They say it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

That’s true. But people with high emotional intelligence recognize something more: It’s even better not to lose in the first place.

That could sound arrogant, so let me clarify. Emotionally intelligent people also understand that “not losing” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as “winning.”

Instead, it means that you haven’t lost yet. The game isn’t over, even if some people think it is. The outcome isn’t set in stone.

There’s a three-part strategy that emotionally intelligent leaders use to turn this aspiration into reality, especially when it comes to dealing with other people. We call it the immediate impact rule, for reasons that will become clear below.

Let’s start with Part 1 of the three-part strategy.

Part 1: Understanding that ’not winning’ doesn’t mean ‘losing.’

We begin with the mental shift. Imagine you’re trying to recruit a true “A Player” to your business, someone you’d really like to work with. But, he or she turns you down and takes another position elsewhere.

Emotionally intelligent people understand that while you might be disappointed, this doesn’t necessarily mean this person has rejected you, or that you’ll never have the chance to bring them aboard. 

It just means you haven’t recruited them yet.

Or else, imagine that you have your sights set on a potential client or customer, someone that would really move your business forward. But, they hesitate or even shoot down your pitch. 

Unless they’ve slammed the door shut like a Taylor Swift song, emotionally intelligent people tend to hear the rejection phrased along the lines of “not right now,” instead of “never.”

It applies in personal situations, too. Imagine you really want to become better at a hobby, or you want to ask that special someone on a date, or you wish you could achieve some sort of milestone in your personal growth.

If your skills aren’t improving fast enough, or if the object of your affection says no thanks, or if you just can’t seem to lose those last 10 stubborn pounds (or whatever), emotionally intelligent people train themselves to believe only that they haven’t achieved what they wanted to yet–not that they necessarily never will.

Part 2: Communicating the reaction.

Make sense so far? I hope so. But learning to adopt this attitude is only the first part of the rule. The second part is about how you express your reaction to other people.

This could get esoteric fast, so let me illustrate using an example. It comes from Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University, who it just so happens, coached his final game before retirement just hours before this article went live.

Back in 1980, Krzyzewski was the incoming coach at Duke, and he tried unsuccessfully to recruit a prospect named Michael Jordan to play for him. Jordan instead chose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, before ultimately going on to become arguably the greatest NBA player in history. 

Let’s look at the short letter Krzyzewski wrote to Jordan on October 29, 1980:

Dear Mike: 
I am sorry to hear that you no longer have an interest in learning more about Duke University, however I do want you to know that my staff and I wish you the very best in your college career. You are a fine young man and you should make an immediate impact on whatever you choose. Take care and best of luck.
Mike Krzyzweski

Emotionally intelligent people try to find a way to end every conversation on a high note: a summation, a promise for the future, and especially with gratitude.

Here, the Krzyzewski letter does something even more important — something that happens to be Part 3 of the strategy we’re talking about.

Part 3: Planting the seed.

Up to this point, I think the target of the immediate impact rule is you: the person working on dealing with rejection in an emotionally intelligent manner, so that short-term disappointment doesn’t lead to long-term discouragement.

Part 3 is where we shift, so that we’re not only leveraging your emotions to make ultimate success more likely, but we’re also learning to leverage other people’s emotions in a constructive manner, too.

Let’s use the Krzyzewski-to-Jordan letter as an example again, especially these 10 crucial words: “You should make an immediate impact on whatever you choose.”

It’s a nice compliment, sure. But on closer inspection, it’s the single most important line in the letter.

Coach Krzyzewski isn’t just wishing Jordan well; he’s setting expectations.

I suspect he wrote letters like this to many players who chose to play elsewhere. Imagine what happened when one of them didn’t go on to make an “immediate impact” with his new team, as Krzyzewski predicted. 

I don’t know how many of those players might have reached out to Duke about transferring. But, I’ll bet it wasn’t zero.

That’s really the point here: Finding a way not just to convince yourself that a “‘no,’ right now” isn’t necessarily a “never, forever.”

It’s to plant the seed in the other person’s mind, too — so that they might compare what happens next with what you told them you think would have happened if they’d gone with you.

Again, let’s pull it back from the world of college basketball:

  • The potential employee who turns you down? “Thank you for your time. You know we think the world of you, and we are convinced you’re going to continue to be a superstar. I hope we’ll get to work with you again soon.”
  • The customer who decides not to buy your product for now? “I’m sorry to hear we won’t be able to be part of your success for now. It’s 100% clear to me that you have the chance to be the top provider in your field. I’ll be cheering you on and waiting for the next chance to work together.”
  • Even that special someone who says no to the date? “No problem. Hope you have a lot of fun this weekend; you deserve it. Don’t be surprised if I try again down the road.”

It’s not about using these exact words; it’s more about how well you make them your own and put them into practice. If you follow the steps, you reinforce your own mindset, and you suggest that the other person involved should compare whatever happens with your prediction.

As I write in my free ebook, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence, the key to developing greater emotional intelligence is to leverage emotions and actions — both yours and other people’s — to ethically and effectively make it more likely you’ll achieve your goals.

The immediate impact rule is a smart way to do just that, and it should work for you, too.