Customer Service

The Magic Word to Use After a Rejection


Speaking of rejection, no one likes it. Most people would naturally do one of two things wrong after hearing the word NO:

  1. Run away as fast as possible and hide somewhere where the rejection can't find you
  2. Stay and argue, attempting to persuade the other person to change his/her mind.

These are classic fight or flight reactions. However, not only are these both bad options when trying to get something we want, but they could have hidden consequences that we aren't aware of.

Wrong option #1 – Leaving:

This might look harmless on the surface, but we often walk away feeling a combination of disappointment, anger, frustration and shame. These feelings combined with the negative feedback we just received can lead to us losing confidence in our ideas, our businesses, or even ourselves. In the end, running away can cause us to give up more easily in the future.

Moreover, we don’t learn anything from the rejector on the reason we were rejected. Was it because she was in a bad mood? Was it because she didn't need what I was offering? Or possibly, was it because there is something seriously wrong with our offering that we need to change? Leaving a situation before we realize the reason why we were rejected doesn't allow us to learn the reason why. The fear of rejection triggers our body to run, but leaves us without the one thing we need in order to grow- the reason why.

Wrong option #2– Arguing:

Arguing can happen after a rejection for a couple different reasons. We might feel that the rejection is unfair or wrong. With indignation, we argue based on rules and morality. Or, we might feel that the rejection is counter-productive to both parties, so we try to argue based on interests.

However, when we're arguing we are trying to change the other person’s position and opinion, something not easily done. Position switch involves the other person’s emotion and ego. Most people are naturally repelled by the idea of admitting they were wrong in the first place or showing weakness in doing so. Arguing more than often leads to people feeling defensive and insulted. When you feel like someone is trying to "change you" or your deepest beliefs, it can lead to hurt relationships and more tension. There is no productivity in arguing after facing a rejection.

In my new book Rejection Proof, I revealed a list of techniques you can use to turn a NO into a YES after a rejection, and the first of which is using a word I discovered had magic powers to influence people and create amazing opportunities, that word is WHY.

Here's what you do:

Immediately after a rejection, before your fight or flight instinct kicks in, ask: “May I know why this wouldn't work?”

For those of you who have followed me, you might be familiar with this video where I planted a flower in someone’s backyard.

However, what you may not know is that something happened before this video. Before talking to Connie, I actually first asked her neighbor if I could plant a flower in his backyard. He was an older gentleman and said NO. But before he could turn away, I asked him why. As it turned out, he had a dog who would dig up everything he puts in the backyard. He didn’t want me to waste my flower and effort. In fact, he told me to go across the street and talk to Connie instead, because he knew that Connie loved flowers. Then the above video happened. And it happened only because I didn’t run after the initial rejection and ask the magic word WHY.

**Note that had I not asked why and simply left (like I did in my first rejection attempt), I might have thought the reason for the rejection was because he didn't like my flower, he didn't trust me or maybe because I sounded like a crazy person. I would have left the rejection attempt imagining all of the reasons why I'm a horrible and ugly person. Isn't this what we do after being rejected? We feel like it is blow to who we are as a person, some kind of indictment on our soul.

I could have done worse by arguing with him that he should let me plant a flower in his backyard. It could have turned unpleasant and even ugly. In the end, it wouldn't have done any good.

But because I asked why, I found out that it had nothing to do with me, but everything to do with him. In fact, he trusted me enough to refer me to his neighbor Connie. Asking why gave me another opportunity to seek out the backyard for planting my flower.

Because rejection is painful, we often succumb to our psychological tendency to fight or flight, just like our ancestors when they were fighting beasts in the wild. However, in modern day business negotiation and communication when intricate emotions and interests are involved, relying on our primary instinct is very unproductive. Use the magic word instead. Ask why.

Rejection 92 - Fly a Gyroplane

When someone wants to be rejected with all their heart, it takes a strong imagination to come up with a request so impossible that it's embarrassing to even try. Today, to demonstrate rejection to the visiting documentary crew - Wayward Nation, I came up with an idea – drive to an airfield and ask a random pilot if we can fly his plane. Considering everything that could go wrong with flying a plane, there is absolutely no way he would say ‘yes’ to this request... right?

