Why we confuse rejection with questions, negotiations, and objections

Rejection avoidance is baked into our DNA—and our biology is at the root of it.

Why we confuse rejection with questions, negotiations, and objections
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As humans, we are hardwired to feel pain when we get rejected. And when we feel that pain, it triggers fear–whether that’s anticipated, perceived, or real. Early humans who developed sensitivity to rejection were more likely to pass on their DNA, so evolution rewarded this trait. Even in modern society, the pain of rejection teaches us how to act appropriately in public, how to work in groups, how to make friends, and how to fit in.


But here’s the thing: Most of us confuse rejections with other reactions. Objections, for example, are not rejection. They are signs of confusion, concerns, the sorting out of options, subconscious cognitive biases, risk aversion, cognitive overload, and the fear of change. They are a natural part of the human decision-making process. In most cases, an objection is a sign that your prospect is still engaged–so you shouldn’t give up hope or write off getting the outcome you were hoping for.

Others also confuse questions (or even a negotiation attempt) as rejection. Sure, tough questions can be hard to hear, but customers and prospects often need to know this information before they can move forward. Negotiation is also not a rejection. If someone wants to negotiate with you, that shows that they’re engaged and willing to take your proposal seriously, and that they are willing to collaborate on a mutually beneficial deal.

Here’s what objections, questions, and negotiation might sound like sound like:

  • “I don’t know; I’m going to need to think about it.” (Objection)
  • “I need to run this by my boss (wife, husband, friend, etc.)” (Objection)
  • “Before moving forward, we’re going to need to get our ducks in a row.” (Objection)
  • “I don’t have time right now.” (Objection)
  • “We’re not interested.” (Objection)
  • “I’d like to explore other options.” (Objection)
  • “Why does that option cost so much?” (Question)
  • “Why can’t we get delivery sooner?” (Question)
  • “Why does it work that way instead of this way?” (Question)
  • “How is your software different than your competitors’?” (Question)
  • “Can you work with me on the price?” (Negotiation)
  • “Can you get this done faster?” (Negotiation)
  • “Is there a way we can lower the setup fees?” (Negotiation)
  • “I really want to do business with you, but . . .” (Negotiation)

When someone rejects you, they often don’t give you an opportunity to argue.
Rejection, on the other hand, is the outright refusal to accept an idea or request. It is a flat no that at times may be delivered with a harsh and deliberate tone. In rare cases, people hurl rejection at you as a personal insult.

Here’s what a (severe) objection might sound like:

  • “Get the hell out of my office, you moron!” (Rejection)
  • “Take me off your list and don’t ever call me again!” (Rejection)
    “You and your company suck!” (Rejection)
  • “I wouldn’t do business with you if you were the last person on Earth!” (Rejection)
  • “Go screw yourself!” (Rejection)
  • Click or slam—phone being hung up or door being shut in your face (Rejection)

Why we conflate these emotions together

You might be reading this now with a clear understanding of the differences between questions, objections, negotiations, and rejections. The problem is, in the moment, when your emotions are reeling, it can be difficult to tell the difference.


At the purely emotional level, rejection and objections can and often do feel the same. This is because rejection can be real, anticipated, or perceived. An anticipated rejection is where you worry about the potential of it happening, which kicks off a wave of disruptive emotions. A perceived rejection is where an objection, question, or attempt to negotiate for real rejection can produce a natural emotional and neurophysiological response that feels like being rejected.

Of course, I could attempt to rationalize this with you, just as I did in the previous section, by illustrating the difference between an objection and a rejection. In sales training rooms across the globe that is exactly what gets done. Trainers address sales objections with an appeal to your rational brain. They admonish you not to take objections personally–and just let them roll off your back.

Likewise, sales experts pound on the table and tell you to toughen up or tap out. But this noise is mostly ineffective. If telling salespeople to suck it up and not take objections personally worked, we’d all be champions at asking for what we want and getting past no. I believe it is completely disingenuous to tell you that you can just snap your fingers, detach from rejection, and let it roll off your back.


To overcome rejections, you need to train yourself to process (and face) your emotions

There is no doubt that you can become inspired and motivated enough to run headlong into rejection following a motivational speech or strong message. The problem is that this type of motivation is temporary at best. Without sustainable techniques for gaining control over your disruptive emotions, you’ll rapidly revert to a more natural state in which you meander around the outskirts of rejection or avoid it altogether.

Objections: The Ultimate Guide For Mastering The Art And Science Of Getting Past No by Jeb Blount

Talking at you about why you shouldn’t take objections personally doesn’t remove or negate the emotional pain you actually feel. Unless you are an emotionless psychopath, rejection hurts and objections sting.The real truth, that no one ever tells you, is the pain you feel in response to rejection–anticipated, perceived, or real–is as much biological as it is emotional.

You may be able to avoid this pain in the short term by steering clear of anything that even feels like rejection. But being unable to provide for your family, missing your mortgage payment, working in a dead-end job, getting fired, failing to reach your true potential, or feeling regret (the only emotion that cannot be resolved) hurt far worse over the long run.


To be successful, you’re going to need to ask for what you want and learn strategies to face whatever responses come your way–whether it’s a question, attempt to negotiate, objection, or rejection. Remember, even if it is a rejection, there is usually a way to turn a no into a yes. And if there isn’t, you can be confident that the more nos you get, the closer you are to getting a yes.

This article was adapted from Objections by Jeb Blount. It is reprinted with permission from Wiley. Copyright (c) 2018 by Jeb Blount.