Handling Rejection Gracefully

Handling Rejection Gracefully

A recent buying experience has  prompted me to talk about something today, something that isn’t strictly part of the sales process, but instead it’s something that happens afterwards – and is more important than you might realise.

It’s the importance of handling rejection gracefully.

Watch the video below or scroll down to read the blog.

The importance of handling rejection gracefully

When a client tells you they don’t want to work with you, it might be for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes those reasons are true and valid, and sometimes the potential client tell you “tiny lies” because it feels more comfortable to them than telling you the truth.

Sometimes the reason they give for not going ahead with you is because they’ve decided to work with someone else instead.

And here’s the thing – you have to be OK with that.

You have to be OK that your potential client might speak to more than one person as part of their decision making process.  Whether you are a coach, a healer, a web designer, or a marketing consultant, it’s perfectly reasonable – even advisable in many cases – for a potential client to choose to speak to more than one person before making their decision.  The process helps them to learn more about what they need, what sort of support is available to them, and ultimately helps them to find the solution that is the best fit for them.

And why wouldn’t we be OK with that?   After all, we might even do the same if we were in their shoes.

So sometimes no matter how good your sales conversation, how well you articulate the benefits of working with you, or how well you address their concerns, a client will come back to you to say that they were impressed with you and loved everything you talked about.  But they’ve decided to buy from someone else instead.

When they decide to work with someone else

When this happens it’s particularly important that you handle the “No” gracefully – especially if you find that you are not actually feeling all that gracious in reality!

In my own recent example, I was in the position of making a decision between two accountants.  I felt confident in both, I liked both, I believed that both would do the work effectively and on time, and both were similar in price.  There really wasn’t a huge amount in it in the end (once I’d had all my concerns addressed).  But in the end there were two of them – and of course I could only choose one!

Because Colin the accountant (not his real name) hadn’t arranged a follow up call (incidentally this is really important and could have made all the difference to the outcome) I emailed him my decision. In the email I explained my key reasons for choosing someone else – because I believed it would be useful for him to know.   But I also stressed that I’d been perfectly happy with everything we discussed and would certainly recommend him and his firm in future.

And at the time I truly meant that.

The Importance of Handling Rejection Gracefully

I had chosen the other accountant (David) I because I felt his service was a better fit to my specific needs and circumstances at this time.  What Colin offered was a little bit less of a perfect match – although  I would still have gone ahead if he was the only person in the running.  However, while I chose David I recognised that the things that made Colin’s service less ideal for me could be the very thing that would make him perfect for someone else – in particular one of my clients, or a member of my membership community at an earlier stage of business than me, who would benefit from a “safe pair of hands”.

But his response to my email was a real turn off.

Now, it’s perfectly possible that it wasn’t intentional, but his response felt “less than gracious” to me and it switched me instantly from “I’d be really happy to recommend you” to “I really don’t feel so good about you any more.”

How to handle rejection

This response to my decision has potentially lost Colin future business – possibly a considerable amount given the size of my network and the fact that a lot of people trust my recommendations.  And I don’t want this same thing to happen to you.

So if a client does decide “no” because they’ve chosen to go with someone else instead here are some things that are really important to do:

  1. Acknowledge their decision
  2. Make it clear that you respect their decisionI realise that depending on the circumstances you may not be feeling all that gracious, so good way of doing this (especially if you don’t agree with their decision)  is to say how pleased you are that they found a service or provider they feel happy with.
  3. Wish them well
  4. Let them know you are there if they need anything in the future

How NOT to handle rejection

1. Don’t outwardly express your disappointment in a way that could be perceived as ungracious.

Yes, of course you are likely to be disappointed, and it’s OK to let the potential client know that’s how you feel and that you would have loved to work with them, but be careful that you don’t express it in a way that could leave them feeling bad about themselves – or you. (If that means you need to ask somebody to cast their eye over an email before you send it that’s OK).

2. Don’t disagree, or appear to argue with their decision.

3. Don’t make any comment, however subtle you might think it is, that is designed to undermine the decision they’ve just made.