There were times I was surprised, there were times I was shocked, and there was the one time I was speechless. This was that time.

As I was going in and out of clouds or skimming over cornfields, I asked myself: what if I had never asked? I would not have had the best flight of my life. I would not even have had regret, because I would not have known such thing was possible. My 100 Days of Rejection Therapy has demonstrated one principle over and over again - you will never get it if you don't ask first.

Of course, when someone says ‘yes’ to my request, there is always some motivation. It could be intrinsic ones such as helping me and seeing the smile on my face, or extrinsic ones such as letting me know about what he is doing. In this case, I suspect there was a little of both and he admitted as such.


1. The Bible says "Seek and ye shall find.” Rejection Therapy taught me "Ask and ye could receive.”

2. Don't be embarrassed by your request, because the other person might be motivated to say ‘yes’. The best requests provide a win-win outcome for all parties involved.

Rejection 90 - Get a Ride on a Bucket Truck

Six month ago I was working in my office on the 16th floor, the tallest in the building. I saw the high-rise window cleaners climbing down a rope on the side of the building, washing the windows outside floor by floor. I asked myself: how much would they have to pay me to do this as a regular job? $100 an hour? $200 an hour? The number kept going up and up. And every time I started to be tempted to take the imaginary deal; I started thinking about my wife, my kid, and how much my life means to them. I then tore up the imaginary offer and said NO with an imaginary stern voice to the imaginary hiring manager. I went on to pat myself on the back for being a good husband and father... imaginary rejection never felt so good. But deep down, I knew I turned it down because heights are scarier to me than any movie scene with zombies and ghosts. Today as I was walking by a store, I saw two people working on a bucket truck. I have always had a secret desire to climb on top of one of those and move around in the air. It seems cool and thrilling and not as scary as the height of skyscrapers. Therefore, as part of my Rejection Therapy I approached them and asked for the ride of my life. Did I get it?

If I can experience thrills like this once a day for the rest of my life, the Dos Equis Man would be offering to exchange lives with me!

Learning: After we graduate school and enter the professional world, we always live our lives as if they were planned or part of a large scheme. We rarely do spontaneous and fun things anymore. But we should! Whether we get a rejection or not, these things make life much more colorful and worth-living.

Rejection 89 - Skate at Sonic

When asking a favor, it is one thing to ask for something completely harmless but another entirely when it involves something a little risky. Today I tried to see if I could borrow a pair of skates at Sonic and skate around their restaurant. Sonic is known for having skating servers to serve food to parked customers. Would they allow me to skate and have fun? Or would they be afraid of the liability, were I to slip and fall during my adventure?

The one truth I have found about great customer service is that the best customer service representatives look for opportunities to accommodate, rather than reject. In this case, the manager minimized the risk of liability by having me sign a waiver. That way she could both ensure customer happiness and minimize her risks. I wish all customer services people could be like her.

Learning: The Bible teaches people to, "be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16). This should be the motto for all great customer service teams. Say 'yes' to customers, but in case things go wrong, make sure your employer is also protected.

Rejection 80 - Test Drive an Expensive Car

Of all the commercial places, I don't know where car dealerships would be ranked in term of the least desirable places to visit. My guess is that it is pretty low, comparable to pharmacies and tax offices. One of the reasons is the constant pushing and prodding from car salesmen. Today, I wanted to see if I could go into a BMW dealership requesting a test-drive, while making it very clear I wouldn't buy a car from them that day. Although for his time, I would promise I will visit him again when I do decide to buy a car. Will this promise be enough for the salesman to grant my wish?

Rejection 79 - McDonald's Challenge (Afternoon McGriddle)

A young poster kept asking me to do this McDonald's Challenge, which is to get a McGriddle in the afternoon. Apparently, fast-food restaurants like McDonalds would not cook breakfast after 12:00pm, especially for food associated with eggs due to cross-contamination issues. Therefore, it's impossible to get a McGriddle in the afternoon, according to the poster's logic. I love challenges, especially those that seem impossible. So, I went to a McDonald at 2:00pm today ask for a McGriddle. Would I succeed in getting the breakfast, or succeed in getting a rejection?

