. He decided to use the rigorous approach of the Spetsnaz to conquer his own fear of rejection, and thus, the concept of “Rejection Therapy” was born.

Comely decided he had to get rejected at least once a day by someone in order to desensitize himself to those feelings of fear and dread.

What Comely was really doing was using the psychotherapy technique of flooding, or exposure therapy. Using this technique, a person is exposed to the thing they fear over and over again, eventually realizing that their fear isn’t hurting them.

Comely started doing some pretty funny things in order to get rejected, such as offering to do a stranger’s laundry and making outrageous requests such as asking to speak over the intercom at Costco, demanding a “burger refill,” or trying to get a car tire dry cleaned. He started feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment when he was rejected.

Eventually he compiled a long list of humorous ways to get rejected. Comely commercialized this concept with a rejection challenge game and rejection therapy cards, which challenge participants to get rejected by pursuing dead-end efforts. Today, you can actually buy his game online for around $15.

I am not asking you go out and buy this game, and I certainly don’t recommend submitting a ton of proposals you know will get rejected. But I am asking you to look at yourself and your firm and address the ways in which fear may be limiting your options.

If you have a 50 percent win rate and want to increase your revenue, you’re going to have to send out more proposals. That’s going to result in more rejection. But you should learn from it, relish it – and then move on. Recognize what you can gain from the possibility of a little more rejection. Take a few risks. Who knows, you might win a lot more than you expected!

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.