For example, warning them about something that might go wrong for them as a result.  Even if you really believe that they’ve made a mistake and are genuinely saying it it because you want to help or protect them, it’s unlikely to be received in that spirit and is more likely to sound like sour grapes.

Getting it Right

Handle your rejections badly and it will be bad for your business.  But if you handle them well and it could lead to:

A flow of referrals.
Very often the referrals can become more valuable to that business than if you had worked with the initial person yourself as the referrals can add up to be more valuable over the long term than that one new client alone.

The client coming back to you
If (like maybe you strongly suspect)  things don’t work out with their other choice, or next time they are looking, they will come straight back to you.

If you are gracious when it comes to handling those rejections, whether by phone or email, these things are both possible. But if you make them feel bad or uncomfortable about their decision then they definitely won’t.

In my case, things didn’t all run smoothly with the accountant I’d chosen to work with, and I came very close to looking for another one.   Instead of going back to Colin, who really should have been my first port of call, I didn’t go back to him, and instead started a conversation with a third provider.

So to summarise – what’s important is that when your potential client decides “No”, you continue to be loving, supportive and consultative just as you have been up to this point. It’s about respecting their decision and handling it graciously.

Over to you… How do you handle it when a potential client chooses someone else? Have you been on the end of a “less than gracious” response when you’ve decided not to work with someone? I always love to read your thoughts so please share in the comments below.

Join me for a LIVE Q&A: Wednesday 10th October, 6.00pm (UK)

I’ll be hosting a Live Q&A in the Selling from the Heart Community free Facebook group on Wednesday 10th October at 6.00pm (UK time) when I’ll be going deeper into the topic of handling rejection gracefully. Just bring your questions and join me live – and even if you don’t have questions there will be plenty of insights for you to take  and apply to your business straight away. Click here to join us at 6.00pm.

And remember, doors are opening for my online programme Get More Clients Saying Yes! on Tuesday 16th October. Click here to be notified when doors open.

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Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts


  1. jane Gonin on October 11, 2018 at 10:51 am

    I am in the process today of re-contacting someone who has said that they will work with me again and I hope as I haven’t heard then it’s not going to be a no this time.
    I have always been nice and professional to people when they haven’t offered me work, but what I have learnt about my processing is that more often than not when I was thinking I was really wanting this new position, or contact, if it didn’t feel right then something in my sales conversation was telling them (un-intentionally) that I wasn’t ready for the job and therefore when the rejection came it wasn’t a surprise, sometimes even a relief.
    What I do find difficult is that there is sometimes no feedback as to why they won’t use you. Even when you know you have been professional in handling the rejection.
    Thank you Catherine for this wonderful reminder for today and keeping business heart centred for your own self and business care.

  2. Irene on October 9, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    I found this so interesting. It is true that you have to extend your kindness and courtesy at all times and keep doors open. Made me think that it could be a good exercise to have a friend say no to my face or on the phone or via email a few times. Build my resilience to feeling the ouch of no and extending through it with kindness.

    • Catherine on October 9, 2018 at 2:59 pm
      • Irene on October 13, 2018 at 12:43 pm

        This made laugh out loud! What a great guy!
        Thanks for sharing this, Catherine. It was what I was thinking of, but with bells on.
        Think I need to go and find some bells.

      • Irene on October 14, 2018 at 10:33 pm

        Thanks for this, Catherine.
        What a funny guy who has taken daring to a new level.
        Love it!

  3. Jenn on October 9, 2018 at 11:48 am

    I once had a choice between 2 copywriters. The rejected one replied with ” won’t be as good as me”. Needless to say, I never, ever went back to the rejected copywriter and never will.

    • Catherine on October 9, 2018 at 2:55 pm

      Umm… Indeed. And in contrast I once had a choice between 2 web designers. I’d had such a good experience from the rejected one right the way through, including her response to my decision, that I subsequently sent her tons of referrals.

  4. Helen Elizabeth Evans on October 9, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Such a great point. So glad you’ve addressed this, Catherine, and you’ve done it with your usual style and heart, and you’ve covered the subject so well with fabulous detail and explanation. Thank you.. Xx

    • Catherine on October 9, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Glad you found it useful Helen – and thanks for the comment!

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