Rejection 77 - Fix a PC at the Apple Store

Commercial rivalries are some of the most intense rivalries in the world. We have Coke vs Pepsi, McDonald's vs Berger King, and Intel vs AMD. Of course, in the past decade, you can't mention business rivalry without mentioning Mac vs PC, whose TV ads turned personal with frontal attacks on each other. Personally, I use many products from both Mac and PC worlds. I have always wondered if I take a product from one company, and take it to the store that belongs to another, how would the store employees react? Today, I decided to try it by taking my PC ultra-book to an Apple store, asking for a repair.

To my surprise, Patrick from the Apple Genius Bar didn't seem to be surprised/upset by my requests at all. He did trouble-shooting with me, while making it clear that his store can't support non-Mac hardware in term of actual repair. He even mentioned that he learned something new as well. It would be very easy to say 'no' up front. His effort and attitude were really impressive.

One of comments by James Ham on Facebook page said "that goes to show that some people really enjoy their work." I completely agree. I feel companies need to focus 50% of their customer support effort on making their employees happy, instead of focusing purely on customers. Because the best and most genuine supports come from happy employees wanting to help customers, not unhappy employees pretending or trained to be helpful.


1. Ask a paid customer, don't be afraid to make requests in a reasonable and respectful manner. You can find out the quality of customer service from the company in a hurry.

2. Happy employees give great customer service. Make your employees happy.

Rejection 71 - Change Coffee Shop's WI-FI Password

"Stupidity talks, vanity acts" - Victor Hugo

"Stupid vanity sells" - Jia Jiang (just made up)

If people and corporations are willing to spend money buying vanity license plates or stadium naming rights, I wondered why coffee shops don't sell Internet passcode to vain individuals or businesses with mis-allocated marketing budgets? Think about it, you walk into Starbucks, log in to WI-FI network, and are forced to type the passcode "JustDoIt". Guess when next time your tennis shoes are worn out, which store will you go?

Before I sell this idea to Starbucks for $50 million, I went to a famous local coffee shop called Dominican Joe, trying to convince the barista to reset their WI-FI passcode for me as a rejection session.

As I mentioned in the video, Dominican Joe's owner contacted me a couple of months ago on a sports message board call Clutchfans, asking if I could do a rejection session in his store. So I did.

This was probably the most confident feeling I had for a rejection session, mainly because I had the permission from the owner. Also, the barita lady was fantastic to chat with. She was engaging and curious. When she heard my request, she gave a big smile and asked why.

Being a huge fan of the word 'why', I always use the word when people reject my requests. It let's me understand the underlying reason for a rejection, so I can negotiate  and address that reason.

Moreover, when people ask me 'why' before saying 'yes' or 'no' to my request, I feel being respected, and I always enjoy having the opportunity to explain myself.

Learning: 1. Confidence comes easily when I have an ally from the other side. 2. Using the title of Simon Sinek's famous book, always Start with Why.

Rejection 69 - Buy Fresh Fruit From Jamba Juice

When we go to a restaurant, we don't buy poultry and ground beef, but fried chicken and burgers instead. When we go to a liquor store, we don't buy grape and barley, but wine and whiskey instead. Can I buy raw ingredient at places that sell prepared food? To get the answer, I went to a local Jamba Juice store and asked to buy fresh fruit, looking to get rejected.

Not only I walked into a store without power, I walked into one that offers what I requested - $0.75 a banana. As a competitive guy, who never wants to be rejected or accepted with ease, I moved the goal post, again and again. My request progressed like this:

Buy fresh fruit -> Buy orange -> Buy orange at 20% discount (from $0.25 to $0.2)

The results: I got five oranges at Jamba Juice for free, because the register had no power.

