Which of the following potential outcomes do you believe is most damaging – failure, rejection or indifference?

Failure is usually seen as the most damaging outcome. Perhaps it’s because we’ve heard “Failure is not an option” one too many times. Most people are not only ashamed to be wrong, some even have difficulty admitting when they’re wrong.

Other people see rejection as most damaging. Perhaps it’s because our culture is all about winning or losing. Nike’s billboard at the Atlanta Olympics read, “You Don’t Win Silver – You Lose Gold”.

My view is different. I believe failure and rejection are good outcomes when compared to the possibility of experiencing indifference. Here’s why.

Failure means you tried, but didn’t succeed. In the process of failing, however, you gain valuable learning about what doesn’t work. That’s exactly the kind of learning needed for driving innovation, taking a leap, or breaking through.

Rejection is okay because you were at least in the consideration set. You might not have been selected, but you were a contender to quote a line from Rocky.

Indifference is altogether different. Indifference means you didn’t even have the chance to fail or be rejected because you weren’t in the consideration set.

Indifference is bad – bad, bad, bad. Indifference is the absolute last thing you want. The word itself conjures up a disinterested face and the shrug of a shoulder. Indifference is the equivalent of “whatever” in today’s teenage lexicon.

Indifference is what every person and every organization should fear the most. Indifference is a powerful force. And it can exist in many damaging ways – both inside your company and between you and the marketplace.

An indifferent manager lacks the drive to push ahead and aggressively knock down obstacles. An indifferent manager will give up easily, miss targets, and fail to inspire her team. An indifferent manager models the wrong attitude.

An indifferent employee is one who doesn’t care. He will show up, but won’t stay late to make calls or proffer a smile when with customers. He’s there for the paycheck. This kind of behavior is corrosive.

For all of the possibilities enabled by good technology, the world still operates in a fundamental way. People buy from people. With all things being equal people prefer to buy from people they like. No wonder an engaging sales or service person is worth her weight in gold.

In an extremely noisy and competitive world positive experiences and word of mouth are more important than ever before. Customers are quick to share what they think. An indifferent employee resulting in a lackluster customer experience can wreak havoc. Reviews are written in permanent ink for the world to see!

If you suspect indifference might be present in your organization take responsibility for it. Talk to employees, listen to customers, and learn what people are saying about your offerings. Step into the shoes of your employees and customers. How do you engage with employees? How often? Is it enough? How do your employees represent your company? How do they engage with customers? Has there been sufficient training? Have you communicated your brand ethos so it is understood and embraced? Do you deliver your brand promise every day?

Marketplace indifference is a silent death knell. What’s the point if you can’t generate a response, close a sale, or create a customer? In most cases it’s your own fault. How will you ever generate loyal customers if people don’t recognize the benefits of your brand or get the value of your offerings? That’s an easy fix – readdress your marketing messages, and do a better job of proving out your unique benefits with relevant, compassionate, and compelling experiences.

Being indifferent about indifference is risking everything.