Perhaps you grew up with the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” If so, you most likely realized very early on that the sentiment, while charming, is completely false. Words can (and do) cause great harm.
Though no one likes to be criticized, people seem to have no problem exercising their opinions about other people’s ‘issues.’ As an entrepreneur, it can be especially disheartening to hear such criticism. After all, if you’re a one-man show it’s easy to figure out who’s at fault for that failing initiative the company tried. So, how can you deal with a barrage of criticism?
It’s hard to listen as someone, particularly a consumer, explains why your idea is wrong. Often, you want to tune them out, simply nodding your head every so often to give the impression of listening. However, you should resist the temptation to listen passively. Engage with the criticism they are offering. Sincerely thank them for offering their opinion. More than anything, at this stage, simply listen to what they have to say.
Consumers want their voice to be heard, and offering criticism is one way to get noticed. Allow the consumer their moment to speak their mind while you listen. Don’t retaliate or attempt to lash out at the person who is offering the criticism. This only serves to make you look unprofessional, and will drive customers away.
Evaluate the criticism through the lens of your clients. Does the complaint have validity? Find out the specifics of the complaint, and investigate the situation. While it can be hard to hear unpleasant truths, oftentimes criticism can be used as a springboard for potential growth and expansion. Find ways to turn the criticism into positive action steps. If one person speaks a harsh truth, it is almost certain that others feel the same way.
However, you should keep in mind that not all criticism is valid. While a consumer may have strong feelings about a topic, that doesn’t mean they are correct, and their proffered solution may not even be a fit for you. Ultimately, you have to decide if the criticism has merit.
Unsure about the criticism you were given? Ask a trusted friend, coworker, or mentor, for an outsider’s perspective on the complaint. An outsider can give you a new take on the challenges facing your company.
Focus on the positives.
Is someone unhappy about the limited services you offer? Focus on your ability to specialize by limiting what you produce. Did you receive criticism about the hours you keep? Remember that this flexibility allows you to arrange your schedule to meet your needs. Regardless of the criticism, find ways to turn it around to showcase the positive aspects of your company.
Sometimes, criticism is disguised as questions from well-meaning friends and family members. Perhaps you’ve encountered some of these questions on your journey to entrepreneurship.
“How can you make a living doing that?”
Many well-intentioned people blurt out what seems to be a direct assault on your enterprise. In reality, what seems to be a lack of support is mere curiosity about how you plan to make your company work. Instead of getting defensive, remember that they haven’t been dreaming about your idea for months, mentally preparing for the day of your launch. Instead, take them to lunch and explain how your entrepreneurship is going to work. Not only will it reassure them, but it will give you an opportunity to share your business plan with others.
“What about your current job?”
It can appear risky to leave an established job to start something on your own. You can alleviate this criticism by showing an appreciation for what you’ve learned at your current job. Explain how you are prepared to take the skills you’ve learned in your present job into your new venture.
“Why are you trying to start something on your own?”
Becoming an entrepreneur takes courage. Few people can make the jump from wishing to doing. Those who don’t often struggle to understand why anyone would be willing to take the risk in starting their own company. Explaining that to outsiders can be intimidating, particularly when you aren’t sure if your idea is going to work. It’s okay not to have all of the answers. Smile and thank them for being concerned. Offer to keep them in the loop via e-mail updates or other social media forms.
While dealing with criticism can be stressful and frustrating, you can learn to grow from it. Don’t take it personally, but most importantly, don’t let another person’s cynicism keep you from chasing your dreams.