Much credit to the Daniel and Jessica, who wouldn't reject me no matter what I tried. That's great customer service from a company with great product (again, I love the their juice). It never ceases to amaze me how eager some companies want to please their customers, and some don't.

Moreover, I wonder if I could negotiate a 20% price reduction this easily at a grocery store, and I want to follow up with this request tomorrow.

Learning: Nothing new today. I already know that great customer service can make me extremely happy and make rejection requests extremely hard.

Rejection 57 - Buy Quarter of a Shrimp

When I made requests such as getting olympic symbol donuts or racing a random person, fulfilling them requires a lot of work, but the results were spectacular. I wonder what would happen if I request something that requires work, but the result was very insignificant? To test it out, I went to Whole Foods and asked to buy a quarter piece of a shrimp.

To my surprise, the two employees treated my request as if it was just another normal request, and they even gave me three quarter pieces. Interestingly, they put the word "wow" on the package. I wonder if it meant "wow moment" for a customer.

Learning: Good customer focuses on action, attitude and effort, not results. A customer could get a 'yes' but still feels unhappy, or a 'no' but feels very happy. It's all about the interaction and relationship.

Rejection 54 - Dance With My Waitress

After going through more than 50 episodes of rejection therapy, I have been through a lot. I stood in front of a crowd giving a speech, made an announcement in an airplane over 100 passengers, and knocked on strangers' doors. I started to feel so fearless that I could ask for anything from anyone. However, when my wife suggested that I ask my waitress for a dance in the middle of a restaurant, I started sweating like I was in a Turkish bath. After mustering my courage, I made the request. Here is what happened:

Former NFL star Jason Taylor said "doing (Dancing With The Stars) is actually more nerve-wracking than a game day in the NFL". I'm not a star but I can somewhat relate to it now. I kept thinking why this one was so tough for me? Is it because asking to dance with a woman is an inherently difficult act for a man? Or is it because dancing in the middle of a crowded restaurant is potentially embarrassing? Or is it because I am really bad at dancing in general? In any case, I tried the same thing again in a parking lot, and felt so much more at ease. My 'practice' paid off.

Learning: No matter how difficult, scary or absurd the situation is, practice helps. If you are hindered by fear of rejection, or anything else, just do it, and do it again. You will get better.

Rejection 53 - Ask Zappos Employees to Gangnam Style

I came to know Tony Hsieh through his book Delivering Happiness. It is a must-read for all entrepreneurs who want to build an impactful company. I was honored to be invited by him to present at the CatalystCreativ Series and share my experience at the Las Vegas Downtown Project last week.  I also had the opportunity to tour the Zappos headquarters. During my tour at Zappos, I witnessed the fun and craziness of the company, with its fully decorated office space, cheerful greetings from employees, and welcoming atmosphere. No wonder it's ranked as one of the best places to work. A rejection idea also popped up in my mind. I randomly invited employees to dance Gangnam Style with me. Guess what happened:

A little confession: I kind of expected to receive a 'yes' this time, just because of what I had witnessed during my tour and the company's reputation.  My intention was to teach them to dance, but it turned out I was the worst dancer among them. After a little background research, I learned that Tony had asked the Zappos employees to do a Gangnam Style Parody last Thanksgiving. I was simply late to the party, but we still had fun.

Learning: Want to provide great customer service? "Deliver happiness" to your employees, and they will pass on the happiness to your customers. It is very difficult to get a rejection from companies such as Zappos and Southwest.  They deliver the ultimate customer experience, internally and externally.

Rejection 52 - Be Like a Southwest Pilot

There are a few factors in a request: requester (who), requestee (who), request content (what), request delivery (how), and request context (where and when). Any one of these factors could determine the outcome of a request. My blog often focuses on request content and delivery, but sometime it is just as important who the requestee is. In this case, it is Southwest Airline, to whom I already made a crazy request on day 19, when I asked to deliver the flight safety announcement. However, can they take on another one from? Today, after the flight I asked the captain to give me a tour of the cockpit.

After this episode, I feel I would get a 'yes' from Southwest no matter what I ask, as long as it's legal and ethical.

