Rejection in Business and Why You Mustn’t Take it Personally!

rejection in business - don't take it personally

Rejection in Business

Rejection is one of the toughest things we humans struggle with on an emotional level, and it’s just as applicable when it’s rejection in business as it is in our personal lives.

When customers ‘abandon’ us or replace us with a new supplier, it’s very easy to take it personally.


A Real Life Rejection Story

Pictured - our first two airport transfer buses with driver, Steve

Pictured – our first two airport transfer buses with driver, Steve

Back in 1996, when I was running my 60-bed backpackers hostel business, I drove to Perth Airport late one night to collect a nice American couple who had called me to book a double room for a week. Back then it was about a 40 minute drive each way, along with a few minutes of dealing with airport traffic and finding a parking spot. On the return leg I played the tour guide host, engaging them with pleasant conversation and pointing out all the places of interest as we approached the city.

Upon arrival, I showed them to their room, gave them a tour of the facilities, introducing them to a few of the night owls in the lounge area and made them a welcoming cuppa to drink at reception as I checked them in. Checking that they weren’t too tired from their journey, I went through my welcoming routine, orienting them with a map for local shops, bus stops, restaurants etc. After making sure they had everything they needed, I let them head off to their bedroom to settle in for the night. I was exhausted but pleased to have sold a double room for a week.

About ten minutes later, as I was locking everything away in reception and about to head home, there was a knock on the office door. The young American guy looked very sheepish as he explained apologetically that his wife just wasn’t happy because “the room wasn’t in great shape”. I asked what he meant by that, trying to understand if there was a specific complaint I could address, but he could only stammer that there was nothing I could do. He said I had been really nice to them, which they really appreciated. They were especially grateful for the free airport pick-up and thought the place seemed super friendly, including the nice people I had introduced them to, but his wife simply thought that the room wasn’t in good enough shape for her. It didn’t match her expectations. He basically admitted that she didn’t really want to stay in a backpackers’. She had really wanted a posh hotel. We had only taken over the business a few months earlier and I was busy working my way around decorating and upgrading the entire place, so I was well aware that it was far from the Ritz Hotel yet!

Don't take it personally - you can't please ALL the people ALL the time!

Don’t take it personally – you can’t please ALL the people ALL the time!

I was pretty irked at the time and energy I had wasted on driving to the airport and back, then showing them around, checking them in, making them tea, only to be insulted about the room standard, but my years of retail and tourism management complaint-handling experience kicked in.  I resisted the urge to quote Basil Fawlty’s famous character from the BBC TV series ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ask exactly what she had expected to find in a Perth backpackers hostel – ‘A herd of wildebeests sweeping majestically across the plain or perhaps the hanging gardens of Babylon?’

Instead I kept my cool, suggested some other, slightly more upmarket, but inexpensive places they could go to; refunded them the money; helped them book in and drove them to the competitor’s hostel. They were gushing with gratitude and very apologetic, but when I reflected afterwards on what had gone wrong, I realised that you simply can’t please all the people all the time and it was better to get them out of there and off to somewhere where they would enjoy their experience, rather than grumpily refusing to refund and forcing them to stay somewhere they didn’t want to be. This was even before social media became the ‘make or break’ people’s court that it has since become, but nevertheless ‘word of mouth’ was still the biggest and most effective marketing tool available in a community of travellers who were always sharing their good and bad experience stories with each other.

If memory serves correctly, we let that double room the next day anyway to people who were glad to be there, which was a far better help to the overall social dynamic of a place that was all about having fun.


A Lesson Learned – Why You Must Not Take the Rejection Personally

 You can only do your best

You can only do your best!

The harsh lesson resonated with me. The rejection wasn’t personal, even though it had felt like it. They just had a different expectation, or at least she did, and she was the boss. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that ‘not everybody’ was meant to stay there. I even evolved the belief that the ‘right people’ would find their way to us. Of course, in the ensuing fourteen years of dealing with the public, I could certainly share stories of every shade and perverse element of humanity’s rich spectrum, but on the whole the vast majority of our customers were the ‘right people’ in the ‘right place’ for them. The bulk of our staff, certainly the permanent crew, became pretty astute at assessing people very quickly and only checking in ‘good people’. The casual staff were probably the best trained in Perth, yet they still made a few human errors with ‘undesirables’. The team would quickly weed these people out though to protect the rest of our guests and keep our reputation intact as well.

So, the key lesson here is that you only want more of the ‘right customers’ for you. If someone is not a ‘good fit’ for your customer profile, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s to blame and you mustn’t take it personally because that will eat away at you and dis-empower you. Just accept it with the best grace you can muster, move on and replace them with better ones.


Everyone Has a Different Perspective and You Alone Can Choose Your Response

How you choose to see things is your decision

How you choose to see things is your decision

Realise also that even when a complaint seems ridiculous, idiotic or unreasonable to you, for some reason it makes absolute sense to the person making it. A lot of the time they either want to take out their bad day’s grumpiness on someone, which just happens to be you or your staff; or they’re tired, or cranky; certainly not ‘always right’ – sometimes misinformed or just plain wrong, stupid or both. Sometimes they just want to be heard and made to feel important or special. It’s amazing how easy it can sometimes be to make the smallest accommodation and turn their attitude around. Obviously, if the complaint has validity, then we should always do our best to keep improving in business and nip things in the bud before they become bigger or recurring problems.

Rejection is only personal if you allow it to be and the simple test question is to ask yourself ‘If I choose to look at this way, will that empower me or dis-empower me?’



If you need any help for you or your staff team with any of the issues raised in this article, feel free to contact me via this website for a no-obligation chat.

by Tony Inman

TONY INMAN is the CEO of Club Red Inspiration. An entrepreneur who has set up over 20 businesses, Tony is a business, life and mindset coach, consultant, mentor, presenter and trainer. A former mentor at Curtin University’s Centre for Entrepreneur-ship, he has coached hundreds of business owners and executives across the globe. Tony is the author of several books including ‘If Life’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Well.’ He is passionate about helping people to fulfil their potential and follow their dreams.

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