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Explaining Your Failures Is Key to Succeeding

Door-to-door brush salesman Norman Hall had a unique way of explaining what his day is like to Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Hall described himself as being confronted with an “ocean of failure” every day, bringing to mind an overwhelming, all-encompassing deluge of disapproval. Something that no one would want to deal with. There’s a choice here, though: You can drown or you can float. Dan Pink Explain Failure-BQ1And it’s this choice that’s led Pink to the idea of promoting what he calls, appropriately enough, “buoyancy.” The key to buoyancy, he says, is the way in which you explain rejections to yourself.

In sales, this rejection is near-constant, and it can feel very personal and discouraging. It’s easy to feel as if each non-sale represents something you’ve done wrong. At times, the sheer amount of “no” you hear begins to drown out the yesses, leading to a defeatist outlook in which there’s nothing ahead but failure. Finally, the lack of success can carry the emotional wallop of a life-ruining catastrophe.All three of these things, admits Pink, are perfectly natural to feel. But they’re usually wrong. Which is notto saythey can’t drag you straight down to the bottom and make you wary of carrying on.
Pink says the most successful people in sales find a way to de-personalize a failure by “decatastrophizing” it. They break its sting into its constituent parts and work through each one separately. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania suggests three questions to consider as a way to restore your buoyancy.
Ask Yourself These Questions
Was the lack of a sale really my fault?
Blaming yourself isn’t really fair because all you know is your side of the story — you have no idea what factors went into the decision to turn your offer down. It’s not as if your pitch occurred in a vacuum. Maybe you did everything perfectly but other things worked against you. Pink suggests about your potential customer, “It could be that you’re not ready to buy right now. It could be that you have a brother-in-law in the business and you have to buy it from him. It could be that your company’s about to go bankrupt and you’re not buying anything right now.”
Pink isn’t saying to lower the standard of quality work you demand from yourself. “It turns out there’s some interesting evidence showing that questioning your abilities is sometimes more effective than pumping yourself up.” And working on your confidence is absolutely fine. But in many cases,” Pink says, “questioning your ability saying ‘can you do this and, if so, how’ is a more effective strategy for buoyancy than the kind of ‘you’re awesome,’ pump yourself up strategy.”
Is this really the only way it ever goes?
One failure naturally tends to refresh the memory of all the others, making it all too easy to develop the expectation that every future sales attempt will go nowhere “just like they always do.” Except they don’t. Pink suggests, “Rebut that argument that it always happens and say well, this doesn’t always happen because last week I closed a deal. Two days ago I made a sale.”
Is this really a disaster?
“We have a tendency to think that rejection is a complete catastrophe that’s gonna destroy the rest of our live, and that rarely happens,” says Pink. “So is it permanent? No, it’s not, because most things aren’t permanent.” Sure, financial pressure is a serious problem, but odds are the sun will come up tomorrow. Odds are a depressing day or streak will end. Hopefully soon.

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