Learning: Sometimes to whom we are making our requests makes a big difference in the outcome.

Rejection 45 – Put Sunglasses on Random People

Through my rejection therapy experience, I learned that the weirdness of my request isn't always positively correlated to rejection rate. In this session when I was trying to play soccer in someone's backyard, the owner said 'yes' because the request was so "off the wall". Today, I wanted to make another weird request - asking someone to put on sunglasses for no reason.

I was very surprised at the time that everyone said 'yes' to my request. Then, after some thoughts afterward, I found that I shouldn't have been surprised at all.

1. The request was very harmless. Unlike when I was trying to partner up with someone to buy lottery, there is no downside in accepting my request.

2. Even though there was no justification for my request, there isn't a legit justification for a rejection either, other than "I don't feel like it". Putting myself in their shoes, I feel it's probably harder to say 'no' then 'yes'.

Learning: 1. It is hard for people to give rejections, and even harder to reject harmless and easy requests. 2. If you want to get a 'yes', making a weird request is much better than making a dangerous request.

Rejection 41 - Sit in Police Car's Driver's Seat

Rejection is feared, and so are people with authority. Rejection from people with authority is terrifying.

In our society, police officers often represent authority, especial when they are handing out speeding tickets. Moreover, with guns, handcuffs and pepper sprays on their belts, they don't have the most welcoming present. Compounded by the fact that police officers are often portrayed in a dramatic and negative lights in the media and on the web, very few people walk up to them to strike up a conversation.

To test and conquer fear, I wanted to get rejected by anyone, including people with authority. Therefore, I walked up to an officer asking to do something I have always wanted - sitting in the drive seat of a police car.

After some nervous laughter and sweating, I was surprised by how easy he let me do it. There was no negotiation, just a straight 'yes'. After all, police officers are just people like you and me. Being treated with respect, they often give respect back. However, their jobs have also trained them to sense unusual body languages and behaviors. Had I been overly nervous or presumptuous, it might have turned out differently.

Learning: people with authority are people first. They are governed by the same physical and emotional rules like the rest of us. Don't act weird in front them, or you might get an easy rejection, or worse.

Rejection 34 – Get a Job in One Day

This is another one of my 10 audacious rejections. Looking for a job is tough. When I graduated from business school in 2009, I was right in the middle of the financial crisis that costed millions of jobs. Many people were struggling in the job market, and I was one of them. I wrote over 600 emails to network with people before I landed my job offers. Looking back, this was one of the toughest periods of my life.

I know many people can relate with my experience. Job search is difficult and feared because 1. we much rather be working, being productive and generating an income than writing resumes; 2. the uncertainty about today and tomorrow is suffocating; 3. it is a constant state of rejection. After you put your heart into a resume, a cover letter, and if you are lucky, an interview, the odds are you will still hear the dreaded 'no' and have to start over.

The reason I started my rejection therapy is to conquer fear. Since job search is one of the most feared phases in life, I decided to take it head on. This time, I brushed up my resume, listed five companies in Austin I wouldn't mind working for, and dropped in their offices cold looking for a job for one day only.

Why one day only, you asked? This is what I discovered from personal experience - working for free for a short period of time is a great door-opener for job searchers. Without the long-term risks, companies are more willing to try you out. Once you exceed their expectations, they will want to, and in some cases, beg you to stay. By then, you will have earned valuable experiences and turned the table in the job-searching negotiation.

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" - Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7. I feel I can relate to Paul for writing this verse of the Bible.

Much credit goes to Jennifer, whose curiosity, professionalism and kindness kept the conversation alive and gave me hope to come back. You can tell BigCommerce is a good company with quality employees by a simple glimpse into its workforce.

I hope my experience has demonstrated that if you are persistent, honest and willing to lower the risks for the other party, you can increase your odds of finding a job, making a sale, or negotiating a purchase.

Also, it's an interesting fact that all three ladies offered to either take my resume or give me a phone number for followup discussion. This is already much further along the process than simply applying for jobs online. For the people who are currently looking for a job, don't lose hope.


