Reframing Rejection with ex-Combat Helicopter Pilot

Sarah Furness spent 20 years as a combat helicopter pilot and squadron leader, commanding high-pressure missions in hostile territories from Afghanistan to East Africa. She’s been shot at, mortared, and involved in several near-fatal crashes, but none of those scared her as much as rejection. However, Sarah learned to conquer her fear of rejection and turn it into a superpower.

During our Pangea Perspectives session in July 2023, Sarah gave an inspiring (and, at times, frankly terrifying) speech on how to reframe rejection and use it to your advantage in the commercial world; particularly in sales, where rejection is part of the job. Here are our three key takeaways.

1. Learn to deal with rejection better

Humans are born with only two fears: falling and loud noises. Everything else – spiders, the dark, even death – have been learned during our lifetimes. They can also be ‘unlearned’. Although the fear of rejection is a normal trait, there are techniques you can use to reduce the stress you feel when facing rejection and increase your confidence in uncomfortable situations.

For example, the ‘distress tolerance’ technique reminds us that our emotions are transient and try to protect us from situations that make us feel bad, therefore trying to fight our emotions doesn’t work. Instead, we can accept them, knowing the pain will pass. So, the next time you have a difficult meeting, or conversation, sit with your fear of rejection for 30 seconds and remind yourself: it’s ok to feel scared of rejection because I will get through it.

2. Reframe rejection as a positive

No matter how hard you try, rejection is an unavoidable part of the commercial world. But by flipping the experience from a negative to a positive, you can turn rejection into a superpower. For instance, when people challenge you, it can feel like personal rejection, but being challenged increases your competitive advantage when making a decision. Having a diverse team with the confidence and candour to speak up will enhance your decision-making as they will help you see different points of view and understand a broader range of the market, increasing your sales potential.

You can also use rejection to understand people better. Remember that your customers or team members also have their fears and hang-ups, just like you, so put yourself in their shoes and think about how you are uniquely placed to support them. Next time you have a customer call, ask yourself: what might they be scared of and what might they need from me to overcome this?

3. Just go for it

Sometimes we try to fit in or pretend to be someone we’re not as we fear what others will think of the ‘real me’ if we show them. Yet, by showing the ‘real you’ and leveraging your differences, you will become a better leader. For instance, showing your team that you feel pressure lets them know that it’s ok to feel pressure too. When you go first, others will follow your lead.

The key is to be “wonderfully authentically uniquely” you as there are people (i.e. friends, colleagues, and customers) who need exactly what you have to offer. For those that don’t need you, let them walk away. In a sales scenario, being yourself helps you understand who your ideal customer is and who isn’t. You will then have more time to pay attention to your true buyers, and early adopters, as they’re the people who will refer and support you.

Listen to more insights from Pangea Perspectives here.

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