Getting Past No

rejectionThink about the last time you came up with an exciting, insightful, creative idea. Picture how deeply committed you were to this concept, and how exhilarated you felt as you began to share it with others. Pretty nice, right? Now remember how it felt when the idea got shot down by someone who didn’t share your passion – and, worse, who had the power to kill it completely.

What went wrong? Whomever we are trying to share a creative idea with, we all struggle with this question. How can we as individuals be so connected to a concept while others – clients, colleagues, spouses, or friends – can’t even begin to wrap their heads around it?

Here at Ketchum, the organizational development and creativity teams have partnered to get to the bottom of this issue through an interactive workshop called “Getting Past No.” Participants learn to fight for their creative ideas through practical techniques and strategies that strengthen their tenacity, guided by research and theory from the fields of organizational psychology, executive coaching, neuroscience and marketing. Based on the workshop materials, here are a few strategies that you can implement right away.

Create familiarity.

The amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for processing emotion, and it likes things that feel familiar and comfortable. According to Dr. Gregory Berns of Emory University, unfamiliar ideas and concepts register in your brain as alarming and potentially dangerous. When someone automatically responds to your idea with a no, it makes them feel better by shutting down that worry and letting their amygdala calm down and return to the status quo.

One way to dodge this is to share part of the idea, or its core concept, to stakeholders prior to a presentation. That way, when you make the actual presentation, the people to whom you are presenting are already aware of what is coming and don’t feel challenged or destabilized. Also, familiarity with people can be just as important as familiarity with ideas, so make sure that key decision makers hear the idea from a trusted source.

Engage in questioning techniques.

Often when an idea is shot down, that’s the end of it. However, lingering questions remain as to why your audience wasn’t interested. Was it because they hated the overall concept, or was it because they hated one tiny, little piece and therefore rejected the whole package? Take a tip often used by executive coaches and ask a scaling question: “On a scale from one to 10, where are you with this idea?” Your next steps will drastically vary if the answer is an eight as opposed to a two.

It’s also useful to ask questions such as, “Which aspects of this idea could work?” “What part of this idea should we continue with?” “What part of this idea should we remove?” and “What would you like to see added to this idea?” The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t just take a no at face value – ask questions.

Help visualize the outcome.

We often want to “wow” a client or convince a team member to go with a bold, novel concept. However, this can feel intimidating, difficult and downright scary to someone who can’t imagine how the idea is going to work.

In order to combat discomfort and skepticism, provide parallel examples that were successful in the past. Explain the key factors that made it a winning idea, and describe how these factors are transferable to new iterations of the concept.

Next time you hear “no,” remember that it does not need to be the final answer. Try out the techniques mentioned above, and you may be able to turn the “no” into a “yes.”

This article first appeared on Holmes. For more thought leadership from Ketchum on creativity, please visit

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