1. No matter what you do, persistence is the key to your success.

2. Be cognizant to other people's risks and obstacles. Offer actions to lower and remove them. When looking for a job, offer to work without compensation for a week. When making a sale, offer customers to try it for free for 10-days. This is the "Generating Options" principle discussed in Roger Fisher and William L. Ury's excellent book on negotiation Getting to Yes.

3. When others can't say 'yes' to the entire request, ask them to say 'yes' to the things they have control over, and go from there. When you get one 'yes', you are much further along than getting no 'yes'.

4. Just when all seem lost, don't lose hope and fight the battle one more time. You never know if you don't go back in there.

Rejection 30 - Slide Down the Firepole at a Firestation

In one of my favorite song - Superman, by Five for Fighting, the lyric goes "even heroes have the right to bleed". For firefighters, they bleed, sweet and risk their lives to save lives. Now, do they have the right to reject? I went into a fire station to test it out.

They say policemen are hated, and firemen are loved. You can easily find out why the ladder is true. Firemen have vehicle, thought not a tumbler; they have uniforms, though not a bat suit; they have tools, though not a utility belt; they have call signals, though not a bat light in the sky. But they are truly the real-world version of batman.

Learning: 1. showing someone your respect will go a long way before you make any request. However, don't flatter or manipulate, be genuine and don't go overboard. Everyone wants to be loved and respected, especially the people who risk their lives to keep you safe. 2. After we watch news where predominantly bad news are broadcasted, we sometimes ask ourselves, where have all the good people gone? Well, they are everywhere. When you have time, feel free to stop by a fire station and show your appreciation. Again, giving someone praise is beneficial to everyone.

Rejection 29 - Learn Making Chai Tea From Barista

When someone challenges you to do a rejection therapy session right there, it's called taking a dare. That's exactly what happened when Fidel Martinez, the reporter from (article here), asked me to demonstrate how rejection therapy works in a coffee shop. I got up and walked to the very charming barista - Daniel, and asked her to teach me to make her favorite drink.

When faced with a unusual request, Daniel said 'yes' faster than I could blink, which really surprised me. On one hand, she has the personality that could melt most people. On the other hand, she mentioned that she loves this type of request, so she can have fun during her job too.

Learning: A sweet personality can't be manufactured or trained. A good barista, or any customer service rep is justified to say 'no', or to hesitate in saying 'yes' to unusual request. However, it's the non-hesitating 'yes' and going the extra mile that create a wow moment. I suggest any company wanting to offer great customer service to spend more effort on hiring than training, because people like Daniel and Jackie were made much earlier than they were hired by their companies.

Rejection 24: Exchange Training With a Personal Trainer

A personal trainer's job is give me physical training for my money. However, I believe an hour of my time could also be valuable, if used correctly. Especially in the area of technology, entrepreneurship and blogging, I feel I have a lot expertise to offer. On day 24 of my rejection therapy, I ventured into 24 Hour Fitness to exchange 1 hour training session with a fitness trainer.

Instead of getting physical training, I receive a rejection training. Jordan is the type of person who really knows how to say 'no' to people. These are the types of things you don't realize when it happens, but only catch them during post analysis.

Learning: A good 'no' should include 1: a reason/consequence 2. a path/alternative to a 'yes' 3. patience and respect. In the case of rejection, it's really not what you say, but how you say it.

Day 23: Be a Greeter at Starbucks

Assuming salary doesn't matter, do you think being a greeter at a store like Walmart is an easy job? All you do is to say hi to people, smile and get paid, right? Well, I'm trying to find out myself. To not competing with Walmart employees, I decided to do it at Starbucks.

Being a greeter is not easy, especially if you count the boredom and weird looks this job receives.

Learning: 1. When people have no intention in carrying a conversation with you, they usually won't. Don't take it personally when they walk by. 2. Job satisfaction has a lot less to do with physical effort and ease, but more to do with human interaction and fulfillment. Even for a job like greeter, who has to communicate constantly, the quality of the communication is what matters, not quantity.