If you work for a big company and someone hates your company’s product, it may not feel great, but you probably won’t lose sleep over it. But the first time you get tough feedback as an entrepreneur, it can really kick you in the gut. Any critical feedback can feel like a personal attack. It will destroy you if you let it.
It may come from a customer who is very unhappy with your service. Or from an employee who tells you what they really think of your management skills. Or a reviewer that pans your product. Or a blog commenter that tears apart your ideas and tells you your nose is too big.
Most people have one of two reactions: get angry or curl into a fetal position. Neither will be helpful because you have to invite feedback and criticism if you want to grow a viable business. Guy Kawasaki told me “controversy is good” early in my blogging career, and as someone raised to believe that everyone should like me, this was revolutionary advice. I have since learned some ways to sort through tough feedback:
Don’t be influenced by either side of the feedback pendulum. Try not to get too excited when people are giving you raving accolades. In the same vein, try not to get too upset when they give brutal criticism. You need to have a very clear sense of yourself and remain focused on what your business is and how it will add value to your customers. If you try to please raging fans, you can get paralyzed trying to live up to an impossible standard. If you try to please your detractors and “fix” what they think is wrong with you, you will not be true to yourself.
Be a sieve. Take a piece of tough feedback, sift out the pieces that have some use or truth to them and let the rest flow down the sink. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself, “What part of this feedback will make me better, more successful in the marketplace and happier at what I do if I apply it?” Keep that piece of advice and let the rest go.
Channel your inner stand-up comic. Rob F. Martinez, one of my former teenage martial art students, is now a stand-up comedian. He spent many years performing in front of small crowds and endured brutal feedback which ranged from heckling from drunk patrons to physical threats from an Oakland Raider football player who was unhappy to be the butt of one of his jokes. Yet despite this, Rob eagerly performs week after week. “If my material is not working, I just rewrite it until I get something that the audience reacts to. Each audience is different, so I never know what the reaction will be.”
See if the outside critic is reflecting your inner critic. All of us have inner critics that whisper in our ear when we are trying something new. “Who do you think you are to run a business? “You call yourself a writer?” “Everyone will think I am a slimy salesperson if I try to sell my products or services.” Recognize your self-saboteurs and move forward anyway.
Don’t shoot the messenger. Blog readers can be exceptionally direct with their feedback. Some people are downright mean and make personal attacks in addition to criticizing your ideas. If you ever receive a comment like this, your first inclination may be to shoot back a biting, profanity-laden response. Don’t do it. It will solve nothing to engage with someone who is obviously trying to provoke you. You many even encourage the person to continue to post personal attacks. Punch a pillow, write a nasty response and then delete it, or print out the person’s comment and burn it in a glorious ceremony in your backyard.
Find ways to be kind to yourself. Even if you are very strong emotionally, some negative feedback will burrow past your armor and pierce you. Learn what makes you feel better. No problem of mine is too big for a heaping bowl of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a hot bath. Thankfully I don’t have too many bad days, or I would have a serious cholesterol problem and be very clean. Identify your self-pampering activities and engage in them whenever your inner child wants to cry.
The bigger you choose to play in the world, the more negative criticism you will receive. If you learn to deal with it gracefully, nothing will stop you from accomplishing your goals.
Pamela Slim is a business coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur (Portfolio, May, 2009). Her blog is here.